Influential People: my small army
It’s easy to look at the Marianne Vos’ and the Michael Matthews of the world and focus only on their successes. However the reality is that there is a small army behind them who have helped, and are still helping them achieve at the elite level.
Think of the parents who taxied them to the races when they were too young to drive; the riders who inspired them; the team managers who motivated them to work just that little bit harder; and the coaches who put in hours counselling, consoling, congratulating, cheering and guiding these athletes.
I’ve been cycling since I was twelve so my list of army cavalry, generals and commanders is long. While I can’t list them all, here are a few of the influential people that have shaped me into the rider I am today, who helped me get to where I am and a few who are still helping me get to where I want to be; on the podium at the 2016 World Championships in Qatar.
It seems only fair to start at the beginning. Dad was a cyclist after finding the sport in his twenties. He raced competitively around Australia and even won the Masters Championships in Canberra when I was about seven or eight; I still remember fighting through the crowd gathered at the victory ceremony and Dad hoisting me onto the podium with him.
Most weekday mornings he would wake at the crack of dawn and meet up with the local Canberra bunch rides or his cycling group Squadra run by Steven Hodge. Every weekend he would disappear for hours on end to explore the roads around Canberra.
When I was twelve I developed shin splints which made field hockey and rocking climbing – my two favourite sports at the time – virtually impossible. Needing an outlet for my excess energy I asked Dad if I could give cycling a go. He was like a kid in a candy store, so excited that his little girl wanted to try his favourite sport.
There is something you need to understand about my Dad, he has never been one to do things in half measures. If he wanted a new television system he wasn’t going to settle for a sub-par one, he would get the big screen with surround sound. It was no different with my cycling. From the very beginning if there was something, within reason, that could help me develop and compete with the best girls in Australia, Dad would try to make sure I had it.
My first racing bike was a shinny blue Giant TCR compact frame, Dad had bought it in America on a family holiday. He set it up for me and within days we were out on the roads of Canberra at six in the morning. Instead of meeting up with his friends at the Hour of Power or for pyramid efforts around Parliament House Dad started training with me.
We found a local junior bunch that met every Wednesday and Friday and for a few years Dad would come with me every morning. When the bunch wasn’t meeting he would take me down to the lake in Canberra and we would practice criteriums and skills; one legged sprints, two up sprints, shoulder leaning.
He always joked that his cycling career ended when mine began and it’s true, he made a lot of sacrifices to help me develop as a rider.
Dad gave me the foundations which acted as the sling shot to my cycling career and even today he’s still the first person I go to for advice.
A year or so after I started cycling Dad thought it was time I started working with a coach, someone who could provide more structure to my programs and who could help me make the next step in the junior ranks.
One evening I went out to the Thursday night veterans track racing in Queanbeyan to cheer for Dad and maybe even jump in with the D-grade scratch and points races.
Sian Mulholland, the first woman to represent Australia at the track World Championships, was out racing that night too. Some may argue she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time because a friend of Dad’s mentioned that she had done some coaching in the past and Dad grabbed the idea like Cavendish grabs Renshaw’s wheel. He rode straight over to Sian, introduced himself and quickly went on to ask her if she would be interested in coaching his 13 year old daughter.
Sian amazingly agreed and after a few months under her tutelage I qualified for my first State team to compete at the Australian Junior Track Championships in Tasmania. At the Championships I won three medals; two silver and one bronze.
Sian continued to coach me until I signed my first professional contract with HTC-Columbia in 2010.
Over the seven years that Sian coached me she helped me to build the work ethic, grit and perseverance which has enabled me to get where I am today.
I still remember one of our weekly phone conversations where she laid down the law; I had returned from the junior world championships a few months earlier and my head was anywhere but on the bike. She said, “Chloe, if you’re not going to do my programs then I’m not going to write them.”
She taught me to follow a program but she also taught me the importance of balance; cycling was important but so was school, family and friends and Sian helped me to manage all these things.
On one occasion I called her, sobbing, from a bike ride. My boyfriend had dumped me and I was distraught.
“Go home and eat some ice-cream, forget about the bike for today,” she said.
