At Bicycling Australia we want to help our readers ride better, train more effectively, eat to be more nutritionally sound, choose the right gear and generally get as much as possible out of their cycling experience. That’s why we have approached the top guys and girls racing in and for Australia today and asked for their tips. This edition, Karen Forman Thornton checks in with NRS leader Ruth Corsett and Jack Haig riding at the top of the NRS for teams Pensar and Huon Genesys .
BICYCLING AUSTRALIA: Where are you now?
RC: Home in Townsville at swimming training with the kids…it’s swimming and gymnastics today, so I am a taxi driver! I am mum to two girls, Caitlin, 9 and Stephanie, 11. And married to Jason, who is also my coach.
BA: Where is home?
RC: Townsville. I have been here most of my life.
BA: So your home club would be?
RC: Townsville Cycling Club. I have been a member there since I started cycling…seven years ago.
BA: And your team?
BA: Townsville is a long way from anywhere? How do you manage to race from there?
RC: It’s hard financially to live in the north. I chose certain races to aim for and trained specifically for. Especially when I have a family as well. It’s hard to be away from them.
BA: If it’s not a rude question, asking a lady her age?
RC: I am 36. I came to the sport fairly late, starting at 29. I had my girls, was keeping fit doing different things running and swimming. I did triathlons before that, just locally, for fun. I started after I finished school, met Jason, got married, had the girls and then got into cycling after that. I tried to get back into triathlon but it was too hard to train for all three disciplines. My husband is a cyclist; he encouraged me to get into cycling. Running and cyclist were my strengths as a triathlete, I did a few races down south and did well, and that motivated me to continue.
BA: When did you first realise you had something special?
RC: My first race, locally. There aren’t many female cyclists up here, so I was racing against the men. The first against women was the Australian country championships near Brisbane and I won that and then I thought, it was hilly, maybe I could try doing some more racing down there. So I did the Canberra Tour and a few others and did well.
I raced in the New Zealand Tour in Wellington when I was 30, and came third in a hilltop finish stage after breaking away on the climb with (Olympic bronze medallist and national champion) Oenene Woods. I was very excited about that, and to beat her, that was really special. I raced on a composite team and the director was starting a new team called Jazz Apple, racing in America and asked me if I would like to do some races over there. So I did a short stint racing there with them.
BA: It must have been hard to leave your family behind?
RC: It was extremely hard. I went over for two weeks then had to come home for my sister’s wedding before going back for another three weeks. I was crying the whole flight time; really unsure if I wanted to go back over again. My parents came up from Brisbane to help my husband with the girls. I realised they were really happy, in their normal routine, so decided to go back to the US.
BA: Practical matters aside, how did it feel as a mother?
RC: Sometimes it feels like your heart ripping out. You feel guilty, especially when I first started going away. My family really supported me and encouraged me.
BA: Is this why we don’t have many women in cycling?
RC: Yes, I think so. I am really lucky to have such a supportive husband, otherwise I could not race. My parents don’t live here, but come up from Brisbane whenever they can, especially when I used to race over in Europe and are also very supportive.
BA: What can race organisers and sponsors do to encourage more women into the sport?
RC: They could help more financially. That’s a huge problem. The men get paid so much money and women hardly anything, if anything at all. That’s why men can bring their families away with them to race, but women can’t. It’s like the next NRS Tour for me. It’s a five day tour, starts on Wednesday. The men can do it because a lot of them don’t work and don’t have family commitments, but hardly any women can do it…most have to work and a few do have kids.
BA: How did your cycling career develop?
RC: After Jazzapple, I raced for the AIS over in Europe, got a scholarship, then raced with Tibco, an American team, for a year in 2010. I raced in America and Europe with them. I actually did one stint of three months, which was extremely hard because I was pining for my family. My husband was all for it, I tried to get out of it, but the team said I had to do it. I went through a stage where I didn’t race very well but the Queensland Academy of Sport got onto a sports psychologist, that helped a lot. I had support from (former women’s Tour de France rider and VIS coach) Donna Rae-Szalinski and was Skyping family all the time. In 2011 I raced with the Australian team again, doing the Giro and getting a good result.
