National Road Champion Gracie Elvin, 24, (Orica GreenEdge)
“A champion is a champion on any bike” – Gracie Elvin
Where are you now and why? With my team Orica AIS in northern Italy, at Cycling Australia’s cycling base near Varese, about halfway between Milan and the border. (We are talking via Skype!) I’ve been here since mid-February and will be here until after the Worlds at the end of September, early October. We are doing a lot of travelling for racing, doing the equivalent of the men’s pro tour. I stayed here for pretty much the whole season last year with the national team in the first half, then with an Italian team, Saren Honda, for the second half.
Where do you call home and how did you get into cycling? Canberra is home. My father was very sporty, doing cross country skiing and triathlon. He introduced me to cycling when I was pretty young, and I have been riding bikes my whole life. It was just a natural progression to become more competitive, at first in mountain biking. My sister and mum ride now, they are all very fit people; all really understanding of what I do, which is nice.
What is your home club? I’ve been part of Canberra Cycling Club the whole time I have been riding – over 10 years.
What is your current team? Orica GreenEdge; I signed with them in 2013. The women’s team is called Orica AIS. We are fortunate to get support from the AIS whereas the men have private support.
Who is your coach? I have my own personal coach who has helped me since I was a mountain biker, Neil Ross. He is based in Adelaide and was the head coach for the national MTB program in 2009 when I was part of it, so we have continued our relationships. A lot of my training will be overseen by the director of our team, David McCutland, who also coaches me. I go to him for day to day advice; otherwise I have emails and telephone correspondence with my personal coach from home. It’s pretty common among athletes to have a personal coach as well as a team coach. The teams have really open minds, they want, I guess the best for the athletes and are happy to work in with each other and discuss the best plan of action.
What model bike do you ride? I am on what all the girls on the team ride, a Scott Foil. It’s the team colour black and white and green, a bit boring, but we all look pretty smart when all together.
What components do you use? We use Shimano, which means we have the electronic gearing. I didn’t know how I would feel about it when I had used normal gearing all my life but it was easy to use straight away. The first time I used it I had to race it! You’re just pressing buttons really, which is really cool for racing, so smooth and immediate. Definitely I would promote using Di2…I think there is an electronic version of Ultegra.
If you could choose your own bike, what would it be? A good question. I haven’t had to think about it for a few years. I do really enjoy riding the Scott. I am a bit of an all-rounder, becoming quite good at being fast paced and circuit racing and sometimes sprinting, so to have a very stiff, responsive bike is very important and the Scott is very good for that.
Do you speak Italian? How are you going with spending time in foreign countries? Italy is definitely an interesting place to live. There are lots of cultural differences, mostly the language barrier. Last year I tried pretty hard to learn Italian, especially as I was with an Italian team … no one was really speaking English…but it was good for me to learn, it certainly makes the whole environment a bit challenging in a way and is good for general personal development.
What’s the worst thing about training and racing in Italy? It’s quite chaotic, the drivers are quite different here, and you have to ride quite defensively. On the other hand, they are not aggressive towards cyclists like you see in Australia. The traffic is all over the place…but I do feel more comfortable here.
What are your best results yet? In January this year I won the national road race, which has to be my career highlight. It was pretty special to be able to wear the national colours for rest of the year. Every time I pull my jersey on I feel happy and proud. This is my first full season. Flanders was pretty special; I finished in the main bunch. The racing itself is very different in Europe, mostly the field size. The bunches are much bigger, around 180 riders. If you are not used to it, it can be quite scary. Also the speed; for the whole time you are racing at full speed for 3.5 hours. It’s hard!
Why do you think so many mountain bikers turn to road cycling? There are more opportunities in road, more chances for sponsorship. Not many people can do MTB successfully professionally. You feel a bit isolated. To come overseas for long periods is challenging. I think people turn to the road for that feeling of support.
Were there benefits of having done mountain biking before road? I started on the road as a junior, and then got into MTB at 17. I got into a talent identification program, Dirt Road to London, and was part of 2009 national program for MTBing, called Discover Tasmania.com. Funding was cut for MTBing, there was no real support for any kind of national team even on a state level. I was self-funded for two years and came overseas and raced – I still had the goal of Olympics in mind, but then by 2011 I decided it wasn’t working, so took an opportunity to go back and see if I could make it on the road. I did an AIS road selection camp, and managed to get myself an AIS road scholarship for 2012. When at home I like to go for trail rides with friends. Stromlo is one of the best places.
