An interview with Nettie Edmondson

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Annette ‘Nettie’ Edmondson is one of the rising stars of Australian cycling.

At just 22 years of age, she is already an Olympic medallist (bronze in the omnium on the London velodrome); she won silver in the 2012 Track World Championships in both the omnium and team pursuit; and at the 2013 Track World Championships won a silver in the team pursuit, and two bronze, in the omnium and individual pursuit.

Edmondson joined the Orica-AIS road team in 2013, and in her first season as a road professional won the Tour of Chongming, and a stage of the Lotto-Belisol Tour in Belgium.

The talented sprinter spoke to The Roar from her home in Adelaide, where she was recovering from a crash in the Australian Criterium Championships, and preparing for the Santos Women’s Cup series, which runs in parallel to the Tour Down Under.

Hi Nettie, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Your most recent race was the national criterium championship, where you had an unlucky crash during the last lap, could you describe what happened in that race and how you felt about it?

Well, after a couple of laps there was a crash, and it took out one of my teammates, Gracie Elvin, and also my main opposition Chloe Hosking, so it meant that there was a lot of pressure off me with Chloe out of the race. It just meant that if it came down to a bunch sprint I’d have a greater chance of winning. I was lucky because even though Gracie crashed out I still had two teammates in the race, Carlee Taylor and Jessie Maclean, and their job was just to try to attack as much as they could and try to get in a small breakaway and grab a win. If it came down to a sprint it was my job to go for the win.

The girls did a good job trying to break it up but couldn’t get away, and so with a few laps left I got on Jessie’s wheel, and we were about 4th or 5th wheel, and on the last corner we came out in that order and started the sprint, but I got a little bit boxed in, and it got a little bit messy.

I’m not actually sure what happened, if I clipped a wheel or if I came down over the top of someone, because it all happened really quickly and was just messy. There were actually two separate crashes on each side of the road, so we were quite lucky that more people didn’t come down.

It was just a bit of a shame because I was going pretty well, and I didn’t have to do anything during the race, and my chances of winning were quite high without Chloe there, but I guess we have to wait for next year to get another opportunity.

[Edmondson later tells me she hasn’t been able to ride today as she’s still recovering from her crash, and some bandages are visible on her shoulder]

You seemed to have pretty good form in the Bay Crits, so are you happy with where your form is for this time of the season?

Yeah, I was quite interested to see how I’d go in Bay Crits because I’ve been doing a lot of track (we’re in the middle of track season) and that’s my focus at the moment, but I had a strong team with four other girls. When you’ve got four girls who can get into moves and put the pressure on other teams, it really does take off the workload for me. I managed to get through the Bay Crits pretty well and get a few good results [Edmondson finished 2nd overall, and made the podium on three of the four stages].

I was surprised at my result in Port Arlington [2nd behind Giorgia Bronzini] because of the hill. I really struggled in that race and I managed to make the main bunch of about 20 riders, but I didn’t expect to come second at all, but somehow I managed to get to the front in time.

The next day was much more of a sprinter’s course, and I was hoping to go better there and take the win from Bronzini, but unfortunately I think the day before at Port Arlington took it out of my legs because I couldn’t hold my sprint train, and I just had to yell at Valentina [Scandolara] to go for the win. I just had to stay as high as I could to hold my GC position.

I was a bit disappointed to run out of legs but we got through the Bay Crits alright, although we didn’t get a win for the team we still got a couple of 2nds and 2nd overall, which is alright.

You’re racing the Santos Women’s Cup in Adelaide next week, which runs parallel to the Tour Down Under. What are your goals for that race, and how does it feel to race in front of such a big home crowd?

Well, last year I didn’t do the Santos crits, but I raced it two years ago and the year before that, and it was building in size, but this year they’ve moved the crit a lot closer to the men’s race so I’m sure there’ll be a lot more people there. Two years ago the crowd was incredible and I expect it’ll be even bigger this year.

I’m going to have to wait until the team gets there because Mel Hoskins is going to be there too, and she’s an awesome sprinter so I’m not sure who we’ll be working for. We’ll have a similar plan as the Bay Crits: try to get someone in a break and if it comes down to a sprint, work for either Mel or I.

