Hein Verbruggen (right) was head of the UCI from 1991 to 2005 when he resigned to become vice president. He was succeeded at the helm by Pat McQuaid and the pair has been close allies since. McQuaid's tenure was characterised by intense public and media scrutiny for the duration, while many allegations of corruption and mismanagement were levelled at the UCI.
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Nicole Whitburn

Bicycling Australia has been chatting with National Road Series athletes to get some tips on how we can all ride better and smarter. Liv-giant-Shimano’s Nicole Whitburn gives us the lowdown from all from her nickname to her dinner guest list.

BA: Nicole, do you have a nickname?

NW: I’m known as Black Caviar in the local scene as I have won a few of the local crits.

BA:  How would people describe your personality in three words?

NW: Friendly, fun and cheeky.

BA: What’s the name of your NRS team?

NW: Liv/giant – Shimano.

BA: When did you join it?

NW: This year. The Liv/giant team was very small last year so it has grown this year and picked up a few of the riders from the Pensar SPM team.

BA: Had you been in other teams previously?

NW: My first team that I raced NRS with was Prime Estate; that was a few years ago. Then last year I was lucky enough to be part of the champion team Pensar SPM.

BA:  What has your NRS experience been?

NW: I initially did a few races as an individual before joining Prime Estate. I then had a few years away from the NRS before returning with Pensar SPM last year.

BA: What have your NRS results been so far?

NW: I won the Shipwreck Coast Classic and took the Sprinters Jersey at the Tour of the Goldfields last year.

BA: Great effort! So where to from here? What are you NRS goals?

NW: I think stage wins will be our team’s focus this year. I will be focusing on the sprinter’s jerseys at most tours and then trying to not get dropped on the hills!

BA: What’s it like riding in NRS events?

NW: Fabulous! The racing has really developed from when I raced with Prime Estate. It’s really tactical and aggressive. A lot of the teams come into the events with race plans which makes for some spectacular racing.

BA: Do you think the NRS is important to Australian cyclists?  Why?

NW: Yes it’s very important. It’s really the only avenue for all the top riders around the country to compete against each other. It offers a variety of race formats which really helps to develop riders.

BA: Any ideas on how the NRS could be better?

NW: A bit more media coverage would do wonders in helping attract more sponsors to the women’s side of the sport. I know many teams have tiny budgets compared to the men and it makes everything that little bit more challenging at the races.

BA:  What do you like best about the NRS?

NW: I love the atmosphere at the races. The women I race against are very competitive once the gun goes off but also very friendly after the race. It’s always a good weekend away.

BA: Where are you now (for our interview) and why? 

NW: Sitting on the couch watching Paris Roubaix on TV and trying to stay awake!

BA: Where do you call home? What is your home cycling club?

NW: Home is Brighton in Melbourne and my club is Carnegie Caulfield Cycling Club.

BA: How old are you?

NW: 35.

BA: How did you get into cycling? 

NW: I played basketball for most of my younger years and then moved into triathlon after reading an inspiring article on Emma Carney. But after a few years of triathlon I got a little sick of everyone telling me I should try cycling and gave it a go (I was not a great swimmer or runner). I never did another triathlon!

BA: Do you have a job other than ‘bike rider’?

NW: I work full-time as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry.

BA: Single, married or other?

NW: Engaged.

BA: Children now or planned?

NW: None (yet!).

BA: Do you consider yourself a sprinter or stayer? Or climber?

NW: Sprinter, I am definitely not built to go uphill.

BA: Do you have a personal or team sponsor?

NW: I have been sponsored by Liv/giant for a few years now. They have been fabulous and I couldn’t race at the level I do without their support. This year Shimano has also come on board to sponsor the team which is great as I love their shoes!

BA: How about a coach?

NW: I actually coach myself.

BA: If you have a personal coach as well as a team coach, how does that work? Who do you listen to?

NW:  No issues there, only if I don’t want to listen to myself!

BA: Do you think it is important for a bike rider to have a coach, even juniors and masters who aren’t members of teams but want to ride at their best?

NW: I think if you are looking to improve in your fitness or skills then a coach can definitely help make that improvement a lot faster. I also do some coaching with my partner’s group, Leadout Cycling. Most of the members are new to cycling and I have seen some massive improvements in their first year of riding. I really enjoy the coaching and passing on my knowledge too.

BA: What’s your favourite riding discipline? Road, track, MTB?

NW: That’s a tough question, I have done road, track, MTB and CX and I love all of them because they are so different. At the moment I am enjoying the MTB as it’s so technically challenging.

BA: Some of your favourite training or coffee rides?

NW: Anywhere that gets you away from the traffic is great.

BA: What does a typical day of training look like for you?

