Each issue we track down a couple of Australia’s elite racers for a quick chat about life on and off the bike. While not everyone wants to race, we know you’re keen to get the best from your time on the bike and so we endeavour to bring you a broad range of information that will help. These top riders have usually gathered, sometimes even in a relatively short career, a wealth of experience to share. This time round we get to know Chloe McConville.
BICYCLING AUSTRALIA: Chloe, can you tell us what your NRS experience has been?
CHLOE MCCONVILLE: I have been racing in the NRS over the last four years. Over this time there has been a huge positive change in the women’s field. When I first did an NRS event there would be about 25 starters and we all raced as individuals. Now there are consistently fields of 60 to 80 women who are riding in teams and tactics have changed. The money that sponsors are putting in is fantastic and events are continuing to grow. The NRS is now a great stepping stone to getting a ride overseas.
BA: Where are you now (while answering these questions) and why?
CM: Sitting on my couch at home in Geelong watching Fast Five (fifth instalment of the Fast and Furious film series). I have been enjoying quality time at home with my boyfriend and dog because in a couple of months I’ll be off to Europe again and won’t get to see them for a while.
BA: Where do you call home?
CM: At the moment Geelong is very much home. We bought a house here two years ago and have set our lives up here. A big part of me still calls Myrtleford, which is where I grew up, home and I kind of hope that I will end up back up that way in the future.
BA: How did you get into cycling? Apparently you were a skier before you were a cyclist. How did you make the transition?
CM: I represented Australia in cross-country skiing and during one European winter a whole lot of races got cancelled due to lack of snow, so I came home early and started riding to get a bit fitter for my skiing. I entered a crit in Albury and being anonymous was handy as I got off to the front and won. It kind of just snowballed from there. Riding was much easier to train for than skiing so I just rode more and more and then started choosing bike races over skiing races!
BA: Do you have a job other than cycling?
CM: I’m a physiotherapist. I studied full-time at The University of Melbourne and graduated at the end of 2009. In hindsight I’m glad I got my degree before I got too serious on the bike because these days the thought of writing an essay after four to five hours on the bike makes me feel sick!
BA: If so, how do you find time to train?
CM: As I have improved on the bike I have cut down the hours I work to accommodate harder training and better recovery. I am lucky that my profession allows for quite flexible working hours. At the moment I am only doing 10 to 15 hours a week, which just covers the bills.
BA: Single, married or other?
CM: De-facto with my extremely supportive boyfriend Julian.
BA: What is your home cycling club?
I am currently in the process of switching my membership to Geelong Cycling Club as I race and train with members from the club and want to support my local area.
BA: Sprinter or stayer?
CM: Somewhere in the middle; I can sprint ok and can normally do quite well if it’s a reduced bunch or sprinting from a breakaway group. I can’t match the pure sprinters in the full bunch kicks though, so I tend to always be looking for opportunities to get away.
BA: When did you join your current team?
CM: Domestically I ride with the Jayco-Apollo VIS Women’s team and have been with them for the past three seasons. Internationally I ride for Jayco-AIS (Australian National Team).
BA: Had you been on other teams previously?
CM: Before I got into the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), I rode for a NRS team called Bikeforce R.A.C.E.
BA: Do you have a sponsor?
CM: No major financial sponsors (but I am looking, so give me a bell!) but I am looked after very well by Apollo bicycles and obviously the VIS and AIS allow me to have fantastic training facilities, clothing and equipment.
BA: How about a coach?
CM: Donna Rae-Szalinski is the mastermind behind my programs. I also have strength and conditioning coach Ben Willey at the VIS who works out all of my gym stuff.
BA: Do you think it is important for a bike rider to have a coach, even juniors and masters?
CM: Definitely, it is always good to have an outside opinion and bounce ideas off someone who is more experienced. I am a chronic over trainer; I have the tendency to always want to ride too hard for too long so for me it is crucial I have someone to keep me on track.
