An interview with Katherine Bates, January 20, 2005
At only 22, Katherine Bates is already well-known in international women's road and track cycling. Along with her sister, Natalie, 24, they have raced competitively for over a decade. Recently, Kate realised one of her dreams when she represented Australia at the Athens Olympics, placing fourth in the women's individual pursuit. But just placing out of the medals left her hungry for the podium, as Cyclingnews' Kristy Scrymgeour found when she caught up with Bates after the recent UCI Track World Cup round in Manchester, where Bates claimed three gold medals and was the leading female endurance rider.
Along with her record on the velodrome, Bates has also proven to be a talent on the road, placing in World Cups and international tours, winning many races in her European base of Holland. This year, Bates has again signed with a Dutch team and is joined for the first time together on a pro squad by her sister Natalie.
They will both race for Ton van Bemmelen-AA Drink, under the guidance of Holland's queen of cycling, Leontien Van Moorsel, who retired in 2004. Strengthening the squad will be the current Olympic champion, Australian Sara Carrigan.
Bates feels that that after ten years in the sport, there is still a lot more to come.
"Now I'm staring down the barrel of a four year block and then another four year block," she said. "If nothing changes and I'm getting the same opportunities as I'm getting now and still enjoying it, this is definitely what I want to do. At the moment it's easy. All I do is train hard and the results seem to flow in. I've been really lucky over the years. I've had a few minor setbacks but I've always had something in between that keeps me going, so really I've had a pretty smooth run," she in one of brief visits home to Sydney
Bates said her career consists of "shining moments of brilliance" in between some ordinary results. "For example, in 2003 and 2004, my only result was in the Manchester World Cup. The World Championships in Stuttgart in 2003 and the Worlds last year in Melbourne (2004) were terrible, but my result in Manchester kept me going."
Guiding her progression from the very start has been former track world champion and head cycling coach at the NSW Institute of Sport, Gary Sutton. "He's been my lifeline," she said. "He's so good. He's less of a program coach these days and more of a mentor, but when I'm in Sydney, he's the one who has to get up early and take me out training behind the motorbike and console me on the phone."
For her road training program, Bates now has Australian women's national coach, Warren McDonald. "'Wazza' writes my road program now and I really don't have a track program," she explained. "Wazza is great. He is full of new ideas, he's easy to talk to and he is very insightful as to how we work as athletes. He is willing to put the time into it too. We chicks are very high maintenance. We always want to know why we are doing things. Wazza always has an answer and in fact he'll tell you before you even ask. Once he gets used to us all being prima donnas he'll be perfect.
"I don't do much on the track until a month before a big event when I go into the training camps with 'Macca' [Australian endurance track coach, Ian McKenzie]," explained Bates, "but this year will be a little bit different because I'll have to train for track nationals. I haven't done track nationals for four years but now it's compulsory for selection (to the world championships) so it's important."
Because the track season has changed to finish early in the year, in 2005, Bates will enjoy a full road season after the track is over. "I definitely have goals on the road but track comes first at the moment because track finishes in March. Its really great actually because I've never had a dedicated road season. This year with track finishing so early I go straight to Holland and I don't leave my road team for the whole season."
With that in mind, it will be hard to back up for a full road season after a serious track season behind her but Bates is enthusiastic. "I think I had a good break after last season," she said. "I took a month off after the Olympics and then Nat and I did the Kokoda Trail which was wonderful. I wasn't really back on the bike until October.
"I don't think you can burn out if you're enthusiastic and motivated," she added. "If I get tired I'll take a week off. I'm not scared of doing that."
Athens highs and lows
With a fourth place in the pursuit but not such a good points race, Bates came away from the the Olympics with added focus. "The Olympics was very positive overall," she said. "It was an awesome experience and let's face it, it's something every athlete wants to do. My result in the pursuit was very satisfying but my points race [which has traditionally been a strong race for Kate] was horrendous and very scarring. I don't even want to look at the video, it was that bad. I could find excuses but I don't want to," she added.
"It's rarely talked about now but it has been very motivating personally. It's not about proving myself to the coaches, because they support me 100% of the time. I just want to prove to myself that I can do it."
Basically, she just didn't have it on the day. "The day before the race I went to the track and tried to be positive, knowing that I felt terrible. I went into the points race thinking I was capable of getting a result, but I physically couldn't do it. The pursuit showed that the form was there, so my preparation was fine. I just had a really bad day.
"I wasn't surprised with my pursuit result because in my head I'm better than I really am," she said laughing at herself, "I always go into a race thinking that I can do well. The time [3.31.715] wasn't surprising either because I've done a 31 before. It was funny to race Leontien [Van Moorsel] in the final because we had joked about it in a 'never going to happen' kind of way. But it was a great experience because that's it for her now. She has retired and only two people can say that they raced against Leontien in an Olympic final."
This success in the pursuit has given Bates a new level of confidence for the Track World Championships, due to be held in March in Los Angeles. "This sounds dumb, but I feel like I'm going into these worlds with a lot of confidence. There will be no Sarah [Ulmer] and no Leontien and I feel like I can do so much. But really of course, there are a lot of people just waiting to get a result. As long as I've been around, I've had these amazing girls in front of me."
Bates said the unity of the Australian Track team in training and racing has been essential for her development in the sport. "I think that I've gotten to this level because of the rest of the team," she said. "I get to train with the guys and I have learnt a lot from them. At the Olympics it was a great feeling because the confidence leaks through. If the rest of the team is feeling good and racing well, you start to feel good too. You live and breath these people and become very close to them."
Being part of the excitement of world record breaking times in the women's pursuit was something Bates will always remember. "I nearly broke the World Record too, in fact Macca apologized to me after the race for getting so excited. He said 'I'm sorry, I thought you were going to brake the world record for a moment there.'"
