Bicycling Australia has been talking to some of the riders in our National Road Series (NRS) to get some ideas on how to ride better, faster and smarter. For this edition Karen Forman Thornton tracked down Lizzie Williams from the Specialized Securitor women’s NRS team, talking down the line from America.
Bicycling Australia: Where are you right now, Lizzie?
Lizzie Williams: In America in Milwaukie, which is about 10 miles from Lake Michigan.
BA: What are you doing there?
LW: There is a series of criteriums that goes for 10 days called Dairylands. It’s a well known bike tour, an event I have been wanting to race, with fairly good prize money and I got an opportunity to do it with the Vanderkitten Racing Team.
BA: Does that mean you are missing out on riding with your team in Australia, Specialized Securitor?
LW: No. I came to America because there was a break in the NRS season in Australia, a two-month gap, and I wanted to continue racing through that period and I knew America had some good races on at the time.
BA: So how did the stint in the US come about?
LW: The Vanderkitten team manager contacted me via Facebook after seeing my results in events in Australia and asked me to ride for them for two months. We have been travelling all over America; I have done lots of big races over the past two months.
I only knew about Vanderkitten through Miranda Griffiths, another Australian who rides for them, but my contact was Kirsty Baxter who lives in Sydney – I met her in Victoria at some of the races. She is a photographer and I contacted her to get some photos and ended up friends with her. She is friends with the Vanderkitten team manager. I had mentioned to her that I was interested in racing in America and she mentioned it to him and that’s how it happened. Amazing.
The team is basically made up of Kiwis, Aussies and Americans. A position came up just for a couple of months, all out of the blue and I was asked to get over there as soon as possible.
BA: Is this your first time racing overseas?
LW: Yes, I love it. I like the level of intensity of it, the enthusiasm of the Americans, who are very passionate about their cycling. People are very welcoming and encouraging. I couldn’t say a bad thing about it so far. The team doesn’t have a very big budget, so I paid for my own flights and food. But I am looked after with race entry, bike, kit, and nutrition during races. For accommodation they do host housing – people come and stay in their houses for free. I am on my fifth different one now. It’s really good because you get to see the local side of living in America rather than staying in hotels.
BA: Is the racing in the US different to our NRS racing here?
LW: Yes, the intensity. The depth of the field is obviously a lot bigger. It’s quite competitive. I have raced the UCI 1.1 in Philly, which is the highest ranked event in the world. You get the best riders in the world; 80 strong girls rather than 10 like here. The pace is a lot quicker; I guess the average speed would be three to five kilometres per hour faster. I guess for a criterium we would be averaging low 40s and a road race 39 to 40 for 100km compared to back in Australia it might average 35, because it’s a bigger field, there are really strong teams, and team tactics definitely come into play more.
BA: Where is home for you?
LW: I was living in inner Melbourne but I have recently put everything in storage and am currently homeless. I have family and friends in Melbourne so can come and stay with them. My goal is to be back overseas next year racing on the Euro scene professionally. I am heading to Europe in three weeks. I won the Amy Gillett scholarship so will be racing two months with the AIS and then return around the time of the Amy’s Gran Fondo and the NRS race the day before. There is the possibility of world champs as well; it depends on my performance over the next couple of months in Europe.
BA: Who will you ride with in Europe?
LW: I definitely wouldn’t ride as an individual; that doesn’t happen at the elite level. I guess I will just wait to see what offers I get. I just have to keep performing well and hopefully will have a couple of offers I can choose from.
BA: Have you got a dream team?
LW: I haven’t raced with the AIS before and I don’t really know the girls but obviously the Orica Green team would be desirable. I also would be interested in the Specialized American based team because I am riding with Specialized at the moment in Australia. I would like to be around other Australians if possible.
BA: Do you speak any other languages?
LW: A French team would be difficult but I learnt Italian growing up, and I have done some travel in Central America so I know a bit of Spanish.
BA: How did you get into cycling?
LW: I was about 13. I went down to Brunswick cycling clinic one Sunday at the velodrome so started and raced track until I was 17, then started to focus more on the road. I had an offer with the Australian team to live in Europe for three months at that time but I was pretty burned out and not enjoying the riding so I decided to not take up the offer and call it quits. I wanted to finish my studies – Bachelor of Applied Science in physical education – and had a 10-year break.
BA: So how did you get back into cycling?
