Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back on the rollercoaster

Ever since I started mountain-biking people asked me how far I wanted to take it, to which I replied “as far as I can”. This means as far as my physical ability will take me, but also with regard to my family, professional and financial commitments will allow. I’ve never been in a position to just eat, sleep and breathe cycling because I’m a parent and have responsibilities, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being a ‘pro’ and completely consumed by your sport also struck me as pretty one-dimensional too and I’m not sure I would function well like that.

We all love our chosen sport and that sometimes blinds us to the fact that not everyone else finds it that enthralling. While 60,000 people will fill a stadium to watch 26 men with no necks chase a ball around for 80 minutes, mountain-biking has a more modest following. I think that more people are likely to PARTICIPATE in our sport though than simply sit on their butts and watch. Regardless of this sponsorship is still very hard to come by. I’ve been really lucky and had assistance since day one with bikes, equipment and servicing, which are the big expenses. Once you start competing nationally add in flights, accommodation and loss of income, the dollars rack up pretty fast. Before Merida Flight Centre came on board, I was about to quit competitive riding on the recommendation of my bank manager!

If you have aspirations to compete internationally, that is just a world of pain. I came to the conclusion long ago that the way through the financial hardship was never going to come from the AIS or companies with a commercial interest (women’s mountain-biking, you must be kidding), but from someone who just loved cycling or sport and wanted to see others do well. My entry into cycling was facilitated by my old running group PCRG who all chipped in and bought me a MTB to rehab my running injuries when my last bike was stolen. This same group of people then all dug deep again to fund my first trip to the 2008 MTB Marathon World Champs in Italy, even though I’d abandoned their sport a couple of years before. The Riders Club paid my airfare to my first National XCO series round in Adelaide in 2007 which kicked off the next 4 years of competing all over the country. This is small club of great people who first welcomed me into mountain-biking, back in the days when club President John Pinnell would outride me with one-arm (NB: He still gives me a run for my money).

This year has been mixed for me in mountain-biking results. My form at Nationals was not what I’d planned and then I headed to South Africa for the Cape Epic where Naomi and I had some great results despite me being seriously underprepared. The event was a great test of mental toughness though and a couple of months later I was fit and strong, taking out the 24 hour. I don’t have a burning desire to be a 24 hour racer, it was more a case of being fit, needing to find an event (with prize money) and wanting to make a mends for my DNF at my first 24 solo. It was also a chance to hang out with some ‘grass roots’ mountain bikers. I’ve never been that comfortable around ‘elite’ riders and to be honest I wouldn’t know Julian Absalon if I tripped over him. It took me an hour to work out I was talking to Gunn Rita Dahle and she’s one of my heroes!

Entry into the Australian team this year was very doubtful as recent World Cup experience is a prerequisite for selection. Enter, my client and friend (he would not want to be named), who refused to give up and has put up a substantial amount of funding to help with travel costs and is exploring other avenues to get help with expenses. We’re not all the way there yet but there comes a time when you have to say “fuck it, let’s do it” (Sorry, Richard Branson, I think I stole that). Plane tickets are booked and I’m getting accommodation sorted on short notice so hopefully I don’t end up sleeping the in the hire car. Selection for World Champs has passed but there is a small event in London next year that I will still be in the running for.

Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened and give up on goals, especially when the people around you, although you love them to death, don’t really understand why you flog yourself for no financial reward. It only takes one person to believe that the goal is worthwhile and that you can achieve it, to get you back on track. So a huge thanks to my mate and I can’t wait to head off on another adventure.

(Note: The final 2 rounds of the world cup are in Nove Mestro Na Morave, CZ on 13 August and Val Di Sole, IT on 20 August)