What’s your training program look like? When overseas we do so much racing so there is no typical week for me. We race more so on weekends, sometimes during the week, about 70 days a year. If we are not racing we might do 20 hours of training each week, including something every day…two easy days of a one-hour ride and the other days range from two to six hours depending on the session. We usually do the longer rides on weekends if not racing. I do a solid block of gym over the Australian summer to get a good strength base for the year, two to three times a week and continue a light program when over here that I can do on own with limited equipment twice a week that targets core strength, lots of stretching every other day. I also like to do a bit of jogging… more for general cross training as cycling is pretty low impact.
What makes you ride better? I am a big advocate of proper recovery. People and athletes in general tend to overdo it. I see a lot of people do too much training or too many consecutive training days. You need to take the time to let the body recover and absorb the training you have done so you can do a good job. I have always been reasonably good with it, as have seen a lot of people burn themselves out.
What’s more important – the training and preparation of the rider, or the bike and gear? I think making sure your bike is regularly in good order and not leaving it till last moment is important but on other side of things, a world champ could be a world champ on any bike they were given. You still need to look after yourself and make sure you follow good nutrition and a training program and get good rest so you can perform.
How do you stay motivated? Sometimes it’s hard, especially as an Australian when don’t have family and friends as a support network. I just try to be present in the moment, break things into smaller parts. It’s good to have lots of short-term as well as long-term goals. Feeling like taking small steps rather than looking too far ahead. I feel very privileged to have this lifestyle. Living in Italy. Pretty cool. A lot of people are jealous of that so I try to make sure I appreciate it!
Any thoughts on where cycling is at in Australia, especially compared to other countries? Definitely cycling is getting to be more popular and more of a common sport, which is really important for road awareness and general safety. In terms of the National Road Series, it’s great to see improvement and increase in the number of events giving riders the chance for some top level competition.
Do you think the NRS is a good thing? It’s a really great platform for riders trying to get to the next level. It’s great to see the increased number of events for the women, and I hope to see a few more especially alongside some of the men’s event. It would be great to see more sponsors and teams get on board.
Dare I ask but do you have a life outside cycling? I try to keep a good balance – you know, not let cycling define me, keep a good relationship with family and friends, do well with my studies. I am into social media – Skype, Twitter, I do it all. I even have my own YouTube channel with 15 videos of where we ride, hotels we stay at…a channel for people to see some of my life here. It’s currently called Rookie Roadie – the name may change. I have a partner, too. Stu Shaw – he is currently with the Suzuki Bontrager NRS team, they select a few NRS events during the year on their limited budget. He has taken a step down to NRS level, he is at a point wants to race for the enjoyment and mentor younger riders. He has come to Europe with the Drapac team the last six years.
Any bad stacks to speak of and how do you cope with time off? I have had a lot! Nothing bad this year, just a little tumble in a race a couple of months ago. A couple of years ago shoulder surgery. The year before, surgery on my hand. I guess in my own head I know what my long-term goal is, so getting better is getting back to that point, making sure I am properly recovered. Definitely I have had moments where I was a bit depressed, frustrated, because I couldn’t do the things I want to do and train hard. All you can do is be relaxed and patient.
Do you have any tips for climbing hills? You have to climb to climb. There is no way around it. If you want to get better, you have just got to go out and do them. Work on overall climbing fitness; include intervals or just ride as far as possible, no shortcuts.
It’s probably way too early to ask this but what do you want to do when you leave cycling? I’d like to have a few more years. I am halfway through a Bachelor of Science, trying to major in nutrition and I have been a personal trainer for a few years. I would like to be able to combine my working and education knowledge with my professional cycling experiences and provide a package to people as a coach or mentor, lifestyle. There is a lot of encouragement for us to do something else, which is really good for personal development but also to have that option, say if I got injured or my plans didn’t turn out, or do turn out but I have to think of something at the end, so it’s important to think ahead.