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Rebecca Wiasak

Bicycling Australia has been chatting with National Road Series athletes to get some tips on how we can all ride better and smarter.  In this edition we catch up with the ACT’s Rebecca Wiasak as she begins her European season.

BA:  Since this column is mostly about the National Road Series, can you tell us what your NRS experience has been?

RW: This will be my fourth year in the National Road Series. In my first season in 2011 I entered Mersey Valley as an individual but travelled and stayed with Team Suzuki. It was difficult being an outsider but I was grateful for the opportunity and learnt a lot from the more experienced riders. I was invited to be a guest rider for every NRS event for the remainder of the season and was signed in 2012. I have had great personal success in the NRS, winning multiple stages in time trial, criteriums and road races however I really enjoy sharing in the success of my teammates.

The team has continued to get stronger every year and will be a women’s only team in 2014 with as much support as when we also had a men’s team in the NRS. We are the highest ranked women’s NRS team continuing into 2014 and I believe we have the team, both on and off the bike, to achieve great things again this season.

BA: How old are you (you don’t have to answer. I wouldn’t!)

RW: I am turning 30 this year!

BA:  What is your home cycling club?

RW: I am a member of the Canberra Cycling Club and have been since I started cycling in 2010. I grew up in Geelong and my family live there so that is still ‘home’ however I have lived in Canberra since 2003 and it remains my base. I have had to travel more frequently for cycling the past 12 months and I would probably now spend less than half the year in Canberra.

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

RW: I won a UCI Track World Cup Gold Medal in the Individual Pursuit in Aguascalientes, Mexico in December last year. I was also a member of the team that set the current Australian Record in the 4km Team Pursuit. We set that time at the same Track World Cup in Aguascalientes. On the road my most memorable cycling result was winning the Tour of Geelong, which was part of the National Road Series in 2011, and my stage wins in road races and criteriums in the NRS last year – Stage 3 of the Adelaide Tour, and Stage 3 and 4 of the National Capital Tour.

BA: Where are you now (as we do this interview) and why? 

RW: I am currently overlooking Lago di Varese at the Australian Institute of Sport’s European Training Centre in Italy. I will be training and racing with the National Women’s Road Team until the end of May.

BA: How did you get into cycling?  

RW: I think my move to cycling has been fairly well documented in various media. Newspaper stories still often refer to me as a ‘former triathlete’ even though I have been cycling for more than three years. I was competing as an age-group triathlete and even paid my way to the World Triathlon Championships on the Gold Coast in 2009. I had intentions of turning pro and racing in the elite category, however the time and financial commitment was too great for the reward, and I could no longer justify the expense. Some friends had been nagging me to switch to cycling and when I started making enquiries I was warned off the sport. My triathlon coach also held me back for a number of months before eventually aiding my transition. He remains one of my main supporters and I am grateful for the things I learnt, and strength I developed, as a triathlete and as a track runner before that.

BA: Do you have a job other than cycling?

RW: The travel demands of being in the Cycling Australia High Performance Unit mean I am no longer able to work, as I have not been home in Canberra for more than three weeks since September. As availability is a requirement of employment, I would not be the best employee. Though if anyone would like to pay me to not work for them, I would love to get in contact! I am now in a very fortunate position where I receive some financial support to pursue my cycling goals. When my money runs out I might have to reconsider my employment status, however I am enjoying being a full-time professional cyclist.

BA: Single, married or other?

RW: I am in a relationship.

BA: Kids? Now or in the future?

RW: I don’t currently have any children, however I would love to have a family one day.

BA: Sprinter or stayer? 

RW: If you read my profile on the Suzuki Brumby’s website it will tell you I am a sprinter; however I don’t have the raw speed or explosiveness to be a pure sprinter. I have won a couple of stages of the NRS in a long sprint, but I am more of a pursuit and time trial specialist.

BA: What’s the name of your team?

RW: I ride for Suzuki Brumby’s in the NRS. We have had a number of name changes during the past few years, but our loyal sponsors have always stuck with us and only the naming rights have changed. The team is very active in the community and I love representing the team and our sponsors – and being a role model for aspiring female cyclists.

BA: When did you join?

RW: I was a guest rider for Team Suzuki in 2011 and was offered a contract with the team in 2012.

