Picture by Zac Williams/SWpix.com - 10/08/2023 - Road Cycling - 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships - Stirling, Scotland - Women’s Junior Time Trial - Felicity Wilson-Haffenden of Australia competing in the Women's Junior Time Trial

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Flying Felicity: Interview With Teenage Cycling Sensation Felicity Wilson-Haffenden 

On the world cycling stage while still in her teen years, we try to catch Felicity Wilson-Haffenden.

Teenage sensation Felicity Wilson-Haffenden didn’t waste time after her World Championship win to sign a deal with one of the biggest cycling teams, Lidl-Trek. She fielded more than one offer and opted for Lidl-Trek because they offered a great development pathway and an opportunity to race alongside some of the world’s best riders.

Fellow Tasmanian Richie Porte was instrumental in introducing Wilson-Haffenden to the right people in the team he had been part of for two years, but it was up to her to show them her talent and potential.

Even more impressive is the short time Felicity, known to most people as Fliss, has been riding a bike. The COVID pandemic was the catalyst for her decision to try cycling when her hockey games were all cancelled during the lockdowns, so she jumped on a bike to keep her love for sporting activities going. After showing potential for cycling her father urged her to attend a Talent ID program at the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS), and she never looked back.

Felicity after winning the Junior Women’s Time Trial World Championship in Glasgow in August 2023.

As a hockey player, she represented her home state of Tasmania in junior representative teams, but she had never considered a career as a sportsperson until she won the Junior Women’s Time Trial World Championship in Glasgow in August 2023 and started fielding offers from pro teams.

“Richie Porte introduced me to the team (Lidl-Trek) before Worlds and suggested they might look at me. Joining the team is a big change for me. At first, I enjoyed the fantasy of it, but after attending the training camp last year, it began to feel very real. It’s the team with the best setup, with four other juniors and three Aussies. I consider myself the luckiest girl alive,” said Wilson-Haffenden.

In 2023, Wilson-Haffenden was part of the Australian team Bridgelane under the guidance of Director Sportif, Pat Shaw. Shaw, known for his enthusiasm and passion, saw the potential in Wilson-Haffenden when she rode as a guest rider for the InForm TMX team he led in 2022.

Pat Shaw is a former professional rider who joined the InForm TMX outfit in 2022 as a Director Sportif (DS) for the women’s team. He was offered the opportunity to work with the women’s and men’s teams but chose to focus solely on the women’s program.

“In the last 12 months of my cycling career, I rode with fellow Ballarat rider Shannon Malseed and got a great understanding of her training versus mine. I had great respect for the effort she was putting in. It was more than I was doing and then she won the Nationals.

As a member of LIDL-Trek Felicity is riding alongside some of the biggest names in the sport.

“I’ve also got to know many of our top pro women like Spratty (Amanda Spratt), a great influencer and equal to Cadel Evans in what she’s achieved. She’s bringing young girls to the sport and is kind with her time, like interacting with event spectators. More recently, we’ve seen riders like Grace Brown, Brodie Chapman, Tiffany Cromwell, and many more leading the way,” said Shaw.

The story of the women’s Bridgelane team reflects Shaw’s dedication, passion and enthusiasm, as well as the work of veteran team manager Andrew Christie-Johnston. “I planned to keep going with InFormX in 2023, but at the end of 2022 the shock announcement that the team was folding came through. I felt physically ill at the time because I’d grown a duty of care for those athletes. It’s a very special sort of job where you have many personal conversations, and nobody else knows some of the things going on in their lives.

“So, I felt I had to do something, and started talking to others and found that my former DS, Andrew Christie-Johnston, was also trying to get a women’s team off the ground. He has an amazing record with his men’s team, so I felt motivated to work with him. We worked together to get it off the ground with crowd-funding that formed part of the budget. Cycling was good to me, so I wanted to make sure it was going to go forward and that it was going to be able to happen. It felt great to do a good thing,” Shaw said.

