Pensar-Hawk Racing is set to run a women's outfit for the 2012 Australian National Road Series and team member Jodie Willett told Cyclingnews that the Queensland-based squad is determined to impress in its debut season.
Pensar-Hawk Racing is re-branded from Tineli Racing which ran an elite men's team for the first time in the NRS in 2011, competing in selected events including a strong showing at the Tour of Toowoomba which was dominated by the established Genesys Wealth Advisers squad.
This season, the women's NRS will consist of Mersey Valley Tour, Battle of the Border, North Western Tour, Canberra Women's Tour, Shipwreck Coast and the Honda Women's Tour with Willett firm in the belief that the domestic scene is headed in the right direction given the recent focus on the standard of women's cycling.
"It's moving beyond just being an adjunct to the men's racing so we're really keen to support events like that," she told Cyclingnews.
Willett who competes at the elite level in mountain bike, joins former Australian Criterium Champion Kirsty Broun, former Australian Road Champion Ruth Corset, 2010 NRS runner-up Zoe Watters, Katrin Garfoot, Nicole Moerig, and Samantha Hemsley who previously rode for Suzuki Trek. Broun will captain the team and with Corset has spent time away from cycling in retirement before rejoining the peloton in a bid to give back to the younger generation.
If there's a common theme among the group, it's that each member of the team needs to financially support their racing by juggling work commitments – a sad reality for women competing on the Australian domestic scene that's not as common when it comes to their male counterparts.
"As a team we sat down and had a discussion and we've been hearing about the criticism of women's racing – that it's boring and all the type of thing and we made a bit of a pact," Willett explained. "Let's change that."
"We'd love to win but our main priority is to race aggressively," she suggested. "Everyone who's participating has more fun and it's a lot more attractive for spectators. It would be nice to go out and win the NRS in our first season but it's more about racing aggressively, shake it up, and go out and have fun."
The never-ending juggling act
It's set to be a peripatetic few months for Willett who will be in action this weekend at the Australian Mountain Bike National Championships, with an eye to qualifying for the London Olympic Games. After the national titles, Willett, 34, will then race in New Zealand, then World Cups and South Africa and Belgium before returning to Australia in mid-April, where she will return to the road and make her debut with Pensar-Hawk at Battle of the Border (May 5-7).
Willett also runs remedial massage business Frixshon, and raises nine-year-old daughter, Helica.
"They're not responsibilities where you can down tools," Willett admits. "I'm just going to go out and give it my best shot. I just want to look back and say, I did that and I had the opportunity and if I don't make it, I don't make it."
Racing across the two disciplines gives Willett a unique insight into women's cyclesport and says that road has its benefits.
"We get even less support [in mountain bike] so we're happy if it doesn't cost us anything to race," she explains, a self-confessed economist at heart. "That's my bar. As long as it's not putting me in masses of debt to go to these races then I'm happy. I think road cycling is already at that level. Sponsors are happy to give the support in terms of travel and accommodation. The actual getting to races is not costing and arm and a leg, but you still need to support yourself while you're training."
Willett believes that cycling as a product is where it needs to be but the onus must be put on the UCI and national bodies such as Cycling Australia to assist women in the sport to stand on their own two feet.
"It's more of a society thing," she conceded to Cyclingnews. "It's not specific to cycling. Those inequalities are in life and until you get rid of that then sport's not going to change. It would be nice lead the way."
Competing in both mountain bike and road will give Willett a unique satisfaction in 2012 when it comes to achievement, given this will be the first year she has raced in a team on the tarmac so is looking forward to gaining a real insight regarding team tactics.
"Having the mountain biking and satisfying my own personal goals in that sphere I'm more interested in what we can achieve as a team," Willett said of her role within Pensar-Hawk. "I would love personally to have a really strong race at Glen Innes to Inverell. I have got really good memories from there and I got third there one year [2009 – ed]. I know the guys always talk about it in such revered tones and also the community really get behind it. It's like being in Europe I imagine."