Founded in 2011 with the aim of developing female riders and promoting the sport, the Melbourne-based National Road Series (NRS) team Bicycle Superstore have become one of the top women's teams on the domestic circuit while reaming true its original aims and ambitions.
The team finished the 2014 season third on the NRS team classification and finished the year with four riders in the top 14 individual NRS rankings. A sign of the team's commitment to ensuring all its riders have the opportunity to purse their own goals.
The team had a dream start to the year when Flick Wardlaw won the women's national time trial title in Burrumbeet but then lost her for the majority of the season as she jetted off to Europe to race for the women's national team in Europe.
While her absence was felt by the team, the addition of a full-time director sportif in Chris Savage ensured the team was noticed for more than just its bright yellow kit with Rebecca Heath's stage win at the Battle on the Border a season highlight.
Team manager Nadine Crane spoke to Cyclingnews about the 2014 NRS season and what is means for her to be involved in women's cycling in Australia.
Cyclingnews: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
From the perspective of all teams, I think it was a very exciting season which kept us all involved and enthralled all up to the end because this standard of racing, the women's field in particular, is just getting stronger and stronger. As far as out team goes, being able to participate for the whole season, in something like that, has been amazing.
We've had some fantastic individual results and fantastic team results over the whole season, which we are really proud of. Also with the new structure of having Chris Savage as our DS has been brilliant to have his guidance over the whole year so the girls have been able to learn a lot from him in terms of how to race basically, which has been brilliant.
CN: What was different about the team this year, compared to last?
It was Chris Savage's guidance I would have to say. We also had more team members this year and quite a wide range of experience. Having more riders enabled us to turn up to each race with a full roster which was important for us because the year before, we found that we didn't quite have that by the end of the year.
The biggest thing would have to be Chris' influence in terms of the girls learning to race strategically under the guidance of a coach and they've all commented on that. It's hard on the riders when you don't have a DS as it puts the race planning back on them and I think that really puts a lot of pressure on riders. The girls had done the job in the past and we'd also had help from other people but having that particular expertise from Chris is that next natural step for the team and it just happened to all align at the right time, which was brilliant.
CN: What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We ask all riders to put in an official application and a cycling CV so to speak. The general process is one in which management consults together and each year it's been tweaked a little bit. One of the number one core things we really focus on is ensuring is that our riders are in touch with the philosophy of the team which is that people really embrace the fact that we have a very strong team based focus. You would have noticed that we've had more than one rider up there on the podium and we try to give every rider the chance to shine.
One thing we really want to make sure, more importantly than anything else, is that the girls gel and are good ambassadors for the generous sponsors that we have and that they can work together as a team, that's the first thing.
We also look in addition to that for the cycling skillset that they have and that's been more so this year as we've gone through to identify the gaps and what do we need to work on. Another consideration for us is development – longevity – we're now making decisions based on looking ahead and making sure that we keep growing the team but maintaining the culture so that we have key riders contributing to that and we don't start from scratch each year.
We take riders that are classified as U23 right up to people who are in their late 30s and most of these girls are holding down a full-time job, a family, all that sort of stuff that is happening outside of the team and we need to make allowances for that as well.
CN: What were the expectations of the team for the 2014 season and were they met?
The expectations of the team were to have fun and enjoy racing. We always want them to enjoy what they are doing and that as a team we had a goal of the teams classification and that just slipped out of our reach at the end of the season but we maintained that throughout the majority of the NRS season and we were rapt about that.
The individual riders expectations, beyond having fun, we want to give each rider the chance to work on their personal goals and Chris consults with them to see how that fits into the team plan. We do that to give them the chance to have a say on what they've worked on with their coach and as a rider and we value that for sure.
Off the bike, we work do some work with Liv Giant so we are able to be involved in a women's ride day, we run women's clinics out of our Bicycle Superstores and we assist in running some women's rides from beginner cyclist to people who have been on the bike for a while so we participate in that sort of thing besides our racing.
