Since it burst onto the Australian racing scene in 2011, Specialized Securitor has quickly garnered a reputation for being one of the of the women's teams to watch during the National Road Series (NRS) and summer criterium series.
With a team built around sprint victories, in 2013 Kimberley Wells won the first national title for the team in the criterium. The team was more likely to be seen mixing it up in bunch sprint finishes than challenging for hill top victories, but 2014 has seen the team add a few more strings to its bow.
With the addition of Lizzie Williams, who returned to racing this year after a ten-year hiatus, the team has been meetings its expectations of being more dynamic during the NRS this year. Williams' first-half of the season saw her earn a call up to race overseas with Vanderkitten during the NRS mid-season break and just competed at La Course by Le Tour de France.
Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Liz Phillippou about the 2014 season and her goal of ensuring her squad is the number one women's NRS team at the end of the year.
Cyclingnews: How was your preparation for the start of 2014 NRS series and how are you finding the season?
We came off a solid summer season and we regrouped after a few of our riders went overseas to race internationally. We have a fairly new team for the 2014 NRS season, plus we had the addition of a new race director and mechanic so it's been a big overall for our team.
After the first two rounds of the year, I think we are looking to be in a good position and we're happy with how we've gone so far and how the girls are starting to work together. Our focus is to have the same five or six riders ride all the NRS events and not have too many guest riders come in-and-out. We want to try to get consistency and get the girls to know each other well and working well as a team.
We had our first win with Lizzie Williams at Mersey Valley and we're trying to set her up for the NRS series win.
CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
It's very much based on rider's strength and personality. We try to balance the team with hill climbers, a sprinter, and development riders but the most important thing for me, is that the riders get on well personality wise and that we have good team harmony. I think that makes for a good base and teamwork is so important in the NRS.
Our new race director, Bec Domange, she's kind of the gel that holds everything together and she's good at keeping everyone harmonious and working as a team.
CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
In the last year, we we're pretty much based around Kimberly Wells as a sprinter so we geared our team a lot around sprint finishes and bunch kicks and pulling back breaks. This year it's a little bit different with Lizzie Williams being our lead rider in that she is very versatile; she can climb and she can sprint.
It's giving us a few more option and hands we can play in the races so we're working on becoming more well-rounded as a team and not just focusing on sprinting and the summer season. We've had a lot of success in criteriums but in the past we've lacked in the hill climbing so our biggest difference is having a well-rounded GC rider like Lizzie and some good support behind her like Sophie McKay, who is also very well rounded. We're probably just more well-rounded as a whole
CN: What is your racing calendar?
The full NRS calendar. We're talking about doing some racing in the break and having a training camp which we'll maybe base around one of the Victorian Tours but the NRS is really our focus and we don't really have room in our budget to do addition races on top of that.
CN: What are the expectations of the team for the 2014 season?
I expect that the riders get to know each other and work very closely as a team. I expect that they become more and more professional on and off the bike and that they do everything in their power to make our team a very smooth operating unit. Professionalism is pretty important and with the new additional investment by the team this year into a race director and mechanic, its raised the bar a far bit, so I'd like our team to become the number one team in the country and become one of the most professional and sought after teams.
So I expect a lot of professional from the team and I expect them to take on a fair bit of responsibility and not that everything will be done for them. They work for it and deserve their spot on the team and no one takes it for granted.
CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year?
We do have the goal to win the team classification overall but at the moment, stage wins is what we would like and overall tour wins on GC is more of a long term goal at the end of the season because we still have a very new combination of girls.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
I think it's pretty good and Cycling Australia has done a lot of work to improve it. In terms of tours that are on the on the list, they are all fairly well established and organised. Probably the big break isn't ideal for us. Yes and no, it gives us an opportunity to let our girls go overseas and do some racing internationally but, it's also too long a break and it goes a bit stale and my preference would to have it better spaced.
I like how the first half of the year is the interstate year and the second half of the year there is a lot of Victorian-based races. It's fairly well structured and I think eight-or-nine events are manageable. It would be good to have a couple of extra but that would mean that teams would have to stretch their budgets even further.
We are not only a NRS team, as we also focus on the summer season which is just as important so we need to make our budget stretch the entire year so we're happy with the NRS and the tour's that are in it.
CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
I think this is probably going to be the first year that there isn't going to be a standout rider. From the tour's that have happened so far, obviously Ruth [Corset] is dominant but there was almost a different winner of every stage in the first two races which I think was awesome.
You have Flick Wardlaw, Lizzie, Ruth… there are a lot of strong riders. I think there will be five riders who are the top rider and not just one. I think the teams are getting stronger and whereas in past years Ruth was dominant, I think it's gotten a bit more even this year. It's good for us, it's good for the other teams to have more incentive to get out there and get a stage win.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
Making the budget stretch across everything. We try to make our team as fully funded as we can, but it's probably not always possible. It is pretty hard financially, as well as our sponsors, we just hosted a major financial event which was much needed. So I guess that in order to provide the support that I'd like to, it's hard to get the financial backing because in order to have the staff on hand, vehicles, and have it as professional as the men's NRS — I'd love to be able to provide the sort of support say a BudgetForklifts does — but we just don't have the man power to do that.
Budget is main constraint and it means that we do everything on a much smaller scale. It's enough, and at the same time as wanting to provide good support, it's also good for the girls to not have everything laid on too thick and taking on responsibility for getting places.
A few years ago, NRS teams didn't really exist and everyone would pay their own way, drive themselves to races, look after themselves and I've come from that era a little bit and hard work goes a long way into making the riders tough. I am Happy with how it is at the moment and we are in a pretty fortunate position but there is definitely room to develop if we had more financial support.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Our sponsors are pretty obvious as they are in the name our team, so it's Specialized and Securitor who are our major sponsors. They hold the naming rights to the team and we also have product sponsors in Capo Cycling Apparel and Adidas Eyewear. I try to keep our sponsors to a minimum because I want to be able to focus on those particular sponsors and offer a really good return on their investment.
Rather than having our jersey with 50 logos all over it, we reserve it just for our major sponsors and we do a lot of events and promotional in return for our sponsorship.
We are pretty lucky with our support and we have good relationships with our sponsors.
2014 Specialized Securitor team: Lizzie Williams, Sophie Mackay, Cassandra Dodd, Claire Trembath, Imogen Vize, Josie Talbot, Kimberley Wells, Amy Bradley and Verita Stewart. Ashlee Ankudinoff is a guest rider at the Tour of the Murray.