Australian professional cyclist Rachel Neylan will be part of the home-grown Australian national team competing at this weekend’s historic La Course.
Twenty of the world’s top female cycling teams will be battling it out for the prestige (and pay packet) of this 13-lap, 90km race through Paris, to be held prior to the end of the final Stage of this year’s Tour de France.
The event has sent a collective frisson of excitement through not only the female cycling world, but women’s sport in general.
It promises to catapult female cycling talent onto the world stage in a way that normally only the Olympics or Commonwealth Games can do. The event has inspired celebratory activities and initiatives around the world, including UCI’s Women’s Cycling Week (20 – 27 July) which aims to promote cycling amongst females and encourage women of all ages, abilities and fitness to get out for a ride.
A brilliant cyclist and a vocal advocate for positive change in cycling for women, Rachel Neylan is one very excited competitor ahead of this weekend.
Like countless cyclists of her calibre, Rachel’s professional story is graced with highs (including #2 in the 2012 World Championships) and dogged by lows (including a horrific accident in Italy 2010 that left her with facial injuries that are still being treated, getting hit by a car in February this year). Along with every other female cyclist who lines up at La Course this Sunday, Rachel will be bringing with her years of thrills, struggles, elation, pain, dedication, commitment and positivity.
La Course will be a great day for women the world around, whether they love cycling, they’re committed to equality, or they simply want to celebrate the world’s very best. We wish Rachel, her Jayco-AIS team mates and all competitors an electric and unforgettable day of racing.
We have a lot of respect for Rachel and her commitment to the sport. We caught up with her ahead of her arrival in Paris – here’s what she had to say.
How has life been since you came on board with the Jayco-AIS team?
I came on board this year after talks with the team. Prior I had had a string of injuries unfortunately. So coming into a team this year that is really well resourced, whose goals align with mine, and who has similar green and gold ambitions has been great for me. They’re a really professional and supportive unit and we’re all on the same wavelength, which is great.
You mentioned injuries. We’ve heard you say previously that your goal this year is to return to being a consistent world class cyclist. With La Course approaching do you feel like that is being realised?
Yes. Every race day is getting me closer to being back where I want to be. I have done the base work and a lot of conditioning in May and June. I now need to layer intensity over that, which will come with more exposure to racing events like La Course.
So as a world-class cyclist, what are some of the tangible goals you have in the short to medium future?
I need to post a selection-worthy result by 24th August for the long list, then final selection in September for the World Championships. Beyond that, my aim is to return to a well-equipped pro team so that next year sees consistent, quality racing, and UCI podium finishes. The World Championships will of course be on the radar again in 2015 and then then Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Tell us about La Course from a rider’s perspective.
It’s going to be a 90km suffer-fest, criterium style! There are no hills so this will be a flat, dynamic race with plenty of attacks – they will be happening left, right and centre. On a bigger picture, La Course is a pretty bold statement to race organisers around the world. It’s saying that one of the world’s biggest sporting events can manage to stage a men and women’s event at essentially the same time. It’s sending a message that it can be done.
There is an incredible prize pool for La Course – does any other women’s cycling race deliver that kind of pay cheque?
Put it this way: Marianne Vos won 500 euros for winning the Giro Rosa – that’s 500 which is probably split between the team.
How is your body and mind feeling in the lead up to this Sunday?
I’ve just finished Thüringen, a 7-day Tour of Germany, and prior to that I was training heavily at altitude. So this week is going to be about some rest and recovery. I am very mentally focused. I have put in place a good travel plan leading up to the race. I know what I am doing every day. I have put myself in the best position to be in top shape and I feel really good.
Who is competition this Sunday?
Rabobank have been performing incredibly well this season, as a team unit let alone with Marianne Vos as their leader. But with a course like this, you can’t discount pure sprinter Kirsten Wild from Giant-Shimano, who is very strong and very fast. A bunch sprint finish is highly probable so from Australia, the likes of Chloe Hosking is also serious competition.
What female cyclists have had a positive mark on you?
When I first started out in the Talent ID program I listened to a talk about Sara Carrigan’s preparation towards gold in Athens. That was a defining moment and a huge influence.
I also have a vivid memory of Kathy Watt winning in 92. It is my first Olympic memory, it was 4am in the morning and I was blurry eyed and ten years old but it had an impact, I didn't even know what road cycling was but the image was imprinted. Kate and Natalie Bates and Tracey Gaudry are all big influences. But probably first and foremost I would say Amy Gillett. If it wasn’t for the Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship I would never have had the launch pad to where I am today.
A big thanks to Rachel – we wish her and all the Aussies a brilliant race on Sunday, and a great remaining race season. Go, Rach!