BA: Had you been in other teams previously?

RW: No.

BA: Do you have a sponsor?

RW: I have a number of personal sponsors who have made generous financial contributions for me to chase my dreams. There are also a number of fantastic businesses including Bikesure, The Podiatry Studio and Bodyfix who provide their services, and others including Oakley who provide products. The ACT Academy of Sport (ACTAS) and Cycling Australia have also made a big investment in my career.

BA: How about a coach?

RW: My coach Glenn Doney recently moved to the Victorian Institute of Sport to take on the Head Coach position so I am currently in a transition period, with the new ACTAS Head Coach Ben Cook moving into his role in May. While I am training with the Australian road team I am coached by either Martin Barras or Gary Sutton, and Sutto also looks after me while I am on training camps with the Australian track team.

BA: Do you think it is important for a bike rider to have a coach, even
juniors and masters and club level riders?

RW: Absolutely. Cyclists of all abilities should employ a coach to oversee their program – though this would depend on your goals and level of commitment. Cyclists in Canberra could almost just use the bunch rides as the basis of their training and select a number of key races to target. Though it is great to have a mentor to bounce ideas off and provide direction, or a coach to modify training daily, depending on fatigue levels.

BA: What’s your favourite riding discipline?

RW: I love the track pursuit – team and individual.

BA: Some of your favourite rides?

RW: Any ride on an indoor velodrome! I have also been very lucky to ride my bike at different places around the world and enjoy being able to wake up in another country and go out on the local roads for my training rides. My favourite rides would have to be the weekly bunches in Canberra. They are early and it can be very unpleasant in winter but during the warmer months nothing beats them.

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

RW: This would depend on which season I was in – track or road. Some of our track camps are pretty full days of not only training, but with several appointments and meetings. We might do an 80km road ride in the morning and then a two hour track session in the afternoon. During the road season our sessions are usually in the morning and can range from an hour recovery ride to five hours.

BA: Do you have a life outside of cycling?

RW: Cycling is my life currently. Up until September last year I was a public servant living in Canberra, who rode my bike before or after work, and occasionally travelled interstate to compete – it was a great balance. I do however enjoy living through my friends and family who are married and have children, things which I have sacrificed to live my cycling dream. I am also dating a cyclist so bike riding, and talk about bike riding, fills up a lot of my time.

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

RW: I currently have a Trek Madone which is the Suzuki Brumby’s team issue edition with Dura-Ace running gear. We have been supported by Trek for a number of years and I love being able to ‘upgrade’ every year. While in Europe I will ride the Australian team issue Scott which the Orica GreenEDGE team also ride.

BA: Have you raced overseas?

RW: My first race overseas was the Tour of New Zealand in 2012 with Team Suzuki. I have since raced on the track in Aguascalientes in January 2013 and then on the road with the national team in Europe from June to July last year where we raced in the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Poland. I raced all three Track World Cups this season, in Manchester, Aguascalientes and Guadalajara. I am currently in Italy with the national team and will race the Spring Classics in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and finish the racing block off in China which I am really looking forward to.

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

RW: My program has been mapped out until the end of May. I will be racing with the National Women’s Road Team until 25 May when I fly back to Australia. The rest of the year is a bit of an unknown. As I am on the long list for the Commonwealth Games on the track, I may have track commitments from June to July. I then plan to race the National Road Series with my team Suzuki Brumby’s in August before moving back into the track program in Adelaide sometime in September.

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

RW: I think better gear makes you a better rider; however you become a great rider first by training hard. Last year when I used the Team Suzuki issue Bontrager Aeolus 5 race wheels, I could climb all of the sudden. I also had a 28 cassette on, and spinning up hills made a huge difference to my climbing ability. Learning about how your body responds to certain training stimulus, and more specific training, also makes you a better rider. Last year my coach replicated racing through my training – it was very specific. We spun up hills and did big-gear work on the flats. I really enjoyed the training and it translated really well to racing.

BA: How do you stay motivated?

RW: It is not difficult to stay motivated when I get to live the dream every day. I love waking up and being able to ride my bike as a job. Wearing the green and gold colours is also a huge motivator. I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to represent Australia and I try to do the best I can to reward the people who have believed in me and supported me through the past few years. If I am ever struggling for motivation, I just need to say the word ‘Olympics’ and that gives me the kick in the backside I need to keep going.

