Relative new comer to the women’s peloton, Rachel Neylan has bridged the gap from Nationally recognised runner to Professional Road Cyclist. She’s placed 4th in the 102km Road Race in Ballarat and 7th in the women’s time trial at the beginning of the season as she prepared to race in Europe with the Australian National Team and Team Fanini/System Data where she’ll mix it up as a sprinter, general classification rider and domestique.
Neylan is the current recipient of the Amy Gillet Foundation Scholarship and says she is, "passionate about road safety for all users." At 28 years old she may not be the youngest recipient of the scholarship but she certainly has the leadership and confidence to be an ambassador for the AGF. On the 24th March, shortly after her arrival in Italy, she had her best international result, placed 13th at the Cittiglio World Cup race.
Rachel Neylen has generously taken time to answer questions from Rowena Scott for Bicycles Network Australia (BNA).
BNA: What made you change from a National runner to one of Australia’s leading female road cyclists and how did you find the transition?
I have always been driven by a passion to become an elite athlete, competing for Australia and ultimately being an Olympian. Life as a runner was not satisfying my athletic desires, so I went on a quest to find an optimal sport, one i wold be most physiologically suited to.
I knew I had the passion and dedication I just needed to match that to the right discipline which suited my physiology. After a short stint as a rower the next thing was to try cycling. The timing was perfect as an NTID program was beginning in Adelaide looking for female athletes looking at becoming cyclists!
The transition was total – sport, lifestyle and career as I moved interstate to train under the SASI / NTID program. I would not have been able to make such a transition without the support of this program which an amazing source of support, encouragement and guidance during the super steep learning curve that was my first 2 years not only as a cyclist but as a bike rider!
BNA: We’re a couple of months into the racing season now, you placed 4th at the 2010 National Championships (Ballarat) in the 102km road race, and 7th in the Women’s Time Trial, how are you enjoying the beginning of the season?
The early year was focused on preparing for the European season, in particular the Spring classics I have just arrived in Europe and after training in Lucca and riding in the Cittiglio World Cup, I am now over in Holland preparing for the 3rd WC of the season Ronde Van Drenthe (Sat 10th). I love Italy so am enjoying all it has to offer – I am taking advantage and immersing myself in the culture… eating, speaking and living Italiano!
BNA: 2010 will see you racing with Professional Team, Team System Data and the Australian National Team who are located in Varese, Italy, how is racing in Europe compared to here in Australia? How are the team dynamics and what’s your role within the team?
With the National team I will be a domestique for the GC rider / or sprinter for that particular race. The type of race – terrain etc and who the lead rider is determines the team dynamics and tactics. In my italian Team Fanini / System Data I will have the opportunity to be the GC rider in the more hilly races and tours which is a fantastic opportunity during my first full Euro season.
BNA: Do you think there is much difference in the women peloton compared to the men’s?
There are a few differences, one being women’s peloton is smaller, the other being our races are shorter and the third being that most men can earn a very good income from their professional contracts. The lack of TV coverage hence sponsors and financial investment in women’s cycling on a world stage means no ‘real’ paychecks. The race dynamics (i.e. tactics, aggressiveness) are not always, but can be of equal nature.
BNA: The camera’s are obviously polite enough to not show it, and it’s easier for the men to stop on the road and have a toilet break, what about women in the tour?
Usually we don’t really need to stop as our races are on average only about 3 hours in length. However in a longer stage at times a key woman may call a quick toilet stop but this is pretty rare.
BNA: What are your goals for 2010?
World Champs and Commonwealth Games Selection. The criteria of which involves a podium performance in a UCI race.
BNA: 2010 will see you racing with Professional Team, Team System Data and the Australian National Team who are located in Varese, Italy, how is racing in Europe compared to here in Australia?