BA: What’s your favourite riding discipline?
CM: I love a good Dutch or Belgium road race with some cobbles, crosswinds and a one or two short, punchy climbs. I also love short technical prologues where you just go all out for up to about five minutes and it feels like you’re going to die for about two hours afterwards!
BA: Some of your favourite rides?
CM: I quite often train along the Great Ocean Road and ride from Geelong to Lorne and back, which is just awesome. It’s so pretty and I think sometimes I take for granted how amazing the scenery is. I recently got back from the AIS selection camp where we rode from Barlow up to Thredbo over the Alpine Way and that is one ride I will never forget. Also ranking highly on my list is a 200km ride we did this season over in Italy. We rode around the whole edge of Lago di Maggiore, into Switzerland and back out again. It was a postcard-like day with great company and if someone said at the end, ‘you still have another 50km to go’ I would have been very happy to continue.
BA: Any particularly terrible or poignant memory from your riding career to date?
CM: I had a bad crash in March this year where I hit a pedestrian going 60kph downhill. It was just really unlucky; he stepped out onto the road and just didn’t see me. It was one of those moments when I realised how unbelievably vulnerable we are with only lycra and a helmet on. It also scared the life out of me as the guy I hit was unconscious for a while and I thought he was dead. Turns out he was ok, just a broken nose but it took me a good few weeks and a break off the bike to get over that one.
BA: Wow! Have you had any other accidents?
CM: Yeah I’ve had a few good ones! A broken collarbone back in 2010. In Spain last year I came off hard over a speed bump and thought I had broken my leg, luckily it was just bone bruising and some really good soft tissue damage. I think you have to be aware that crashing is part of the game and it’s a matter of improving your skills so you can avoid crashing as much as possible or land as safely as possible to minimise injury.
I was also massively gutted when my good friend and teammate Grace Sulzberger had her season ending crash when we were racing in France this year.
BA: What does a typical day of training look like for you?
CM: It varies a lot depending on what kind of training phase I am in. At the moment I am trying to get really strong for the European season so there are a lot of strength endurance efforts and motor paced climbs. I also have two heavy gym sessions a week, which makes those days double training days. Every day I walk my dog for close to an hour, which is nice active recovery. I then also try to fit in work and spending time with my boyfriend around that.
BA: How old are you? (You don’t have to answer. I wouldn’t!)
CM: I just turned 26.
BA: What are some of your best results to date?
CM: The result that opened a lot of doors for me was my very unexpected third place in the 2011 Oceania Road Championships, this lead to a VIS scholarship, which has led to everything else. This season spent in Europe with the Jayco-AIS (National Team) I had some really solid results and was oh-so-close to a podium with a fourth, sixth and seventh in stages of La Route de France (UCI 2.1) and a fourth in an ITT at Tour Cycliste Feminine International del’Ardeche In France (UCI 2.2). I have also won overall honours in the Goldfields NRS this year and had stage wins in the NRS.
BA: Do you have a life outside of cycling?
CM: I try to. I love hanging out at home with Julian and our crazy Siberian husky, Zali. Being away from home for long periods has made me much more appreciative of my time when I am here. I need to work as a physio to keep my sanity and I think it’s really important to have a balance and not just be thinking bikes, bikes, bikes all the time. Unfortunately I don’t get to catch up with my physio and college friends as often as I would like as they are all working full time and I am away most weekends, but I try to do dinner with them every so often.
BA: What bike and components do you ride? Your choice or the team’s?
CM: While racing domestically for the VIS I am on an Apollo Elite with SRAM Red. When I am overseas with the AIS/National Team Program I ride a Scott Foil with Dura-Ace. Both are fantastic bikes and I am very lucky to be riding bikes I haven’t had to pay for!
BA: Have you raced overseas?
