Over the past few days, a few people have asked why VeloVoices has not been covering the women’s road cycling at the London 2012 Olympics. The simple answer is that, while all of us take an interest in women’s cycling, none of us would profess to be particularly knowledgeable about the distaff branch of road racing. However, we do listen to our followers, so we tracked down someone who is an expert on women’s racing – because she happens to be a professional rider herself.
Australia’s Bridie O’Donnell is a former triathlete who signed her first pro contract in 2009 at the age of 35, first with Team Valdarno – where she was a teammate of road world champion Tatiana Guderzo – and then Top Girls Fassa Bortolo. She now rides for Vanderkitten.We figured she was probably a teensy bit more qualified to comment on the women’s road race and time trial than we were, so we sent Panache off to get her view on them. Here’s what she had to say.
Women’s road race
Panache: You told me on Twitter that you were excited to watch the women fight it out. What were your impressions of the parcours and how the race played out?
Bridie: The weather certainly made the day a lot more difficult than the course profile suggested. The smaller bunch also made it hard for slower climbers to maintain contact or rejoin after they’d been dropped. Had there been 100 or more starters [only 66 riders took the start – Ed], I think we would have seen more groups fighting it out to make a bigger group to the finish.
I was unsurprised by the Netherlands’ tactics of attacking early and often. That’s the kind of race that Vos likes & clearly they were the strongest team. Even more impressive that she too attacked relentlessly to “tire herself out as well as the others” and that it paid off with a win.
We knew that teams of one or two really had no chance on a course like this. Using one’s firepower was the only way to get a medal, and no ‘hiding’ or foxing was going to work. A lot of talk by supporters of Team USA was that had Olds not punctured, she would have won but I disagree for two reasons: firstly, many riders had bad luck and mechanicals (Italy had three punctures, Australia two, and Gunnewijk, Armstrong and Villumsen all crashed) and secondly, any fourth rider in that break would have changed the outcome. Perhaps Olds’ lack of desire to work may have led to aggravation in the others, the break may have dissolved, been brought back & another gone. Wishful thinking by the Americans, understandably.
Panache: The weather for the women’s road race was wet to say the least. What’s it like to be in a prestigious race like the Olympics when the weather is terrible?
Bridie: For many, it’s a disappointment, knowing that your preparation and talent may be compromised by a greater degree of bad luck. For others – like the Dutch – who often prefer harder conditions, they believe it gives them an advantage. But still, the field was smaller than a World Cup, so the consequences of a crash/mechanical were less significant.
Panache: Before the women’s road race I asked you to give me three names of possible winners:
Panache: You said either Vos, Teutenberg, or Bronzini. Of course, you picked the winner! What makes these three women so special?
Bridie: The first two in particular have won more races than any pro male (combined) and possess the qualities of champions: elite physiology, aggression, tactical nous and a strong team. They both race offensively and aren’t afraid to work hard. Bronzini is perhaps a more stereotypical Italian rider: opportunistic, skillful and always there in the finale.
Panache: Is there a tougher rider in the world than Marianne Vos?
Panache: Who surprised you with their performance?
Bridie: Zabelinskaya was surprising in both the road race and the time trial. She obviously timed her form perfectly for the Olympics but had showed no outstanding performances all season. Unfortunately, Australia’s riders were surprisingly poor, given the generally strong performances throughout the season.
Panache: Many people thought the women’s road race was much more exciting than the men’s race. (As if women’s racing is less exciting normally?!?) What do you make of these comparisons?
Bridie: There is no comparison. I keep telling people this! Women have different physiology, different brains, smaller teams, less financial incentive to ride for their team mates, fewer championship/media-sponsored opportunities to perform and completely different paths both to cycling and after it.
Women’s time trial
Panache: Your palmares illustrates your experience and success in the time trial. Okay, basically you’re a legend in my mind! What did you think of the Olympic route?
Bridie: It’s a great course, I would love to have ridden it! Just because it was flat, doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Rhythm, pacing, holding close to your threshold … these are all part of TT talent as much as a climb/descent is.
Panache: Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal again after coming back from a broken collarbone. You raced against her in the Tour of California Women’s time trial this year. What goes through your mind when you line up against someone like her?
Bridie: Well I knew we would all be riding for second place, that’s for sure! She is a fierce competitor who gifts nothing. I didn’t have a great day in Bakersfield, and finished a long way down on Armstrong. But two weeks ago I had a better 25km TT at the Cascade Classic and was only two minutes down, so she’s a benchmark for all of us.
Panache: The average age of the women’s podium was 36. Are women riders in the time trial like fine wine? They only get better with age?
Bridie: It’s common knowledge that women continue to improve in their endurance capabilities into their late 30s. We see world record times for marathoners, ironman triathletes and road cyclists. It shows that these athletes have been amply supported by their friends, families, federations and teams. It also shows that they know what is required to perform at a world-class level.
Panache: We’ve seen dominant performances from riders like Armstrong, who should we keep our eye on in the future?
Bridie: Van Dijk, Vos, Longo Borghini, Armitstead, Pooley and Ferrand Prevot (from France, who didn’t start due to mountain biking commitments).
Advice from Bridie
Panache: Bridie, before you go, leave us with some sage advice. What do you think we as fans do to help encourage more media coverage and support for women’s racing?
Bridie: You engage with riders, support us, motivate us, keep us grounded and remind us that what we’re doing is important. In turn, this allows female cyclists the opportunity to feel important, valued and empowered. It means we expect more of our coaches, our team directors and our federations. This can place more pressure on race organisers and the mainstream media to better promote the sport.
Panache: What advice do you have for young women who are interested in participating in the sport?
Bridie: Do it! Ride, race, find people to help you, find role models to inspire you and learn to live with disappointment. Most importantly, learn the difference between a ‘performance’ which is something you can control and a ‘result’ which you can not. You can control how you prepare, how hard you train, who you surround yourself with and how you race. If someone is faster, that’s beyond your control.
Panache: How can women get that sexy wind-blown hair like in your Twitter profile? (Mrs. Panache wants to know)
Bridie: Get your hair cut, coloured & blow dried at a salon. Then go training, have a shower, sleep eight hours and wake up the next day …
Panache: I can use all the help I can get. Any advice for a 40-year old male masters racer with two kids, who works at a library?
Bridie: Goal-setting helps me, no matter how ‘small’ or amateur that goal is. It helps keep momentum, maintains morale and gives you something to work towards.
Panache: Bridie, thank you very much for your time and thoughts.
You can follow Bridie O’Donnell on Twitter or via her personal website.