Eating ice-cream wasn’t always her answer but it’s a good example of how she understood that for me – a 17 year old girl – there was more to life than cycling. It’s a huge reason why I am still in the sport when so many of the young girls I came through the junior ranks with hung up the bike not long after we entered the elite ranks.
Sian’s frankness when needed helped me develop the skills I needed to succeeded in the elite ranks while her compassion ensured that I actually got there.
My former teammate Ina-Yoko Teutenberg is the only rider that I have ever thought, ‘I want to be like them‘.
I was never one to idolise riders when I was growing up but after having the opportunity to race alongside Ina for three years and see how she operated she’s probably the closest person I have to a idol or hero; if anything, I definitely think of her as a mentor.
Like most of the peloton I respect her enormously. She is, in my opinion, one of the best road sprinters women’s cycling has ever seen but she was also a powerful time trialist, an impressive hill climber and a selfless teammate.
Witnessing first hand what kind of rider she was and the effort she put in has given me something to strive towards as I continue on my cycling journey. Like a little kid, I still think to myself, ‘when I grow up I want to be able to climb like Ina’.
I remember finishing Thüringen Rundfahrt – an eight day stage race in Germany in 2011 – where I had been dropped on all but the last stage and Ina simply said to me; “Go home and train harder”. She was never one to mince words and she always told it how it was.
I went home and trained harder and finished sixth at the World Championships in Copenhagen a few months later. Sitting in a bar after the race Ina, who had finished third behind Giorgia Bronizi and Marianne Vos, said; “Look how good you are when you train hard”.
Jens Zemke was the second in charge Sports Director at HTC-Highroad and Specialized lululemon when I rode for the teams in 2011 and 2012. He’s since moved on to direct the South African professional men’s team MTN but he was a director who understood how to motivate me as a rider and how to challenge me.
Always observing from afar Jens didn’t miss much and he picked his moments carefully when he decided you needed to hear what he thought.
After a race in America in 2011 where I had finished third and been bitterly disappointed Jens waited until I cooled down and then asked to speak to me later that evening. He didn’t sugar coat anything and simply told it how it was.
He said; “If one of your teammates was to finish on the podium she would have been so happy. You have the talent but you’re not using it. You don’t need to have butter on your bread at dinner…you should be doing 10minutes of core a day.”
Jens’ way of telling me that I wasn’t doing enough but then offering me advice on how to improve really resonated with me and his advice has stuck with me ever since.
My current coach, Eric Haakonssen, saved me.
At the end of 2012 after a disastrous Olympic campaign I parted ways with my coach of two years and not long after that my contract with my trade team wasn’t renewed.
It was a testing time for me in my cycling career and there were definitely moments when I considered packing my bags and heading back to Australia for good. At the eleventh hour however, I negotiated a contract with the Norwegian professional team Hitec Products, but I still needed a coach.
I emailed Eric who I had met at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and had been in contact with for the past year or so and pleaded my case, which was basically ‘help, please coach me!’
Within a day Eric replied to me and said what I really needed to hear at the time; he would love to work with me and he thinks there’s a lot we could do to help me improve as a rider.
With Eric, a PhD student at the physiology lab at the AIS, I knew I was in the right hands. What’s more is it was refreshing to hear that he would like to work with me after what seemed like months of bad news.
I’ve now been working with Eric for almost two years and my career has only gone upwards. In 2013 I had more European podiums than any other female Australian rider and currently in 2014 I am the only female Australian to win a UCI ranked road race in Europe.
But it’s not only in results that Eric’s coaching has been beneficial; he has helped me develop into a more well rounded bike rider with a strong focus on my body composition (while this will always be a work in progress for me) and climbing.
But most of all his commitment to helping me achieve as a cyclist has been a huge motivating factor for me. Knowing how much effort he puts into my programs, into analysing my data and into reading my long winded, rambling emails because he believes in me helps me believe in myself.
While Dad, Sian, Ina, Jens and Eric are just a few people in my small army there are so many more that have helped me get to where I am and who are still involved in my journey.
Every athlete has an army, so next time you see the Vos’ or the Blings of the peloton raise their arms in the air spare a thought for those people behind them who helped them get there.