Everything is different in Europe and it is taking a lot of learning and understanding of all the elements involved. The peloton is larger, faster and more aggressive, there are more structured teams hence the races pan out according to team tactics rather than individuals, the roads can be quite narrow, there are cobbled roads, the corners are tighter, the hills are longer and it actually rains at times!
BNA: How do you find it fitting into a new team, and what’s your role within the team?
I know all the National team members well, a fantastic group of exceptionally talented women who i am so excited and privileged to race with. Essentially I will be a domestique in the National team this year. The type of race – terrain etc and who the lead rider is determines the team dynamics and tactics.
The girls in my italian Team Fanini / System Data I am meeting and getting to know. Racing on a foreign team is a great opportunity to get to know girls of other background and learn about other cultures. I will have the opportunity to be the GC rider in the more hilly races and tours which is a fantastic opportunity during my first full Euro season.
BNA: Tell us about the bikes your currently riding, are they custom designed for you and how do they perform?
I am currently riding a Bianchi who are a major sponsor of the AGF scholarship. My 2010 Bianchi is super light, responsive, rigid and looks great!
BNA: There’s a lot of discussion out there amongst first time riders that says women’s specific design is the way to go, what are your thoughts?
An optimal bike fit is extremely important for comfort, performance and injury prevention. I don’t think it’s absolutely essential but think in most cases a women’s specific frame will generally provide a better fit for most women.
BNA: I know that chaffing can be a sensitive issue for beginner cyclists, especially women, I understand that Aussie Butt Cream is one of your sponsors, can you tell me how the product shapes up?
I have not used anything better. I like that it uses natural and optimal ingredients for skin health and is largely preventative. I have had some hours in the saddle in preparation for Europe and have been extremely impressed with Aussie Butt Cream. ABC is the best I’ve used and I don’t travel without it!
BNA: You’re in the position to inspire a whole generation of young and older female cyclists, how does that make you feel?
Thank you. What an honor to hear this. It is a privilege to think that by being a cyclist, following my passion and achieving my best in sport that I can inspire health and fitness in the lives of others.
BNA: What advice do you have for women in cycling and women who want to ride but don’t know where to start?
Make sure you align yourself with a good local bike shop. The cycling community is close knit and everyone is always willing to help. Join a local cycling club or look for local group rides to join. Buy a good bike, get it set up correctly by a professional and practice stopping and starting in a park or quiet streets before roads. Select the correct saddle and purchase a quality set of knicks to prevent saddle discomfort!
BNA: I know some days I’d rather ride straight to the coffee shop, is there any part of your training that you’d rather avoid?
Traffic lights.. that means stopping!
BNA: What motivates you to train and race?
The desire to physically achieve the most optimally I can.
Green and gold.
The Olympic Games.
BNA Congratulations on receiving the 2010 Amy Gillet Foundation Scholarship, what does it mean to you being the recipient of the scholarship and an ambassador of the foundation?
I am extremely honored and proud to have been awarded the Amy Gillett Foundation Scholarship. I have been inspired during my introductory years on the bike by the life of Amy Gillett so it means a great deal to me – she is a talented and courageous Australian.
Receiving the Amy Gillett Foundation sports scholarship is a huge honour. It places me in the league of some remarkable female athletes to have benefited from this. I relish the challenge of living up to expectations and standards of their collective legacy, and the opportunities it now provides me with the AIS. It also allows me to become an official Ambassador for an organisation that is very relevant to my sport and the safety of all those who cycle. I am passionate about riding but equally passionate about road safety for all users. I look forward to spreading the Amy Gillett Foundation message at home and abroad,
As an elite cyclist I look forward to developing a community leadership role as I progress through my cycling career. I am extremely proud and prepared to be an ambassador for the AGF, cycling road safety and women’s cycling within the community.
In essence, I am simply honored to for the opportunity to further develop my conﬁdence, leadership and sportsmanship onward to becoming a successful Australian cyclist and truly live in Amy’s footsteps.
We wish Rachel the best of luck with the European season and her future goals.