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

RW: I feel like the domestic cycling scene in Australia has really grown since I started riding three years ago. It is great to see women I used to race alongside move on to professional teams and really excel in the international peloton. I have loved spending time in Europe and seeing how they really embrace cycling, as a means of transport and as a sport. They are fanatical and it would be fantastic if more Australians could adopt that passion and interest in our sport. I get a buzz out of seeing the supporters lining the course up the climb for the men’s race at the Australian Road Championships in Ballarat and hope that continues to grow in future years, for both the men and women.

BA: Do you think the NRS is a good thing? 

RW: The NRS has really provided a great launch pad for both men and women to professional teams. It is so important to have a strong domestic competition for developing riders to assist them make the move to international racing. The fields have become larger and a lot more competitive in the past four years and there has been a greater media interest in the NRS. Sponsors really acknowledge the professionalism of teams and the exposure the racing receives which results in more support for the riders.

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

RW: Without a doubt the NRS has helped grow and develop women’s cycling, and female riders. I recently looked up the top-five from my first Tour with Team Suzuki, which was the Canberra Tour in 2011 where I finished second. The winner Grace Sulzberger has since moved from the Tasmanian Institute of Sport to the national team Jayco-AIS and then to Orica GreenEDGE. Third placed Allison Rice raced at the World Junior Road Championships, fourth placed Gracie Elvin has become a dominant rider for the GreenEDGE team and fifth placed Loren Rowney is racing with Specializedlululemon. All five riders have also raced for Australia at the World Championships or in World Cups the past two years.

When I first started in the NRS our race entry and sometimes flights and accommodation were covered by the team or our state institute, however it is amazing that female riders can now be fully supported to a series of eight events around Australia.

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

RW: I think having great female role models who can act as ambassadors for the sport would result in more women riding bikes. I was encouraged to start cycling by reading blogs of women who had made the transition to the sport. At the time, some of them were my age or older, and they gave me the inspiration to try for myself. Surprisingly it was some of my male friends who actually gave me the shove I needed to enter my first cycling event. I am not aware if these are still offered, however l received a sponsored Cycling Australia membership through my club in my first year, which was designed to encourage more women into cycling.

Our team Suzuki Brumby’s has a strong community presence and I hope that our community engagement work encourages both men and women to ride a bike for either leisure or competition.

BA: What do you think stops them?

RW: Organised sport is often intimidating – especially when you see professional athletes in colour-coordinated matching kit, and on expensive equipment. I was so intimidated when I first went into a bike shop, and I’m sure I continue to ask stupid questions. I cringe at photos of me when I first started racing. After almost four years in the sport I feel like I am still learning. We have a great inclusive cycling community in Canberra which has a number of group rides, regular coffee shop stops, and a women’s only Facebook group to communicate messages about rides or events. I am not sure if this happens in other towns, but I think being welcoming and approachable helps women into cycling. 

BA: Have you ever crashed? 

RW: Unfortunately a number of my crashes have been shown live on SBS. I crashed in my first Track Nationals in 2012 in the scratch race and crashed again the following year in the points race. Last year I had my first serious crash on the road, which required a trip to emergency by ambulance. I was training with the SASI bunch in Adelaide and overlapped wheels with the rider in front. My hospital discharge report indicated that I had no loss of consciousness however I have little memory of what happened between falling and arriving at hospital. It was my first head injury and a very surreal experience, and something I definitely don’t want to experience again. Those three are my most spectacular crashes; however I have once fallen by being unable to unclip in a car park, and was taken down by a teammate while riding around the lake in Canberra.

BA: What’s your big dream now?

RW: I am dreaming of the 2016 Olympic Games. I would also love to be part of a UCI professional women’s road team and compete in the World Championships on both the track and road.

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

RW: While I was studying sports media at university I had dreamed of becoming a broadcast journalist however I was offered a cadetship with The Canberra Times, so began my career in print journalism. I hope to one day return to the daily deadlines and high pressure world of media but love my current profession and think I will always ride a bike.

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

RW:  My ultimate dinner guest list would include my boyfriend, family and closest friends. I don’t get to see them nearly as often as I would like so it would be great to have them all together and enjoy a great meal with them.

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