I suppose that’s the luxury of having such a strong team, you’ve got so many options?

Yeah, exactly! That’s the benefit of having such an awesome team.

2013 was your first full road season with Orica-AIS, could you perhaps talk us through your season and what you learnt, and some of your best results?

2013 was pretty challenging. It was my first professional road season and trying to balance it with the track was quite difficult. I thought it would be easier than it was, and the transition from track to road definitely took me longer than I planned. I was chasing my fitness for a long time and I didn’t really feel fit on the road until the last third of the season.

I just tried to act like a bit of a sponge in the team and learn as much as I could from Loes Gunnewijk from Holland and Emma Johansson from Sweden, who have so many years of knowledge on the road. I made a lot of mistakes but just tried to listen to them, both during racing and after racing during team debriefs.

I definitely learnt a load [Edmondson smiles broadly] and that was really special. I really feel a lot more confident going into this year with that behind me.

You had a couple of wins in your debut season, in the Tour of Chongming and a stage of the Lotto-Belisol Tour, what sort of races will you be targetting in 2014?

This year I want to try and fit in the Commonwealth Games as well, on the track, providing all goes well. That’s the goal, so I’m changing my programme around a little bit.

I’m not going to be going to China which is unfortunate because it’s so flat and short, which is right up my alley! Instead I’ll be going to the Tour of Britain, and then after Commonwealth Games it’ll be similar races [to 2013].

The ladies’ Tour of Holland, the Lotto-Belisol Tour in Belgium, even though that win was a real surprise and not expected for me. I just managed to get in a breakaway and because my teammate Loes [Gunnewijk] was up the road I didn’t have to do a whole lot, so I was fresh for the finish. I’m not sure that’ll happen again, but at least I’ll be a bit more experienced and know what’s going on!

You mentioned that one of your main goals for this year is the Commonwealth Games on the track. I suppose it’s a common question for Australian cyclists, but how do you balance the different demands of track and road, given there’s quite a difference between some of the events in the omnium and road racing?

Last year there wasn’t a lot of overlap, so you just finished the track and started on the road, apart from one qualification round in the middle of the year. I didn’t do a lot of preparation for that, I just sort of went out and hoped for the best.

A lot of my competitors do the same thing, so we’re all in the same boat. I found the transition from the track to the road quite challenging, but coming back to the track I didn’t lose a lot of leg-speed, which was quite interesting. I thought that would take a while to come back, but due to my sprint background from a few years ago [Edmondson started her track career as a sprinter before moving up to endurance events] I think I’ve naturally got that sprint fibre so I don’t really need to train that too much.

They do really complement each other. The endurance you get from the road really helps the back end of my endurance races like the points race, but you just need to come back to the track and do some fine-tuning to get the power back for individual pursuits and stuff like that.

Do you see your medium to long-term  future being more on the road, or on the track, or do you feel you can balance both?

At the moment I think I can balance both. The goal is really the Rio Olympics, on the track, but if I could do the road as well that’d be an added bonus. I think I’ll eventually end up on the road, but whether I continue on the track, for the next four years after Rio, we’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the place of women’s cycling and a perceived neglect from the UCI, media, sponsors and race organisers. There’s some hope that the situation will be improved by the appointment of Tracey Gaudry as a UCI Vice President. What are your views on what really needs to happen in women’s cycling to raise its profile and professionalism?

I think a boost in media attention would make a huge difference. To show the world that women actually do race bikes would be a starting point! Lack of media means a lack of attention, which means lack of sponsorship, which feeds down into the number of teams competing, the number of positions on teams, the money offered to women to commit to racing, the equipment provided and so on. I have friends who race in the professional peloton who are forced to work second jobs and borrow money off family to be able to pursue their ‘professional’ career.