CM: Last year I got a last minute call-up to race with the national team (AIS) in Europe as one of the riders became quite sick. I got a call on a Tuesday and that Saturday I was on a plane to Europe. I was over there for five weeks, came home for two weeks and then got invited back again to finish off the season with the AIS program. I exceeded my own and probably everyone else’s expectations and that lead to me going back over to Europe this season as part of the Australian Women’s Endurance Program. This year I spent 14 weeks away, racing mostly in the Netherlands and France.
BA: How is your program for the year looking?
CM: At the moment it looks like I’ll be riding the Women’s Tour of Qatar for the Australian National Team at the start of February, and then having a month training block back at home before heading to Europe for the spring classics. I will be in Europe until May, then hopefully going to China to race in the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup before coming home. Within this period is the selection for the Commonwealth Games. I would love to be in the mix for selection, however there are so many girls riding in Europe this next year I will have to be on the very top of my game and consistent to even get a look in. Hopefully I will also get to a few rounds of the NRS as it is great to support.
BA: What makes you a better rider? The gear, the training?
CM: I think consistency of training is the key. For consistent results you need months of structured training, good recovery and staying healthy. Building in a really big gym block has taken my riding to another level, it has also been crucial in managing a niggling back injury I had in the past.
BA: How do you stay motivated, especially when you can’t ride due to illness or injury?
CM: I think you just have to look at the bigger picture and focus more on long-term goals as opposed to what you are currently missing out on. Also I believe that everything happens for a reason and if you are injured or sick, other opportunities will arise from it.
BA: Where do you think cycling is at in Australia, especially compared to other countries?
It is certainly growing at a rapid rate, especially women’s participation. Overall, cyclists are still a minority on the roads here compared to countries like the Netherlands where everybody rides a bike. One of the major differences I have found between Australia and European countries is respect for cyclists on the roads. Unfortunately in Australia there are still issues with road safety for cyclists, but groups such as the Amy Gillett Foundation and Cycle Safe are working hard to increase awareness and make the roads safer.
BA: Do you think the NRS is a good thing?
CM: Definitely. The NRS is proving itself to be a great race series for women to really build on their skills and tactics. Over the last couple of years there has been a big increase in the standard of racing and it is equipping girls well for the next step to racing in either the USA or Europe. Fresh talent is being discovered within the NRS each year and it is great for the sport as it is making the girls at the top work hard to stay there.
BA: What do you think is needed to encourage more women to ride and/or race bikes?
CM: At the moment I think women’s racing in Australia is quite accessible at the club level and NRS level which is fantastic. A number of cycling clubs are running graded women’s-only races, which has done amazing things for increasing participation and confidence.
All of the women’s specific rides that are being held in various locations are also really helping at introducing women into riding without the pressure of pinning on a number.
I think the next biggest hurdle is getting more women to race internationally. One of the major difficulties is the lack of financial support available, even for those who have signed contracts with professional teams. For example, just the fees to buy an international race licence are in the thousands and that is before you have even left the country. As there is currently no minimum wage for female professional cyclists it is financially unviable for many to be away for several months at a time.
BA: Any plans for after cycling or are you going to pedal off into the sunset?
CM: My boyfriend and I have a joke that he will buy me a ring when I buy him a boat… so as soon as I stop riding I guess I will be working more hours to get this boat! I really would like to open my own physiotherapy practice one day and have a family. I love travelling and want to show Jules some of the awesome places I have been to and go on some epic snowboarding holidays, so I’m thinking I will need to be working a lot to afford all of this.
BA: So, assuming you had time to host a dinner party, who would be on your guest list and why?
CM: I think Jules would be fairly cut if I didn’t invite him, especially if it was a nice restaurant because we are both lovers of fine foods. I would also invite my mum and dad because the amount I owe them, not only financially, would probably require being invited out to dinner every week for the next 50 years. I’ve got to say Jen Voigt gets a gig too. He just seems like such an unbelievably humble and cool person and I think you would be guaranteed to have a laugh with him around.