After representing Tasmania in both hockey and athletics, Felicity started cycling during COVID lockdowns. Since then, she has won three national championships, three Oceania championships and now holds two national records.

The women’s team launched in 2023 with a roster of 10 female riders, including Felicity Wilson-Haffenden, who went on to win her World Championship medal the same year.

“Working as a DS, I didn’t realise we would get so much in return. Being around the women gives you more of an emotional connection because they are more open. That’s the bit that’s special. You develop trust. As a team sport, everyone prepares equally to get a result, and it’s easier to ask for sacrifice if there is trust and love. At Bridgelane, we’ve built that trust. There is something remarkably special about that, and special about the sport of cycling. I know those girls will give me everything they’ve got.

“Felicity’s story is a special one. It’s not just because of how quickly it happened. Andrew Christie-Johnston already knew her because he’s also a Tasmanian, so she was already on our radar. Hers is a unique and phenomenal story. But it wasn’t easy, even though many people see it that way. She had to combat things, and she had to believe in her talents,” said Shaw.

For Wilson-Haffenden, Team Bridgelane was also a big step in her burgeoning career.

“Team Bridgelane was massive for me. I rode for InForm at the end of 2022 as a guest rider, and then Pat started a new team and asked me to join. I was still finding my feet, and they took me under their wings. I met incredible girls like Emily Watts, who is like my big sister. At the beginning of the year, I had a great Nationals which started it all. The team provided me with every opportunity to race and perform at my best. I owe them the world,” said Wilson-Haffenden.

In October last year, the big announcement came that Wilson-Haffenden is part of the Lidl-Trek team, joining with a three-year contract that will see her race with the American outfit through 2026. She is the fifth 18-year-old rider to join the American team as it continues to invest in youth development.

Lidl-Trek Sports Director Ina-Yoko Teutenberg said at the time of the announcement, “Felicity is a rider with great potential, and I’m excited to see her put in the work to achieve it. Felicity has a natural talent and strong drive, and at Lidl-Trek, she will have the opportunity to use the vast expertise within the team and its sponsors to take her performance to the next level.

Moving across the world at such a young age is a daunting prospect, but we have role models who have undertaken the same move, like Lauretta and Brodie, as well as a host of other young riders going through a similar process, which will hopefully ease the transition as Felicity settles into life as a professional.”

At the Women’s Tour Down Under race in January this year, Teutenberg also said, “We are not expecting any results from them (junior riders). If they get one, that’s good, but we have five young riders. It’s a big step from juniors to the elite class now, so we just want to develop them and have them learn and get better in the next couple of years and then hopefully have them step in the footsteps of people like Shirin Van Anrooij and Elynor Backstedt who made that step from juniors with us.”

Fellow Tasmanian pro rider Nicole Frain, who won the National Road Race in 2022, said in a recent article in the Hobart Mercury, “She’s gone into a big team and has had awesome results this year. Her expectations would naturally be quite high, and that’s her competitive nature as well.

“I just hope she is kind to herself, lets herself settle into Europe and her new team, and avoids putting too much pressure on herself. I think she’ll have a good career; she’s got to just let it unfold a little bit.”

Felicity with Aussie teammate Lauretta Hanson.

Wilson-Haffenden also admits that she’s got a long way to go. “I still have so much to learn. I know I’ve come a long, long way in a brief time, but there’s a lot of learning to do.

“I have no major wins in mind for 2024. I plan for a solid foundation and to settle into Europe, the team, and the peloton. In 2025, there will be more performance goals.”

Wilson-Haffenden’s timing couldn’t be better. Women’s racing in Europe continues to grow, with the Tour de France Femmes leading the charge. She’ll also benefit from what is likely to grow in the next few years when races specifically for Under 23 riders are added to the women’s calendar, something male riders have enjoyed for years. The French race, the Tour de l’Avenir, has run for more than 60 years as an Under-23 race for men, and in 2023, it was added to the women’s calendar as a five-stage stand alone race.

“I’m coming in at an incredible time – I’ve watched men do it, and now the women are doing it. It’s hard not to be excited.”


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