A week ago Jo Hogan found out that she no longer had a ride with the team she has called home for the last season-and-a-half, UCI Women's outfit Bizkaia-Durango.
With her back to the wall on Sunday and in what would be her last race for the team at the Spanish Cup event in La Rioja, the Australian won. Now, the 31-year-old knows that in order to have a chance at her major goal of the season, a spot on the national team for the UCI Road World Championships in Florence, she has to do it all again.
Hogan has been thrown a life line by the Napoleon Games - St Martinus Elite 2 level team and will race on Saturday at the Erpe – Mere.
"I'm going in there with the attitude that I have given it every last bit that I have at the moment," Hogan told Cyclingnews on her last morning in Girona. "Especially having to battle on with the financial side of staying in Europe to be able to get the worlds spot but I know that after Saturday if I walk away and don't manage to win the race that I've done everything that I can.
"Realistically, I know I have to do something special to make the long team for the worlds."
Bizkaia-Durango, under financial pressure and with some doubt over their survival beyond this season, has decided to end Hogan's second-year with the team early.
Hogan is the first to admit that her season has not gone as she had hoped. Second to Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) in the Cycling Australia Road National Championships in January, Hogan had momentum heading into the 2013 European season but with the odd crash and injury, it's been a particularly trying few months.
"The challenges of being on a team that doesn't speak a lot of English and being the only non-Spanish rider was a challenge that I knew to expect but I think coming back I've struggled a little bit with that and I think it has probably affected my performance this year," Hogan admitted. "I probably wouldn't change things because it's been a learning experience and I think I've come out the other end a bit stronger."
News that Bizkaia-Durango is struggling financially does not come as a surprise with Cyclingnews aware of a number of teams within the women's peloton that are unable to pay riders. In June, the family-run team was forced to raise funds in order to meet a 20,000 euro shortfall to fulfil their invite for the Giro Rosa. Hogan however maintains that: "When you have commitments you have to follow through with them."
Without the support of the Cyclistes Professionels Associés (CPA) which only the men's peloton has access to, there are very few avenues for women to remedy any issues with their riding conditions. It is left to the UCI to act.
Hogan was the winner of the 2011 Amy Gillett Foundation Scholarship, cementing her place in the Australian Institute of Sport development team having won the Australian National Road Series in 2010. Martin Barras was then able to organise Hogan's start with the Spanish team, and it's a path that quite a few Australians have taken over the years when guest rides were available.
"Bizkaia were willing to give me accommodation which ended up being in Girona which is where I've been based for the last two years," explained Hogan. "That was an attraction as well because a lot of the teams don't give you financial support or provide anywhere to live. I had that base and I had to self-fund my whole season last year.
"I weighed up at the end of last year whether I could come back for a second year but I felt like I had more to give and wanted to try and build on the experience that I'd had from that first year.
"I knew Bizkaia had a really good calendar," Hogan continued. "We did some of the World Cups and that's an attraction because on some of the smaller teams you don't get that variety in the race schedule and therefore opportunities with the national team."
The experience of compatriot Rachel Neylan, who salvaged her season in 2012 having been dealt some blows before going on to win silver at the World Championships in Valkenburg, has crossed Hogan's mind on more than one occasion this year. With her win last Sunday, Hogan proved to herself that she could be just as capable. A 70km solo break which at one stage was whittled down to just a 30 second lead before eventually winning by close to two minutes from the fast-closing peloton.
"It was such a relief," said Hogan. "Over the last two years when things haven't gone well off the bike with problems with the team or injury, I've not been able to perform when I had to. With the mental pressure of things not going that well with the team and having to face them one last time with all the things going on the in the background, it was really satisfying to be able to get the win. It wasn't a huge field but I still had to put in a big effort. I stayed away for 70km in a break by myself so I had a lot of time to think."
After Erpe – Mere, Hogan's schedule in Belgium includes three kermesses before then closing out what could be her last month of racing in Europe with the Lotto-Decca Tour. The decision to continue in Europe, rather than return to Australia and financial stability was not taken lightly but, with the support of her coach Stuart McKenize, family, friends, Victorian Institute of Sport women's coach Donna Rae-Szalinski, and even the kindness of strangers who have offered to fund the next few months, Hogan was not about to walk away. Hogan knows that her situation can improve and will be looking for the buzz she got from guest riding with the Sengers Ladies team at the Tour Féminin de Bretagne.
"Being in that environment where everyone's really supportive of each other, it was a really good team atmosphere; I managed to lift and I had good form from that race," said Hogan. "There's no doubt that when you're in a good environment and you've got supportive people around you and really good staff and you're mentally on your game you can achieve big things. I've seen it with other girls as well; it really makes a big difference."
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