It’s brilliant to hear of women, like Tracey Gaudry stepping up on international national cycling bodies. It’s great to have another voice to try and help push for change. Within Australia things are getting better, with people like Monique Hanley [Monique recently spoke to The Roar http://www.theroar.com.au/2013/12/06/monique-hanley-interview-part-i/ and shared some great insight] and Cycling Victoria who have worked hard to offer equal prize money at the majority of their events. They even introduced a women’s madison alongside the men’s at this years National Championships. Things are changing slowly, but there is still a long way to go.

There are some sports like tennis, athletics, and swimming, where the women have a broadly similar profile to the men. In cycling on the track there are a number of women who are very well regarded, Anna Meares is probably the gold standard in Australia for that, do you think a rise in the profile of women’s cycling is more likely to come from the track, as opposed to the road?

The track is definitely a lot better in regards to promoting men and women. You’ve got all the crowds there, the cameras, there are men’s and women’s races straight after each other, so publicity is pretty much even.

There are still inequalities such as certain events being provided to men and not the women, for example a men’s madison at World Championships, or Men’s Team Pursuit at the Commonwealth Games. On the road there is a men’s U23 discipline, complete with medals and a World Champ jersey, and nothing for the U23 women. I just don’t understand how in this day and age, the cycling world can be so brutally sexist.

Although there is more equality in track cycling, road cycling is far more popular on a global scale. An idea to help boost the popularity of women’s road racing could be to run major men’s and women’s races in conjunction with each other. An example of this is the Tour of Flanders. They race on a similar course, which means that spectators are already there, the media is there as are the sponsors. The Tour of Flanders really is a success and it ultimately gets people interested in women’s cycling.

A lot of people I speak to don’t even realise there’s a women’s equivalent to the Tour de France, the Route de France, which is a seven-day stage race. We’re pushing for a proper one, to be held hopefully at a similar time to the Tour de France.

Another example is the Australian road nationals, they’re holding the men’s race the next day [I am speaking to Edmondson shortly after the women’s road race was won by her teammate Gracie Elvin, with the men’s race to be held the following day]. For the men they’re filming it, they’ve got all the sponsors and equipment there, it’s not too hard to set it up for the day before, and use a bit of common sense.

Yes, and there are some obvious things that could be done. I’ve been to the Tour de France, and everyone is standing there for hours waiting with nothing happening. It would be great if they put on some women’s racing before the men’s event.

Yeah! It makes sense! I don’t believe we should race the same distances just yet, I feel that’s a little bit too much to ask, but I like the idea of a shorter tour, over shorter distances. I believe a week-long tour, with stages that finish in the same place as the men would be ideal. The crowds are there, they can experience women’s cycling and we could get so much exposure.

It would be much better for sponsors and teams. It would really give the women a much bigger profile.

Yes, and from my point of view, I would love to cover women’s cycling more, but with so little of it televised it’s difficult to get a feel for the racing and the personalities involved.

Yeah, it’s pretty terrible. Today I was trying to follow the women’s road race, there were attacks going left, right and centre, and you’re sitting there just refreshing the Twitter feed. It’s such a joke, there are so many people who would like to see this racing, men and women, it’s [the lack of media coverage] just really disappointing.

On a more positive note, your younger brother Alex is also a very good track rider, so was there a strong family connection with cycling growing up?

My parents often joke that the genes managed to skip a generation! Both our grandparents were quite sporty…

Alex and I both started cycling through the talent identification programme at the South Australian Institute of Sport (SASI). They came to our school and performed a number of tests on various parts of your athletic ability. They send the results to the lab and pump out what sort of sports you’d be suited to. I got sent to cycling at the end of 2004, and started the programme in 2005 when I was 13.

Alex became interested in cycling after he saw me doing it. He always used to do downhill and BMX, but never the lycra-style of riding [laughs]. After about a year of riding he got chosen for the talent search programme as well, so we seem to share some sort of genes.

Did you start on the track, or on the road?

As a junior I did both the track and road racing until I was about 17, and then started to specialise in track sprinting, before changing back to endurance in 2010.

Well, thanks very much for your time and good luck for your season, especially next week in Adelaide.

Thanks!

Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. An ex-runner, now a club grade bike racer, Tim tweets about sport at @megabicicleta.
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