BA: What was racing like in Europe compared to the US and Australia?
RC: I am so glad I raced in America first! Europe can be very daunting. Not only the language barrier, but huge fields … up to 160 riders in a race, but the roads are narrower, more technical, the language barrier as well. In the US a lot of teams are hosted by families, who are really friendly and generous which helps a lot. In Europe, you have to find your own accommodation and make your own travel arrangements. It was really great to be able to race in my Australia national road jersey in 2010.
BA: And then suddenly your career was over?
RC: Yes, in 2011 I missed selection for the World Championships despite being the best performed female and that was the end of my Olympics dream. I just hung the bike up after that; didn’t want anything to do with it. What happened was I did a bit of mountain biking and started training for the Cairns half ironman. I am a person who needs a goal. Then while I was training for that, my husband met a girl, Susan McAllister, who had just started cycling at the local track and was motivated and keen to learn and asked me if I could help her on the road with her climbing. After a few weeks of him hassling me I finally agreed to go riding with her. Now we are really good friends and I have enjoyed mentoring her. She is racing with Pensar as well.
BA: So how did you step back into racing?
RC: Pensar asked me if I wanted to do a race with them. I was still training for the half ironman, only riding three days a week, but was fit from swimming and running, ended up winning Battle on the Border (BOB). They then asked if I wanted to do the next tour with them and I won the NRS for 2012 and ended up becoming hooked again.
BA: How does it feel this time around?
RC: I am enjoying it a lot more now. Especially not being away from my girls for long periods. That’s the biggest thing. NRS provides high quality racing locally. I think the NRS has lifted Australian cycling another level as well. From BOB early last year to now, teams are a lot more aggressive, their girls are learning how to race as a team, which is making it more competitive.
BA: So that Olympic dream? Is it dead?
RC: Yes, it’s not my goal anymore. I would like to win the NRS again this year…so far looking good. I am just taking each race at a time. I think my goal this year was to make the Worlds teams but I won’t be as disappointed like I would have been in the past if I don’t make it. The course in Tuscany is very hilly which would suit me. I have decided to do a few European races. I spoke to Marv (Martin) Barass and said I would have to get results over there…I don’t put as much pressure on myself as I used to.
BA: Does this come with age?
RC: Yes. I have raced overseas for a few years. I have a different perspective now. I can see how these other girls; their whole lives revolve around it.
BA: So it is important to keep a balance?
RC: Very. Some of them do study and I think that’s a good idea. If they were able to, a bit of part time work as well, just to get their minds off racing. You need to switch off and learn to enjoy it more.
BA: What bikes are you racing?
RC: The team sponsor Liv supplies Giant bikes – TCR – Durace 11 speed. I used to race 10 speed. 11 speed is really good especially for climbing, my specialty. They are very light bikes.
BA: Who looks after the mechanical side of your bikes?
RC: Unfortunately we don’t have a mechanic, although for the last tour someone helped us out as a soigneur. It’s very important women learn how to look after their own bikes. Especially simple things like adjusting gears if they are not working properly, and putting the bike together.
BA: What is the secret to success? Hard training or the best gear?
RC: Definitely training. Actually it is good to train on a heavier bike and race on a lighter bike. You can’t win races just by riding a light bike.
BA: Have you ever been badly injured?
RC: Yes, a few times. Probably the worse in the Belgian World Cup 2011 towards the end of the race. On the descent my back wheel slid out and I t-boned the side rails at 70kmh, couldn’t move, thought I had fractured my pelvis. Ended up not being able to finish my stint in Europe. I was off the bike for three-four weeks.
BA: How did you spend the time?
RC: I did out of seat training on the wind trainer…which kept me fit to a certain extent. You want to embrace the time off but you do think of how much fitness and form you are losing.
BA: How do you balance cycling with life?
RC: I am a massage therapist with my own business. I work 35 hours week and my husband helps out with the girls, although the after school activities are my responsibility. I go training really early in the mornings, every morning.
BA: Do you have any plans for after cycling?
RC: I will probably keep racing locally in Townsville and now my girls are into cycling I can see myself travelling way with them!