CN: Did you target any particular races this year in the NRS?
Considering the riders that we had this year, we wanted every race to bring out our best. What we try to do is match, and it's a hard balance, what's the course like? Who are the riders best suited to this in particular? In that sort of way, for each race we treat it as out next chance to try a mix of riders and see how we go.
We were hoping with the last stage (at Tour of the Goldfields) to get back the teams classification which was something we were aiming to do and despite not getting it, we still had a fantastic result in the end. Crystal Wemys stook a podium spot on the last day which was amazing.
We've walked away from each race with a box ticked and looking forward to the next phase of what's to come and each race gave us that opportunity to capitalise on our strengths in different ways.
CN: What is the most challenging race on the NRS calendar?
I would have to say it would be a toss-up between Mersey Valley Tour and National Capital Tour. The conditions on any day can change, you can have fantastic flat course and if there is a wind blowing the wrong way it can turn any race into something tough, but in terms of what the riders comment on it would have to be Mersey Valley and the Canberra tour.
CN: Who did see as the stand-out rider this season?
I can't really pick one out, there were so many good stories. Even though someone might get a particular result the stories of each individual rider make people stand out as well. Obviously Ruth Corset showed fantastic strength to take out the series again, but I think that in every race that we had there were so many different fantastic stories of people achieving great results and there are too many of those to pick from as a whole.
Even the riders who are in-and-out were good stories, we had Flick Wardlaw riding for us for part of the year and then obviously she was overseas, but when she was riding for us she had good results.
There are so many [good riders], there really is and that's what I love about the women's field. There are a lot of stories and a lot of talented riders and they take the opportunities given to them I think the whole lot are damn exciting to be honest and being part of that is fantastic.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
That's a tricky one as we are at the stage in the sport where we want to encourage growth and have more races on but at the same time we are in the position of having the majority of the peloton working, studying full-time or supporting a family outside of racing. As a result, the travel, the spacing of the races and even the length of the races is a challenging balance for the riders.
At the same time, we want to see it grow and Cycling Australia is doing great things trying to support more, create more stages, etc. but then we have to strike that balance in terms of the teams having enough riders. We are fortunate that we are in the positon to grow more and not every team is in the position to do that.
It's tricky to strike the balance between location, travel and spacing it out to so that people can attend to their lives outside of cycling can then can be dedicated to what they doing each time they turn up to a race.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
It's a massive investment, and we are fortunate as a bike shop as such, we also work closely in conjunction with suppliers that we have fantastic relationships with who have come on-board to support this team so it's not just Bicycle Superstore. Torq, Liv… they've all come on board in order to support this and to supply the riders with all the equipment they need, that's a big cost.
Then on top of that, travel and accommodation, and not every team can facilitate that because again we at the place in time where women's cycling is growing and becoming really exciting but to attract, particularly money sponsors who are going to give cash to cover travel and accommodation, is certainly tough to do.
In saying that, we are very fortunate to be working with people that are who are very generous in terms of product and time. The next step for us would be to have all expensed covered for a rider but that's a tricky thing to do. We'd love to be able to do that though.
Unfortunately paying the riders a wage to do what they do is a distant goal that we all look towards but it's not here yet.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Bicycle Superstore is obviously the primary sponsor, Liv supply us with bikes in particular and we do a lot of work with them, Torq nutritional products from Dean and Jen and we are very lucky to have product supplied from them, BBB supply us with equipment such as glasses and bottle cages, Santini Australia do a fantastic job of suppling us with our uniforms, Lazer Helmets, Minoura trainers, Vittoria tyres and Tom Barry from Osteohealth does all the bike fits and works with the girls and does a fantastic job.
2014 Bicycle Superstore roster: Felicity Wardlaw, Lisa Keeling, Rebecca Heath, Kristy Glover, Victoria Luxton-Bain, Clare Dallat, Carley Mckay, Jade Colligan, Crystal Wemyss and Brittany Lindores.