LW: I bought a bike and got involved with triathlon coaching, ended up entering a half ironman last year, and realised I was enjoying my riding. In November I joined Brunswick Cycle Club and started racing club events, and got the bug back. I raced the Bay Crits and did pretty well, then got an offer from Specialized to ride with the team for 2014. I hadn’t really thought about it, but decided to give it a crack. My job working in a high school teaching PE finished up and all the signs were to go for the cycling. Put everything on hold. Just give it a go.
BA: How have the results been?
LW: I am currently second on the NRS behind Ruth Corset who is leading by a couple of points. My last NRS tour was Battle on the Border where I won the first stage, won the criterium on day two and came second on the last road stage just before I came overseas. I won the queen of the mountain and the sprinters jersey.
BA: What bike and components are you riding?
LW: Specialized Amira which runs Dura-Ace – it’s not electric.
BA: What’s more important, the training or the equipment?
LW: The equipment complements your training. Someone that is incredibly fit can ride a bike that’s not very good and beat someone on a bike that is 10 grand. Here in America I am riding bike two levels down from what I have been riding in Australia and still getting very good results. It’s Shimano 105. That’s an example that it doesn’t matter what you are riding, it obviously helps though.
BA: Do you have a coach?
LW: Yes my coach is Stuart McKenzie based in Melbourne. He coaches a number of girls in Victoria including Jo Hogan.
BA: What does a typical training week look like for you?
LW: When I was working I trained six days a week…two bunch rides with men, a race on the weekend, one hilly ride maybe four hours and a couple of short, sharp 40 to 50km rides with some power climbs.
BA: Any gym?
LW: No, I haven’t. I was a PT for 2.5 years so I have built up muscle from the past.
BA: Do you follow a particular diet or nutrition regime?
BA: I have changed my diet since becoming a cyclist again. I am eating really clean, fresh food, am off wheat – I am not coeliac but for me it’s not about limiting myself but finding what works for me. I am 30 now so have worked out what works, what makes me put on weight.
BA: What role does your weight play in your racing, especially as a female athlete?
LW: It’s something I don’t like to focus too much on. As an athlete you can become obsessive compulsive, think more about that rather than why you are actually cycling, the love and passion. I think the body works itself out if you are enjoying what you are doing. With the intensity and number of races I am doing it’s almost hard to keep weight on. Since November I have probably lost 8kg. Obviously I am conscious that if I am lighter and leaner I can go faster uphill, but then on the flat and open areas I do get blown around a bit more, so I need to know how to protect myself in those conditions.
BA: What do you think is the state of women’s cycling in Australia?
LW: I think it’s flourishing at the moment, definitely growing. Compared to when I raced 10 years ago, people didn’t even know what a cyclist was then. Now girls are confident getting out on the bike, racing alongside men, are not intimidated by it, giving it a go. Definitely on the way up and on.
BA: What role does the NRS play?
LW: The NRS is a good stepping stone for girls who have goals of racing overseas to get experience racing in stage races in big pelotons and training their bodies. Also NRS racing for some other girls is fun, for being part of a team, like a serious hobby, which is why the competition in the peloton, the level of ability and fitness is varied so much – a little bit disjointed.
BA: Do you have a cycling hero?
LW: Probably Anna Meares. I guess the Australian Story doco on her and what she went through with her broken neck, to have the drive and motivation to come back from that and not just fall in a heap is very admirable. It shows a lot of strength and self-belief.
BA: What could be done better to improve women’s cycling in Australia?
LW: Media exposure of races, using the top women and allowing them to be spokeswomen in cycling, letting women speak on television – there are people out there who are interested; it’s the media who are solely focused on the men. For example, the Tour Down Under had a women’s tour and nobody even knew. But as soon as the men came on, all the helicopters came over. We are generally there at the same races in Australia but the exposure and the prize money isn’t good.
At Battle on the Border, overall for the weekend of racing I made $285. It cost $1000 to enter our team…$200 per rider, and then on top of that accommodation and flights and food – and you have to split the prize money five ways among the teammates.
Girls aren’t riding for the money but because they love it. But it does need to be addressed. I can’t dwell on it because it’s only negative energy. I am racing because I love it. If I didn’t give it a crack I would go to my grave wondering what I could have achieved.
BA: Who would be your top choices for dinner guests and why?
LW: Turia Pitt. Her story really affected me. The courage she has shown since the tragedy and her will to live is an inspiration. Roy and HG. Because they are hilarious and would keep the conversation interesting.