NW: If it’s a work day then very busy! Up early to train then straight to work and a few coffees to get the brain working. Then maybe some core and stretching in the evening if I’m not too tired. My training changes a lot depending on work/weather etc. Usually I go for the quality over quantity approach!

BA: What are some of your best results to date?

NW:  I went to America in 2012 and raced for a month, I raced the 11-day criterium series Tour of America’s Dairyland and the Nature Valley stage race. It was so much fun; the racing over there is five times what it is here. There are many teams and riders and a lot more money in the women’s side of things. I finished third overall in that race series. I have also done the Melbourne to Warrnambool which, at 299km, is by far the longest and hardest race I have done.

BA: Do you have a life outside of cycling?

NW: Not really! I try to get out and socialise as much as possible but there is just not much time left in the day.

BA: What bike and components do you ride? Your choice or the team’s?

NW: I ride Liv/giant’s Envie Advanced with Shimano components. It is my team’s choice but I’m lucky as it is what I would choose to ride anyway. Liv/giant has a range of women’s specific proper racing bikes which are awesome to ride.

BA: What’s your program for the year look like?

NW: It’s actually really full, there are lots of NRS races plus some MTB and CX. I am also hoping to get back to track racing later in the year.

BA:  What makes you a better rider? The gear, the training?

NW: Consistent training is the key to improving your fitness and strength. Of course it helps if you have a flashy bike that you love to ride but putting in the effort is what gets the results.

BA: How do you stay motivated?

NW:  I really love to race, so as long as I have some target races planned then motivation isn’t too hard. Lately I have been challenging myself with different disciplines and races that don’t play to my strengths to develop areas of my riding which aren’t so strong. However I must admit that the Melbourne winters do make it very tough to get out of bed early!

BA:  Where do you think cycling is at in Australia, especially compared to other countries?

NW:  I think the level of racing in Australia is not too bad; the number of participants is probably what is behind other countries. There is still a huge jump between racing the NRS and the national level in America or Europe. But I think with the growth in women’s numbers this will eventually flow through to a higher level in the NRS which will in turn hopefully close the huge gap between the racing in Australia and Europe.

BA: What do you think of the state of women’s cycling in Australia?

I think it’s heading in the right direction. In Melbourne we now have three women’s only grades every weekend and the numbers just keep growing. Plus with the use of social media it’s easier to get the info and result from the races and other information out to those interested.

BA: Do you think the NRS has helped women’s cycling?

NW:  Without a doubt it has. It provides a high level and professional platform for us to race in. The team racing aspect also really encourages the tactical side of the sport and gets the women thinking about more than just how fast they can ride up a hill.

BA: Why do you think most women don’t ride/race bikes?

NW:  I think it’s just not something they think they can do. In Melbourne Liv/giant organises a weekly ride for anyone to come along. It’s very social and welcoming and they have access to riders, like myself, who race in the NRS to chat about everything cycling. I have met so many women on that ride that just never thought they could ride or race but with a little encouragement gave it a go and who are now loving the sport.

BA: What do you think is needed to encourage more women to ride and/or race bikes?

NW:  I think there needs to be more media coverage of the top level races, and the women’s profiles of riders like Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson need to be lifted. The men’s side of things has so many articles about the top level riders and they are common knowledge to most people but not many people know about the top women. I think if younger riders had some more idols to follow the sport would grow.

BA: Have you ever crashed?

NW:  Yes a few times, unfortunately it’s just part of racing. My first crash was probably my worst, I broke my collar bone and had some concussion but it was the day before I was to compete in the World Cup race in Geelong. I was so devastated that I couldn’t race; I had only been riding for 12 months so to do a World Cup race was very exciting.

BA: Any plans for after cycling or are you going to pedal off into the sunset?

NW:   I hope to never stop riding, I’m sure the body will tell me to stop racing soon. I hope to be involved in the sport for a while though, maybe coaching or DS of a team.

BA:  I know you are desperate for me to ask this question: who would be on your dinner guest list?

NW:  How many do I get to invite? I think top of the list would be Marianne Vos and then maybe Fabian Cancellara (I just want to see how big his legs are in real life!).

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Hein Verbruggen (right) was head of the UCI from 1991 to 2005 when he resigned to become vice president. He was succeeded at the helm by Pat McQuaid and the pair has been close allies since. McQuaid's tenure was characterised by intense public and media scrutiny for the duration, while many allegations of corruption and mismanagement were levelled at the UCI.

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Hein Verbruggen (right) was head of the UCI from 1991 to 2005 when he resigned to become vice president. He was succeeded at the helm by Pat McQuaid and the pair has been close allies since. McQuaid's tenure was characterised by intense public and media scrutiny for the duration, while many allegations of corruption and mismanagement were levelled at the UCI.

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