The first month of the year is a big one for Australian cycling. The Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic makes sure that aspiring riders stick to mocktails over New Year’s Eve, the road nationals decide who will wear green and yellow stripes for the next 12 months and the Santos Tour Down Under cements Adelaide as a must-visit cycling destination. And that’s just road cycling.
Every event produces a series of stories, champions and motivation for riders and spectators alike. As I think through the blur that started in Victoria with the Bay Crits, five moments already stand out from the rest for their extra dash of radness; a quality defined for me by the energetic and daring character of its effort, joy and determination, while breaking outside the box. This month has been so exciting, I'm calling the top five early!
1. The women’s podium presentations at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic
Gracie Elvin celebrated New Year’s Day on the podium at the Bay Crits. Kimberley Wells re-enacted a tipsier looking version when she took the win a day later.
I’m sure there’s a fascinating feminist account of these podium photos, one that explores the subversion of the messages sent to young women by podium girls on the men’s stage. But that's not all that's happening here.
With team-mate Lizzie Williams on her left and fellow Canberran Kimberley Wells on her right, Elvin’s podium celebration stood out for the narrative it tells about women’s cycling; a narrative that shows the unique tactics, tensions, ethics and excitement that characterise this side of the sport.
Even when they’re on rival teams, these ladies will, at times, travel together, train together and party together. That’s because professional women’s road cycling doesn’t have the resources that the men’s version does, and different career strategies bring different rewards.
This image of friendship and celebration is a sign to spectators to ask what else they might want to learn about the women’s race scene as it forges out an identity of its own.
2. Pretty much any photo by Kirsty Baxter
If you saw an image of women’s racing this summer, there’s a 70% chance it came from Kirsty Baxter. It's no accident that so many are included here. While other photographers produced incredible images from the full gamut of events on offer, Baxter provided up to the minute coverage of just about all of them, including the men’s.
You’ll also see her images shared by countless Australian athletes, especially those further back in the bunch who the rest of the media often ignore.
We often talk about athletes who are streets ahead of the rest, but I wish we spoke about all the people that make these events happen with the same level of awe.
Baxter not only shot countless images from January’s key events, but she consistently pulled them from the camera and pushed them out on social media while the events were still unfolding, which was no mean feat.
3. Bridie O’Donnell breaks the Hour Record
Bridie O’Donnell’s courageous attack on the UCI World Hour Record was as much a psychological display as a physiological one. This is an athlete whose opportunities in the sport have often been decided upon by others. Self-belief is a quality that was not only important over those sixty grueling minutes, but it has become so central to her journey through life she that has a message to that effect tattooed on her arm.
O’Donnell’s execution of her record-breaking ride was remarkable for its tight planning, control and execution. Her lap times hardly budged, her riding position hardly budged, her custom skinsuit hardly budged. I doubt there are many people who could tell you whether a video snapshot of an single lap happened at the beginning, middle or end, O'Donnell was that unwavering in her performance.
Excellent commentary in the packed out velodrome, livestreamed across the web, added a level of entertainment, inspiration and radness all of its own. Everytime Anna Meares took to the mike she brought a compelling mix of race insights to the floor, packaged in plain English and years of experience.
Unlike other athletes who can talk at lengths about themselves, Meares kept the focus on the event unfolding in front of her, hyping the crowd to provide well-timed encouragement to the slim, grey figure on the track. Almost worthy of its own spot on this list, I'm slotting Meares' performance in here as a key component of radness number three.
4. A gazillion cyclists take to the Adelaide roads
Due to its timing and location, the Santos Tour Down Under has become synonymous with a week-long riding holiday for cyclists of all sorts. Yes, there’s a whole lot of great racing to watch, but a lot of these spectators also make the trip to experience the roads for themselves.
Over the last week innumerable female cyclists clocked up massive kays in and around Adelaide with their clubs, their mates, and other groups they bumped into while they were there. They rubbed shoulders with the pros, shared images from the sidelines of the race, and got together for drinks and at meal times ready for a repeat attack the next day.
Rapha's organised women’s ride at the Tour Down Under is unique in the way that it brings together ladies from several, mixed cycling groups for a ride of their own. It was led by Canyon-SRAM pro Tiffany Cromwell and local legend Hannah Geelan who is responsible for running the Rapha women’s rides in Adelaide all year long.
Women’s cycling is quickly changing in Australia. More than any single race result, it’s seeing this mass level of participation evolving that inspires the most.
5. Jenni King’s overtaking move on the Pemberton wall ride
You may have noticed that mountain biking has been absent from this list, so far. January is such a high-profile month for roadies that mountain biking risks being seen as a feeder sport for better career prospects on the tarmac. With the constant trickle of riders in the curly-barred direction, it’s imperative that Mountain Bike Australia puts out its own messages that show what it is that drives people to celebrate a life spent loving the dirt.
The women’s field was tiny at the double-header national round in Pemberton, Western Australia, last weekend, with a total of 11 riders making up the Elite Women's field. With the Olympics around the corner, a lot of the coverage centred on Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell who are our most likely heroes in Rio. Then this picture taken by Russell Baker hit screens:
@mtbaust: @pedallab taking the high road over @samarasheppard at the cool runnings wall #pemberton #berm #mtbnats #xco #elitewomen
Series leader, Jenni King (Canyon) overtook New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard (Specialized) on the wall ride. It excites for the sense of skill and fun it provides, and the fact that if we want this discipline to stay relevant we need stories that focus on a lot more than the voices of the winners. And, like the other moments above, wall rides are rad!
With so many events over such an action-packed summer, I’m willing to bet you’ll have moments of your own that should be added to this list. Don’t be afraid to share them on the Facebook post that accompanies this article or add another perspective to the moments described here. I’m sure there are a lot of other riders who would be excited to hear about them too.