The reigning Australian women's national cyclo-cross champion finds herself with two podium finishes in Belgium this past weekend. Lisa Jacobs took a first-place finish at the Destelbergen Cyclo-cross (CX) on Saturday and a second at the Flemish Cross-Cup in Assenede the following day, all in preparation for her Cyclo-cross World Championship debut this weekend in the village of Hoogerheide.
The 2010 South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) scholarship winner and former national team rider, has traded the epic routes of the women's Giro d'Italia for mud-caked paddocks of rural Australia – and now The Netherlands.
While not the first Australian to participate in the CX Worlds, that honour falling to Lewis Rattray in 2012, Jacobs does have the distinction of being involved with the first Australian team to compete at the event, joining fellow Australian elite female Melissa Anset, who finished second at Destelbergen and fifth at Assenede, elite male Nick Both, as well as the U23 men's duo of Alexander Meyland and Tom Chapman, and U19 men's representative Nicholas Smith.
Known affectionately as ‘Ride Happy' from the former roadie-turned-crossie's blog site and Twitter handle by the same name, Jacobs is "releasing her inner child" according the 32-year-old Jacobs who originally turned to elite cycling in 2007 following two years working in London as an attorney.
"Cyclo-cross a ridiculous amount of fun because anything can be thrown at you," the Adelaide-born Jacobs told Cyclingnews. "It's running up stairs or jumping over logs. It's riding road, dirt and gravel sections on the same course.
"It's really challenging and everyone can have a crack."
According to her personal website, Jacobs, who arrived in Bergen op Zoom on January 20, had racked up 24-hours of flight time with 60kg of luggage, entered – and podiumed – at two Belgian CX races, suffered one case of food poisoning, consumed one jar of the Speculoos – a caramelized and gingerbread-like Dutch concoction similar to peanut butter – and washed around a million loads of laundry.
Cyclingnews caught up with Jacobs' coach Donna Rae-Szalinski, who says while Jacobs' enjoys the fun side of the sport, she takes her role as national champion seriously and is not surprised by her recent success.
"Lisa is an elite cyclist – period," said the Victorian Institute of Sport coach, who has guided Jacobs from the start of her professional cycling career. "She has great physiology and attributes. She couldn't keep doing road cycling at the moment due to other commitments in her, life so I am not actually surprised that she is doing very well in Cyclo-cross."
Jacobs, fresh from capturing the KOM jersey in the mountain points classification at the Australian women's Road Race National Championships, captured the inaugural national cyclo-cross series title in 2012 when she convinced her VIS-sponsored Apollo Bikes to loan her a cyclo-cross bike the night before the opening round of six stage races.
Currently Jacobs balances a full-time law career with the role as chair of the athlete's commission and as a director on the board for Cycling Australia. Her hectic schedule allows for limited time to train, so the 45-minute cyclo-cross races provide a viable alternative to her more-demanding road racing career.
"My schedule is so tight, and cyclo-cross is one of the few disciplines I feel that I can still compete at a high level," she said. "Doing something I love doing in a sport that is really interesting and fun all while working full time certainly ticks the box."
World Championships debut
While excited at the prospect of competing against the world's best cyclo-cross riders, Jacobs, still a relative newcomer to the sport, holds no illusions of grandeur for a possible podium finish, but feels experience will be the biggest reward this year.
"This not the first time we sent a rider to the CX world champs, but it is the first time we sent a team," she said. "We don't have performance-based expectations on wining world champs, but we are treating it as a big step forward for CX racing, and maybe it will get people in Australia more involved in this great sport.
"It is kind of a pioneering team I guess."
Whether Jacobs will continue her cyclo-cross adventure or succumb to an increasing workload and career commitments could solely depend on her performance in Hoogerheide.
"It is pretty early to make a call about next year," she said. "I will see how I get through this year first and see how I measure up against the best in the world.
"It's a discipline I really enjoy and one that I feel I can continually improve, and as long as I do both then I see no reason why I wouldn't want to be here again next year."