NRS team feature: Total Rush women's cycling team

Melbourne based team looking to punch above its weight in 2014

The Total Rush women's team was formed in 2012 with the intention of racing in the National Road Series (NRS) along with other women's team events. Total Rush, a bike shop in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, has supported several teams and consequently, the team is able to draw upon that experience to support the development of the women's team

Cyclingnews caught up with team manager Bridie O'Donnell who returned to Australia after an extended stint of racing in Europe and mostly recently with Vanderkitten in America in 2012 and is a regular performer on the big stage when racing against the clock.

Cyclingnews: How was your preparation for the start of the 2014 NRS series and how are you finding the season?
Preparation for me was coming off the back of racing Australian nationals and the Oceania Championships so I was focused on time trial specific training from December until February.I was hoping to podium at the Oceanias and look towards long list selection for the Commonwealth Games team for the time trial, but unfortunately that didn't happen.

We've got a couple of new girls in our team who haven't raced NRS this year but both are pretty good little climbers so this year is a bit of unknown territory for them. It will be interesting how the team gels together.

Overall classifications for us this year will be hard considering I didn't race Adelaide Tour and didn't get a good GC position at Mersey Valley. We'll look for stage wins and individual performances and it will be interesting to see how our girls go.

CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
Often it comes down to who is available. Everyone has jobs and we're all funding our travel and accommodation ourselves so that makes it a challenge to get the rider right for a race.

Jess Toghill, who is our only Queensland rider, is also a Qantas pilot so that makes travel pretty easy for her but she has a partner and kids so sometimes getting holidays and getting flexibility is more of a challenge than the travel.

CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
The dynamic is quite different. Last year was my first year racing on the team and doing any kind of NRS racing after coming back from racing in US with Vanderkitten in 2012 and really I was brought onto the team because Simon Coffin asked me if I wanted to ride in the team on their bikes and in their kit but I wasn't available for a lot of racing.

The riders were very energetic and passionate about racing but not very experienced with actual competition. I feel that this year, the difference is that we have some younger riders who are very motivated to not only get some good results, but learn a lot more about team dynamics and team responsibility.

I want my girls to feel that they will often be taking on the responsibility of looking after someone else in our team whose job it is to perform well and I want us to get better with communicating with each other; putting our hand up when we want to perform well and asking for the support of the team or putting our hand up when we aren't going to ride as well as we hoped.

There are quite a few women's teams in the NRS but not all of them are functioning as a team which we've seen this year. We are still seeing women's road cycling in Australia taking a while to transition from an individual mindset to a team mindset.

I think that a lot of blokes still don't get that we don't have the luxury of eight or nine riders so you don't have riders who you can dispose of or can use up. If you only have three girls in a race, you're hardly going to be attacking all the time, so you have to be more tactical and sometimes more defensive in how you race.

So while I'd love for everyone to have five riders at every event and race more aggressively and opportunistically, that doesn't always happen.

CN: What are the expectations of the team for the 2014 season?
My expectation is that our riders arrive fit and healthy for racing and are prepared to do a job and that some girls are targeting specific races and stages throughout the year.

Verita Stewart for example, her family come from Wangaratta, so she really wants to perform well at the Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley as that's her home tour. We understand that and we're going to be there to help her out and get a result for her.

A lot of it is about preparation for events and gaining confidence that the riders can stick with the better climbers and better racers in this country.

CN: What is your racing calendar?
I'll do all the NRS races and some of the girls will do the rest of them as well.

CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year? Why?
Both the National Capital Tour and San Miranda have longer time trial stages and I'll have my full equipment there because I can't always afford to fly with two bikes and wheels, so I'd love to win both those stages at those races.

The team time trial stage at the Tour of the Goldfields is going to be a bit more challenging because there is a spread of ability and strength in our team so a win is a bit unrealistic I think. I'd also like to do well in Amy's Grand Fondo as I know those roads well.

CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
I think there is a great spread of races in terms of where we're going. To be able to race in New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and Tasmania is great for us. Obviously, the big break between Battle on the Border in May to Sam Miranda in late August is a bit curious.

In general, I think that the NRS has gone from strength-to-strength and I think that the depth of talent in the women's field has improved in the last two years. I think that sometimes that I come from looking at the NRS with the mindset of having raced in Europe and America and I find it strange that it isn't opportunist and aggressive and the stages aren't long enough, but then there are a lot of girls coming from a state perspective.

There is a big disparity in ability and a big difference in the agenda of women's racing with some riders looking to get results on the day and some looking to get better contracts for next year. So that can make for a curious mix of riders and ambitions.

CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
Mersey Valley was pretty challenging with a small peloton makes for slow, very difficult climbing and psychology the terrain didn't suit me so I was going pretty slow as points so it just makes it a survival test. Some of the other races, the climbing is hard but you actually are racing, not just trying to pull yourself over the climbs but I think that will change when there are bigger numbers in the peloton and women are performing a role.

CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
I think that Ruth Corset is going to feel more comfortable at the Holden Women's Cycling team than last year when she rode with Katrin Garfoot when they were the most talented riders in the NRS and riding for the same team. Ruth tends to ride better when she is being supported and this year, that's the team objective.

While a lot of girls may be more consistent than Ruth sometimes, she will have the opportunity to go to all the races and build consistency and support through her team.

CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
The major challenge is financial, it's pretty cost prohibitive. Talking to Donna-Rae Szalinski who is running the women's VIS team, they find it very challenging to afford race entry and the cost of flying the team and maybe one or two staff members over, let alone having the equipment.

At Mersey Valley, I paid for the ferry ride both ways to and from Melbourne,  three-nights of accommodation in a motel and race entry. And of course food and getting around. That's pretty cost-prohibitive when you're not making any money from racing, so the teams that have the bigger budgets are obviously not only going to be able to go to all the races but also send the right number of riders and have the right equipment.

We don't have spare bikes for example. We've been to races where we don't even have a mechanic for example and it's just the five of us racing. We've got support of Simon Coffin and Total Rush but it's not his objective to fund the team to its maximum capacity.

He's running his own businesses and he supports us, but he's not paying us. I'm very appreciative to be involved with the organisation but sure, life would be much easier if our budget could cover our costs and expenses. For example, a second bike, a mechanic, someone to put a tent up so we're not sitting around in the rain...

I'm sure for a lot of the men's teams, that if you're an individual rider or a small team, you don't have the same amount of support but then Team Sky are going to have more support, more staff and more wheels than say Ag2r are.

It doesn't make you ride faster having more money but it can certainly give you a piece of mind and better opportunities.

CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
My major financial sponsor is myself but my partner, Nick Mitchell, is extraordinarily supportive of me as a mechanic and former pro bike rider, he's terrific.

Total Rush — the shop, the business, the team — is pretty much Simon Coffin and his staff who are really amazing and look after our equipment and provide Specialized bikes. The Shiv is the best time trial bike I've ridden; I feel comfortable on it and it feels damn fast.

Sram, SRM, Speedplay also sponsor us and the rest of it, I kind of pay it all myself.

2014 Total Rush roster: Bridie O'Donnell, Kelly Bartlett, Kate Perry, Jessica Toghill, Emma Scott and Verita Stewart.

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