By repeatedly smashing the world record, New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer went on to win the gold medal in the women's IP, with Australia's Katie Mactier also cranking out three consecutive PBs to take silver in that drama-filled final (see report).
"Sarah is phenomenal," said Bates. "She is unique in that she has been going for that pursuit for eight years. She is really a picture of persistence and she can inspire you. She showed that if you work hard enough for long enough, you can do it."
It's worth pointing out that Ulmer came fourth in the women's IP at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the same place that Bates filled in 2004. With inspiration from one pursuit champion, Bates now has the opportunity to spend time another. "Leontien and I have always had a good relationship," said Bates. "I've never raced on a team with her, but I've been on sister teams and she's always looked after us. She said to me at Worlds 'three months and I'll tell you all my secrets.'
"Seriously, I want to pick her brain," Bates aid. "I want to know how she does it. Is she just an extraordinary talent or does she have unique habits that have helped her or a different way of thinking? I can learn a lot from her."
Sisters doing it for each other
Bates is also excited about racing with her sister, Natalie, who also signed with Van Bemmelen after a great year with the Australian National team. "It will be awesome to race with Nat. She is so good to have around in more ways than one. She is my best friend, my training partner and my psychiatrist. She knows everything about me and she knows how I tick. You don't really need anyone when things are going well but we know that we have support in the hard times.
"She really flogs me in training. She really has a lot of talent and I think being in a pro team will be perfect for her. Let's face it; even without cycling we're going to have fun. I mean living in Europe with your sister. What else could you ask for?"
With the Track World Championships first and foremost on her mind, Bates said her goal is to win. "I want (rainbow) stripes," she laughed, although the sentiment was a serious one. "The points race is obviously my first goal. The pursuit will fall into place if I'm going well, but the points race can be more of a challenge because anything can happen. I also want the scratch race spot now. I never thought I did, but because it's the last event, - bugger it, I'm getting greedy (laughs)."
Within the Australian squad, Bates will be racing for selection in the women's IP with Athens silver medallist Katie Mactier, while noted sprinter Rochelle Gilmore also has her eyes on the the scratch race. The friendly rivalry among Australian atheltes for team spots is seen as one of the country's strengths.
With her recent string of victories in the Manchester World Cup behind her (see results), victory is very possible. "Its one thing to say you can do it," Bates explained, "but it's a completely different thing to actually do it. In my head I think I'm good enough, but whether I can do it on the day?"
Bates has struggled at the World Championships since 2001 where she was only one point off the rainbow stripes in the point's race. "I haven't been able to replicate that since," she said. "The fact that I can win world cups means that physically I can do it but its more than that. At worlds I tend to have that shadow of doubt and I end up getting off the track and banging my head against the wall. Confidence is everything."
Despite her flow of victories of late, Bates is still convinced she has a lot to prove. "Quite frankly I'm running out of opportunities," she explained. "They're not going to keep selecting me if I can't perform under the pressure. I need to stand up and be counted and convince Macca that I'm the one for the job."
Proven by the plethora of medals the Australian team won on the track last year, Ian McKenzie is known as a coach who can get results. "He is a mastermind. I don't know what it is that makes him so good but I think the fact that we all respect him so much makes a big difference. It would be like letting your dad down to let him down. You don't want him to think that you're soft. The extremes riders will go to, to make him know you're trying are unbelievable. Everybody says it. 'If Macca can't get you there, you can't get there.'"
Having supportive parents certainly helps. "My parents understand that it's a lifestyle decision that we've made and they are very supportive," Bates explained. "They are fairly conservative when we're successful because they know how quickly the tables turn. They are also mindful that when one of us is going really well, perhaps the other might not be. Right now, both of us are successful in our own way.
"Basically they don't interfere. As long as we're responsible with the way we're going about things, they leave us to it. Of course if dad saw me diving into a litre of ice cream he might say something (laughs). We still live at home in the off-season because it's so good. We've told them we'll never move out. Why would we?"
For most of the year, Bates lives just outside Amsterdam with boyfriend Jens Mouris, a Dutch representative track cyclist. "I have a life over there now," she explained. "We have our own house and I drive myself to races and I make my own decisions. What's really important for me is that I'm relaxed with no stress." With the racing scene in Holland known for being tough, Bates said she has learnt a lot from racing there. "It's great," she said. "The girls who are active in the first half of the race are not even there at the end but they make it hard from the beginning and keep you on your toes. Its constant and the girls are really gutsy."
With road racing a goal for the future, Bates is looking to be selected for the road world championships this year, which will be held on a relatively flat course in the centre of Madrid, Spain. "I'll have to perform consistently all year but it will be a great experience to ride it," she said. "I don't want to go there for myself but I really want to be a part of it. I don't want my first experience to be the year that I really want to have a crack at winning it."
Bates is working on her consistency on the road as she gets older. "I got second overall in Castilla y Leon last year and won a stage," she said. "I wasn't going for it, it just happened so it gives me hope. It's in there. I just have to make it come out. At the right time - you never know."
This year, her team will most likely concentrate on World Cup events to work for their new German rider Angela Brodtka. "She's a real talent so it's a good goal for the team. I want to get some tours under my belt too. I've never done a tour longer than four days. I also want to win some of the races I've won there before in Holland," she added. "You get such a good feeling when you win a race in Holland because they are really hard races to win.
"The Tour of Holland is a high priority for us. We've got such a good team that there are three or four of us who can go well there."
With her positive attitude and undoubted talent, Bates will be one to watch is the future, particularly with a mentor like van Moorsel in the background. "If I didn't believe I could do it I wouldn't be here," she said. "I'm young and I've got this far. It's probably more of a mental thing to be able to get that result that we really want. We all train hard. It basically comes down to who is willing to take that extra step."
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