Since its 2008 inception, the ACT-based Suzuki Brumby's team had fielded both men's and women's team in the National Road Series (NRS) but in 2014 it is an all-female affair. With a commitment to fostering and developing young talents and allowing opportunities to riders, the team has also tasted success on the road and can regularly be seen at the pointy of the peloton.
With an emphasis on community development and interaction, the team is a staple of the Canberra cycling world and known for its inclusive culture.
Cyclingnews caught up with team manager Liz Fitch who is in her first year of the role to find out a little bit more about the team and what they hope to get out of 2014.
Cyclingnews: How was your preparation for the start of the 2014 NRS series and how are you finding the season so far?
All of the girls have been training hard since the beginning of the year. We came off a very strong season last year finishing as the second best ranked women's team in the NRS and that gave the girls a lot of motivation for consolidating our position.
We held a training camp in early-March, which gave the girls a chance to train hard and ride together. We went into Adelaide Tour with a few of our riders sick, so we adjusted our tour goals to work on communication and trying to be opportunists and aggressors in the tour.
We found that we were able to do that and have an impact on the race, which was very positive. Obviously we were a little disappointed not to come away with a result.
CN: How have you found the season so far?
At Tour of the Mersey Valley, Alex Nicholls and Emma Viotto were in very good form. Alex was really unlucky getting a flat at the half-way point of the time trial; she rode her wheel on the rim and ended up eighth. She was a little bit disappointed not to come away with a result but she finished 14th and eighth in the following stages. For someone who isn't a pure climber, her strength and consistency was impressive and showed us that her best is yet to come.
At Battle on the Border we were really close to success, which left the girls ravenous for a result. The the team were still improving their on road communication and getting used to riding together in different roles. Unfortunately Chloe McIntosh had a nasty crash on a dangerous descent, which left her with a broken collarbone – but she is all healed now.
We went into the Tour of Murray after a winter break with Rebecca Wiasak back on board after a stint with the Australian/AIS team in Europe. The team of Ailie McDonald, Emma Viotto, Chloe McIntosh, Alex Nicholls and Rebecca Wiasak rode really well together to get some great results including Rebecca’s stage 2 win – which was our first of the NRS season.
The Sam Miranda Tour of the King Valley could not have been better for Suzuki Brumby’s. It was such a safe, and organisationally well run tour. The variety of courses gave us opportunities to play a few different cards. In the time trial we had 4 riders in the top 15, which was a huge result. Rebecca won by a minute-and-a-half, which was a huge victory for Rebecca and the team. The team guarded that pink jersey with their lives, and were able to turn that one victory into three stage wins for Rebecca and the team. The girls were stoked to take teams classification as there was some stiff competition from Holden and Bicycle Superstore.
CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
So being largely ACT based, we do try to develop local talent and we've had a strong culture in the past for developing junior riders and some senior riders who haven't had an opportunity to step up into the NRS. Any rider who shows potential talent comes onto our radar initially at local ACT races.
In terms of race selection, obviously we look at the terrain, style of race and style or rider to combine a team. We also look at who is coming into good form and build the team around that.
CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
We have a similar rider roster as we did last year but there are a few major changes to the team. Obviously management, myself and Megan O'Neill have come on board to manage the team. There has been a major change with financial sponsors as we've been lucky to have Brumby's bakeries to come onboard and support the women.
The biggest change is probably that the team has changed from a mixed team to a women's only team. Our sponsors and management were keen to nurture and develop the culture of the women’s team and were really proud to see it continue. This year we have a really big community focus so we are keen to be part of the local national cycling community and we are really excited to get more women racing. We are also really motivated to consolidate our position in the NRS.
CN: What are the expectations of the team for the 2014 season?
We want to improve our performance results from last year, and also really focus on riding well as a team. We want to develop our riders to their full potential.
We would love to be the number one team in the NRS, which is a goal for us, but our goals extend beyond the bike as well — we are really focusing on developing riders, getting into the community and promoting women's cycling.
CN: What is your racing calendar?
The team will do the full NRS race calendar with riders and management to change from race-to-race. We'll also look to do some of the summer criteriums should our budget allow but we'll also be at all of the local ACT races.
CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year?
At every race and every tour we'll be looking for a result.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
The way the calendar is structured has definitely improved this year. Most of the changes make a lot more sense — like having Tour of Murray in winter instead of Tour of Mersey Valley. Some of the tours are still logistically and financially difficult to make viable — but we will endeavour to support and attend each of the races.
The calibre of racing has definitely stepped up a notch this year so a lot of the women's teams are stronger than they were last year. For us, this means we have to attend all of the races with a strong team if we intend on collecting maximum NRS points!
CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
The National Capital Tour definitely has the hardest stage in the women’s National Road Series with 120km of hard climbing on Saturday’s queen stage! And as it is our home race we feel the pressure there! That [race] would be our biggest pressure for posting our biggest result.
CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
Last year the team (as Suzuki Bontrager) had Rebecca Wiasak win five stages of the NRS so in terms of stage results; we are hoping to support Rebecca to many more victories in 2014. We are really excited about her return to the team, having ridden for Jayco-AIS in Europe with the Australian team.
All our riders are capable of a result in the NRS so we are looking at which riders will suit which tours. While Rebecca may have been the stand out rider in terms of results, we want to see every rider have the opportunity to get a result.
In terms of other riders in the NRS, the calibre of racing this year is definitely at a difference level. We've seen teams such as Bicycle Superstore, Holden, Specialized and the Jayco-VIS ladies have a few really key riders who are able to win key stages of tours and the NRS in general. The competition is tough but we are excited about the challenge ahead and we are really hoping to be a dominant team this year.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
It's very expensive to run a team. It's especially expensive to get to races such as Tour of Mersey Valley when you have to fly all your riders, road bikes, time trial bikes, and have to hire cars and trailers. It's tight in terms of budgeting for every race. Riders (both men and women) aren't getting very much money in terms of prize money in the NRS. I don’t know of any women’s teams who are able to pay their riders. It’s pretty tight for the ladies in terms of how much time they can take off work and try to manage their income and career at the same time.
With Suzuki, Brumby's and the ACT Government as our major sponsors, along as well as all our product sponsors, we are incredibly lucky to be in a good budget position so that we are able to do all the NRS races and support our ladies to do great things.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Our major financial sponsors this year are Suzuki, Brumby's and the ACT government. With their support, we have the budget to attend all the NRS races which is just fantastic.
We are lucky to ride Trek Bicycles and use Bontrager products. We are incredibly lucky to use Club Lime gyms in the ACT, have our bikes serviced at Bike Culture ACT, our clothing supplied by Vie13 and saddle comfort thanks to Aussie Butt Cream.
2014 Suzuki Brumby's team: Madeleine Marshall, Laura Darlington, Ailie McDonald, Chloe McIntosh, Alex Nicholls, Allison Rice, Emily Roper, Emma Viotto and Rebecca Wiasak.
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