The Jayco/Apollo VIS Women's Team is one of several state institute teams competing in the National Road Series (NRS). The team's riders all are scholarship holders of the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) which was created in 1990 by the Victorian state government to enable athletes to achieve national and international success.
With several riders also competing overseas, the VIS team often competes with only handful of riders but are regularly seen animating and winning races.
Cyclingnews caught up team manager Donna Rae-Szalinski, a former professional cyclist before moving into coaching, to ask her about the 2014 iteration of the team.
Cyclingnews: How was your preparation for the start of the 2014 NRS series and how are you finding the season?
The NRS is just one part of the overall year for us being a state institute program. Our priorities are [Australian] nationals and the early summer. When I say priority, that is the main selection avenue and certainly the NRS is a high priority as well, but the nationals is good prep for the NRS.
I am very happy with the results thus far with us podiuming in GC in the two events we've raced [Adelaide Tour and Mersey Valley Tour] and we managed to do that with three riders in the first events and two riders in the second event. (Tessa Fabry won the third women’s NRS event, the Battle on Border. Ed)
Most of our girls are now overseas competing so I am very happy to have got some good results
CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
Again, because we are a state institute team, first-and-foremost, anyone who is on a VIS scholarship would go on the roster. Ultimately though, of my road scholarship holders, two of them are overseas competing and another is one on an injured list. So therefore we have a few people who are on what you call a ‘training agreement.' They are all associated with the VIS in one way or another, so that is how the majority of our roster is selected.
In the event we have any spare room then, last year we combined with the SASI team and this year they fielded their own team but I was approached by Tasmanian Institute of Sport about giving one of their riders as they didn't enough for a team. Generally we combine with other state institutes.
CN: what is the rationale for having a team competing in the NRS?
The role of the women's VIS women's road program is to seed the national program. The NRS events are the perfect vehicle for the riders to display, not just physical ability through results but their tactical ability, their skills, etc. which are all required attributes when representing Australia overseas.
CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
We don't have the SASI girls but we do have the Tassie girl so our team is basically the same
CN: What is your racing calendar?
We will do all of the NRS events even though we will be down to only two riders at some of them. Later in the second half of the NRS we will have greater numbers.
CN: Will you compete in any non-NRS events?
We'd love to go and support the Mount Gambier 100 which is a handicap race in mid-July. It just depends on how it fits into the overall schedule, I go overseas with the junior women's team in august-September leading into world championships.
We race as much as we can that fits into our scheduling and budget.
CN: What are the expectations of the team for the 2014 season?
My expectation of the team is to have an impact on every race. For example, in Mersey Valley, we only had two riders so it would have been very easy just to hide and wait until the end of the race but we specifically went out to be aggressive and use our resources to the best of our ability.
Without question, if you cannot have an impact on a race in Australia, the odds of you being able to do so overseas is limited. So we try to practise what we want the girls to be able to do when they step up to the next level.
The difference is, this is my job, it's different to some of the other NRS teams as they don't have full time staff so ours is a bit of a different scenario.
CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year?
Again, we want to have an impact on every race. Without question the Tour of the Goldfields last year was awesome and with the team time trial, it's an event that suits us really well. I actually had my full team back and after having just two riders it’s fun to have five riders out so we’re looking forward to racing it again this year.
It will be interesting this year to have the Amy's Otway Classic as a one day event. It's [inclusion is] exciting and I look forward to it.
CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
I am yet to do King Valley and National Capital Tour as I'm away in Europe for them, but for the others, the terrain alone makes Mersey Valley a hard tour. However, the race that consistently I have seen over the past two years in a tactical sense, is Goldfields. Because the race isn't just decided by hills, it's decided by racing.
I think we need both, we need races that are decided by hills and races that are decided by tactics and for me, Goldfields does that with enough of a hill challenge but it also has lots of opportunities for tactical racing by all the teams.
CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
Certainty Ruth Corset is a brilliant cyclist so she is always going to be one of the main people to push the boundaries. It's exciting to see a new face in one of my girls, Tessa Fabry who was fifth at Adelaide Tour and third in Mersey Valley. She's only had a racing license for 18-months so to me, it's just awesome to see someone new coming through.
How exciting is it to see Anna-Leeza Hull, a junior doing so well and as national junior coach I am really excited by her.
There are a few faces missing due to injury, Sam de Ritter is one of those and last year she shone in Mersey Valley when riding for Holden and hopefully she' back later this year. Alex Manly, another junior was fifth in Mersey Valley so it's awesome to see the juniors taking it to the seniors.
To be realistic, if they want to be competitive in the junior ranks at worlds, they have to be able to take on our best seniors here.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
The costs of getting to all the races, you can't avoid it. It costs a lot of money to run a race these days as you have to have rolling road closures and a police presence so it is costly. By the time you add up your air fares, accommodation, race entries, clothing and all that stuff, it is an expense but it is also unavoidable.
You can't have a national road series event without travel and accommodation. You just have to manage your money well.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Apollo is our bike sponsor and we are exceptionally thankful for the support they give us. Obviously, it is a VIS program so our other sponsors are John West, VIS and Jayco who with Apollo, they provide the funding for the program along with Cycling Australia who is the umbrella funder for all the state institutes.
2014 Jayco/Apollo VIS Women's Team roster: Samantha De Riter, Kendelle Hodges, Chloe McConville, Jessica Allen, Georgia Baker and Tessa Fabry.