A Geriatric Cycling Team
As most cyclists at the elite level have helmets and lycra on when you google them, I wasn’t sure I would be able to recognise Victoria at first glance.
I arrived at the busy café right on 3pm to meet Victoria Veitch – a woman mentioned to me by a mutual friend’s husband when the topic of my presence at the Santos Women’s Tour interviewing cyclists came up. “She’d be great to talk to”. Keen to speak to as many women as possible whilst in Adelaide, I jumped at the chance at another coffee catch up.
As I watched the usual comers and goers on the street, I saw a women with short cropped blond hair, a fit looking physique… and the most defined tan lines midway down her upper arm I have ever seen. Typical of anyone who spends hours outside in the same cut clothing, these tan lines are worn with pride. A badge of honour, the sharpness of the demarcation between the white and the tan acting as a symbol of one’s dedication to riding.
Victoria had just finished several hours of training for the day yet still looked relaxed, a sure sign of a professional athlete. I began by talking a little about Chicks Who Ride Bikes – what we do, who we are, the success we have had in Brisbane. I told her a little bit about the types of questions I would be asking, what I and CWRB followers would want to know.
CWRB: How did you come to be the elite cyclist that you are?
That was probably by accident and because I was getting too sore to run… My husband and I have always exercised together, and are also stupidly competitive about everything we do…
CWRB: One of those couples?
One of those couples! I was getting sick of getting absolutely trounced in running by him and convincing myself that I was enjoying it, and one day I literally walked into Norwood Parade Cycles here in Adelaide and saw a pink bike and said “yup, I’m going to have that!”
CWRB: Are you serious??
Yep. I bought a bike because it was pink. That was it. I started riding and, as with everything, became totally obsessive about it.
About 9 months later, you know after almost forgetting what my husband looks like, I said “I’d better buy you a bike as well because we’re not doing anything together.
CWRB: Isn't that so funny, as it can often be the inverse!
Yes, it is, yeah!
CWRB: That’s very cool, I like that.
VV: But it was really good because it kind of flipped who was beating who. My body is very much naturally inclined towards a strength thing like cycling, whereas his lean running legs he’s never caught up… so it’s very good for my ego to have a sport where I always win!
CWRB: That’s how I feel about swimming. Every time I go swimming with my partner, because he’s Irish and they don’t, ummm, swim good. So every time I go for a swim with him it’s like “Oh I feel so agile!”
VV: See it’s nice!!
CWRB: It is nice! I won’t lie.
VV: Yeah, so I just started riding with some guys from Norwood Parade Cycles and, you know, they took care of me, they taught me how to ride, they were really interested in my development, and from there took a punt, start veteran’s racing, raced my first hills race and won it and thought that was pretty cool. It would be about 3 years before I’d win another, but that was nice. And yeah, just, it really wasn't until this year and having met some girls who are really in terms of mental focus and discipline a cut above me, they kind of… they pushed me to have a crack at that elite level. They guys had been saying to me for a long time “just have a go”, but it wasn't until it was around these incredible girls that I felt like I wouldn't be out of my league having a crack. And, yeah! - ended up in the Tour Down Under with what I have affectionately coined a ‘geriatric cycling team’, because we’re all old and past it. But yet, we've held our own against the young girls.
The ‘geriatric team’ Victoria refers to is the EMBA-Ozone Cleaning Specialists Team, a wild card entry into the Santos Women’s Tour. And by geriatric, she means over 35. Victoria tells me a little bit about her experience putting the team together.
CWRB: So how did the team come together?
VV: I actually headhunted elite individual athletes on Strava! I looked at Strava segments that I knew and the women who ranked highly on them and approached them. All of us are new to the TDU.
CWRB: Wow, so a newly formed team? How long did you have to prepare? You must have come up with team tactics pretty early on?
VV: There really are no team tactics when it comes to survival. You don’t go into a race like the Santos Women’s Tour with your best friend. You go with people who can hang on. Essentially, we had 8 weeks to prepare. We trained in isolation and with men. I knew that the road stages were where we would be strong. We’re not a criterium team, that’s for sure!
CWRB: Let’s talk results. How did you perform compared to your expectations?
VV: Really well! There were 17 teams contesting the TDU, all of who were NRS (National Road Series) or International teams... and it was made pretty clear during the registration process we were not expected to rate, let alone pull ahead of the teams we did.
We came 11th in Stage 1 , dropped back to 16th in the criterium and moved back up again after Stage 3 [a 71 km road race. Stage 4 was incredibly fast paced. I did a Tokyo drift at one point, turned it sideways thinking how do I get the hell out of this?
Within the first 5 laps, we were all just burying ourselves. We finished up 9th out of the 17 teams. So yeah, I was pretty proud!
CWRB: Stage 4 certainly was intense – I don’t think I've ever seen that many riders get red flagged !
VV: We could see these riders hit the crack point. But you can’t let them get in your way, even though you feel bad for them. If I could suggest a change to the race format, I would say cut out a criterium and add another road race. Or, maybe even a team time trial.
CWRB: How do you think the public perception of the Women’s Tour was, as an athlete?
VV: For those that came and watched, I think they were genuinely surprised at how fast it is. The international teams push the speed up, but also increases logistical problems with sag wagons and disqualifications. Bridging the gap takes time, and is dependent on support for women’s cycling equalising. You have to increase general participation before you increase elite participation.