According to Iona Halliday and Chris Dennis, here in Canberra we’re in a “cycling Mecca”.
The numerous Lycra-clad, helmet-wearing figures pouring into the Two Before Ten café in Hobart Place might attest to this. Iona Halliday is a member of the CBR Women’s Cycling team, which is set to compete in the US next month, and Chris Dennis is the squad’s team manager, and also the owner of the café we’re sitting in – a situation which perfectly captures the way cycling and coffee merge culturally, in Canberra and around the world.
According to Dennis, a position in the CBR Women’s Cycling Team can land its members a coveted position in teams in the US or even Europe, where the cycling scene is known to be more established and competitive than in Australia. Having this opportunity is particularly valuable for women, whose development in cycling does not have the same financial as that for men.
Both Halliday and Dennis point out to me that men can cycle as a career, whereas women are often forced to juggle cycling and another career – mainly because of the massive discrepancy in pay between male and female professional cyclists, but also due to the higher level of support for younger men than women.
“Women often pick cycling up at a later age, when they have already established another career” says Halliday.
Having to juggle work and cycling may be a blessing in disguise, though. Halliday says that with limited time available to cycle, she and other competitive cyclists are forced to train smarter rather than harder. She tends to cycle for about an hour during her lunch break two to three days a week, then goes for her ‘long ride’ on the weekend. She also attends a track session at the AIS every Tuesday night, which keeps her fit and also in touch with her former sporting pursuit – running.
A series of injuries forced Halliday to quit running, and injury has also brought her cycling career to a standstill at various points. She has only just returned to cycling after a bad fall before Christmas last year, the worst of the three she has had. This crash took her total injury count to 33, with four crushed vertebrae, cracked skull, broken elbow, two fractured ribs, and bad concussion sustained from the one crash adding significantly to the tally. For this reason, the tour around the US will be more about Halliday’s mental journey than competing to win. Halliday is using the trip as the ‘decider’ in her cycling career. “If this doesn’t get me back in to cycling, then nothing will”.
If the trip does reignite her passion for competitive cycling, then she will be all the better for it, mentally and physically. The tour around the US typically gives its participants a serious edge over competitors back at home, which will come in handy for the six Australian races which remain in this year’s National Road Series calendar.
It’s not so much the prospect of winning which keeps Halliday in the sport, though. Cycling is at times painted as being elitist, but it is surprisingly easy to argue the opposite. It’s one of the very few sports which allow you to ride alongside anyone – Halliday has found herself riding next to the “best of the best” during recovery rides or even the Saturday Morning Bunch which continues to draw big-time cyclists back to the Capital. It’s also a sport which does not necessarily favour the fittest. Halliday stresses that there are so many factors in a race which determine the outcome, and that there is a “place for everyone” in every team. “That’s why you don’t always see the most athletic people atop bikes” jokes Dennis.
Another enviable aspect of cycling is the coffee culture it is intertwined with. Cafes may be the destination of the ride, and unlike in a lot of other sports, a coffee pit-stop mid-activity is perfectly negotiable. Aptly, Chris Dennis’ café Two Before Ten is a major sponsor of the CBR Women’s Cycling team alongside CBR. Not only does he see it as a positive undertaking in that it bolsters female participation in sports, it is a sound business venture. Dennis says that the team’s association with a location (Canberra) rather than a brand, as is so often the case in sponsorship, firmly embeds an image for the team and helps grant it longevity.
The team’s association with Canberra is not only useful from a financial perspective, it is highly reflective of the city’s cycling culture – at a recreational and professional level. Canberra remains a “Mecca” for the professional cyclists who may have begun their career here, or those who have heard about the vibrancy of the cycling scene here. The relationship between professional sporting teams such as the Women’s Cycling team and the city is a symbiotic one, and one which will likely to continue for a while yet!