NRS team feature: Holden Women's Cycling Team

The 2015 season for the Holden Women's Cycling Team saw them claim overall honours in the both the National Road Series (NRS) team and individual classifications. In Ruth Corset, the team had the dominant rider of the women's peloton while the performances of Ellen Skerritt and Jennelle Crooks highlighted the depth of talent on the team roster, helping them to claim the mantle as the top women's team in Australia.

Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Julien Knuppel ‎about the successful 2014 season and his thoughts on the NRS.

Cyclingnews: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
It's been our best season ever. We sat down as a group at our pre-season team camp and set the performance goal to achieve a top three general classification finish in each NRS race. I think we achieved that in all but one race. We broke this down further into process based goals with a focus and commitment to tactical adherence and open and honest communication. If we got the core processes right we were confident that we could achieve the performance goals we set.

Of course it was nice to win the NRS Teams Classification but it was a consequence rather than a priority objective. We always rode to win and if that meant finishing with all of our riders out the back then that was something we were willing to accept. I always encourage our riders to take this mentality into their racing as the learning outcomes associated with this style of racing are far greater.

CN: What was different about the team this year, compared to last?
This year we looked outside Victoria and recruited from other states. We had three Victorian based riders, four Queenslanders and one from NSW. This meant that our team wasn't able to race and train together as much as they previously did however good communication meant that the distance didn't negatively impact on our relationships or performance.

We also increased the total amount of riders in the squad from six to eight. This gave us more depth, flexibility and allowed us to field a full team when riders had unique circumstances or opportunities. For example, Ellen Skerritt needed some time to regain her health after her bout of post viral fatigue, Jenelle Crooks scored a ride in Europe with the National Team and Ruth Corset took some time off to spend with her family.

CN: What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We call for expressions of interest and rider CV's after the NRS has finished. We also keep an eye out for up and coming riders during the season at state based and NRS competition. Our team riders are also often a good source of referral. From there, it's a matter of chatting with the riders to get a feel for their goals, objectives and personalities. It's important that these are compatible with the team's philosophy and direction.

CN: What were the expectations of the team for the 2014 season and were they met?
Our expectations are that riders finish the year physically fitter and strategically smarter than when they came to us. The name of the game is self-improvement. We provide our riders with theoretical knowledge pertaining to training, nutrition, psychology, bike fit, bike mechanics etc and give them the racing opportunities at NRS level to put it all into practice. In return we want them to bring a desire and a will to continually improve. I think all of our riders achieved that this year and are now better riders for it.

CN: What is your team philosophy?
Our philosophy is geared towards the recruitment of developing riders who have the potential, stated ambition and desire to ride at the elite NRS and/or professional level overseas. We therefore look for two types of rider: 1) the developing rider that fits into this category and 2) the rider who's been there, done it and can share her knowledge with the former.

We're now making some good inroads and developing relationships with teams overseas which what has been missing until now. These key relationships will allow us to offer a more complete development pathway especially for our riders wanting to go beyond NRS.

CN: Did you target any particular races this year in the NRS?
No. It's a cliché I know but if we wanted to achieve our goals we needed to be consistently good at every race. In saying that, I know a few of our riders eyes lit up at the sight of the hilly profiles at the Mersey Valley and National Capital Tours.

CN: What is the most challenging race on the NRS calendar?
Depends how you define challenging. In a physical sense I think the National Capital Tour is a bloody tough tour. However I think the hardest to win is the Tour of the Goldfields as there's usually only a handful of seconds that separate the general classification. The team time trial stage has a significant impact on the overall GC standings so it's critical that the team is dialled and working well together. The fact that Ruth Corset was able to win that tour by 1:43 minutes to her closest opponent this year showed that we executed extremely well as a team.

CN: Who did see as the stand-out rider this season?
Ruth Corset was consistently strong as always and she earned her 2014 NRS Champion rider title. To me however it was Ellen Skerritt that stood out with her attacking style of riding and ability to create winning opportunities for herself. Not to be overlooked however was Lizzie Williams' return to NRS racing with some impressive results. It certainly would have been an interesting battle for the NRS title had she hung around for the full NRS season.

CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
The addition of two more NRS races (Women's TDU & Cadel's Race) in 2015 is great however personally I'd like to see the number of National Road Series races kept at eight and a National Criterium Series developed over the summer months. I spent three months in the USA this year and they ran some fantastic crit events which attracted crowds that rival our national road championships.

CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
I think the biggest challenge for the team and riders is finding that elusive money tree. Women’s cycling doesn't attract as much money as men's yet we pay similar amounts in entry fees, accommodation and travel costs to attend NRS races.

CN: Are there any major changes to the team in 2015?
Yes! This year we had a strong team with riders enjoying great success. Their success attracts political pressure to ride for other teams, the promise of more GC opportunities or greater financial reward elsewhere. This is not something that's new to us because we manage to put riders on the map year in year out. Suffice to say you'll see a new look Holden squad again in 2015.

CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Naming Rights Sponsor - Holden Australia
Equipment Sponsor – Specialized Australia

2014 Holden Women's Cycling Team roster: Brooke Anderson, Jemma Brown, Ruth Corset, Jenelle Crooks, Serene Lee, Shannon Malseed, Ellen Skerritt and Jo Tralaggan.

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