Peloton Watch
  Stacey Riedel: From the velodrome to Cyclo-cross and the challenges on the way  
  April 18th 2016  
  Stacey Reidel Instagram Post after 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships.
  From the controlled environment of the velodrome to the unpredictable cold and wet weather and muddy Cyclo-cross circuits in Belgium, the journey for Stacey Riedel has seen her compete in several disciplines in the sport at very different ends. The 20 year old from Adelaide took up cycling in 2010 as part of the South Australian Sports Institute Talent Identification Program.

In that time Riedel has competed at the highest level on the track and road in Australia before disappointments in making Australian teams she found herself not enjoying the sport she took a break. But after watching a local Cyclo-cross race, Riedel picked up the bike again and hasn't looked back. The decision took her to Belgium at the start of 2016 where she was the lone Australian entrant in the new under 23 women's category at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.

Initially started on the track what made you switch to focus on Cyclo-cross?

I started on the track and then progressed to both road and track from 2010-2013. My goal was to continue racing and hopefully have the opportunity of representing Australia on either the road or track. I loved racing, but in 2013 I had a difficult year with disappointments in my cycling. The program I was in gave me a KPI of top three in the road race at nationals, but I placed a very close fourth, which meant I no longer had a coach or facilities to train in. Subsequently, the NRS team I was riding for dropped me from the team, and my attempt to be selected for the Junior Road World Championships left me narrowly missing out. For three years straight, cycling was all I had focussed on and I hadn't had a break, so when I felt I was at my best, to have all of this negativity and letdowns was not good for my morale. I decided I didn't want to ride my bike anymore and only rode it for fun and when I wanted to. That's when I found Cyclo-cross. It started with me watching a few local races, to buying a bike and doing my first race the next day! I love the fun and encouraging environment that Cyclo-cross has, and that it doesn't matter whether you're coming first or last, everyone still cheers and everyone enjoys themselves. Another aspect I love is that Cyclo-cross is not solely on your physical fitness or strength, but relies so much on your skills and technique as well.

First race in Europe was Hoogerheide World Cup how did you find it?

My first race was actually in Zonnebeke the week before, but Hoogerheide World Cup was my first big event. At first I was overwhelmed, practicing on the course with the likes of Sanne Cant, and Mathieu van der Poel was a surreal feeling, and something which I had to push to the back of my mind as to not become too overwhelmed. Being an unknown U23 Australian girl, I was at the back of the starting grid - the back of a 70 rider field. When the start is so crucial, starting from the back is far from ideal, but the long uphill start straight was good for me and I was able to move up some positions... Until the first corner. The corner is fairly easy and definitely rideable but with so many girls trying to get through it at the same time, you basically stop and there's no choice but to get off your bike and run. This was something I wasn't prepared for. I had never done a Cyclo-cross race with so many people, and I didn't realise the congestion that would occur - definitely something I am more familiar with now. I was at the back and spent the race trying to find someone to stick with, but spent majority of the race on my own. There were ridiculous amounts of mud, which I was just not used to, and that made the race incredibly hard. There were some short, steep, muddy hills, which I attempted to ride but ended up having to run, along with other muddy sections, which you needed to run. The 42 step staircase was probably the easiest part of the whole race - and that's saying something. The corners were technical and made worse with the amount of mud - it was just a matter of survival. I was happy with my ride, but disappointed to be pulled out with 1 lap to go.

Heading in to the World Championships what were your aims for the race?

My aims for the race were to have a good start and try and position myself further up the field, then I was aiming to stick with another rider or a group of riders who were (hopefully) riding a similar pace to me. Other than that, I had no real goals as it was so unknown - the level of competition, how I would compare, how I would go on the day, how I would cope with the course in both technical aspects and course conditions. It was hard to have any real goals or aims, as it was an entirely new experience.

Successfully finished your first World Championships happy with your ride?

I was both happy and disappointed with my ride. Although I had no real expectations, in the back of my mind I thought 'I can do this!' and had a feeling I could have a good ride and maybe surprise myself. I was pleased with my ride because of how tough it was both physically and mentally. I was happy I finished, I was happy I was even there, I was happy I had a good start and I was happy with majority of my skills and techniques through the corners and steep drop-offs - some of which I was terrified of the day before. Despite this, I was disappointed in myself for crashing into a barrier on the last lap (which caused the only person I was beating to pass me), for slipping my feet off the pedals (when I remounted) after the first corner causing me to lose about 15 positions, and for fear of disappointing those who were supporting me.

Worlds included a hard climb and very wet and muddy course how did you find it?

The course was the hardest course I have ever ridden on, and to top that, the U23 Women had the worst weather conditions of all the events. At the time of the world champs I had been in Belgium for two weeks and had done two races. Although that is not a lot, I had already learnt so much and was more familiar with riding in mud, but that didn't make it any easier. I rode the course the day before and could ride almost all sections, but when race day came around so many sections weren't rideable due to the extreme weather conditions. Despite it being the hardest, most difficult, and most physically demanding race I have done, I absolutely loved it.

There is a post on Instagram of you after the race and you wrote "This is pride. This is pain. This is happiness. This is disappointment. This is exhaustion. This is cyclocross." What was going through your mind after the race?

What I wrote there basically sums up what I was feeling. A combination of so many emotions and feelings I just didn't know what else to do but cry. After the race I was a mess. I was so exhausted, I had given it absolutely everything I had, I was in pain physically from the race and from slamming into my head-stem when I hit the barrier on the last lap, plus I was emotional because I *almost* didn't come last, but I was proud of myself. I was proud that I finished the race on the lead lap, I was proud that I could represent my country, and proud that I put myself out there against the best in the world. I couldn't really think straight after the race, people were talking to me and trying to give me a jacket but I just couldn't any words out and didn't even have any energy to stand. I just remember sitting down on the wet ground which lasted for about 30 seconds before I started to freeze and had to get to the camper (which I am so so grateful for as it made my entire experience such a great one, and I couldn't have done it without the amazing support I had - they know who they are).

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your time racing in Europe?

Although this didn't happen in a race, the biggest challenge I faced was when I was alone on a train travelling across the country to get to someone's house so they could take me to a race the next day. I had only been in Belgium for two days and due to icy roads and many crashes, no one was able to drive me so I was left with no other option but to catch a train, and since I didn't want my first race to be a World Cup, I bit the bullet and did what I had to.

I didn't have a phone, and was on the train with my suitcase, bike, and spare wheels! I was under the impression that the train would take me all the way to where I needed to be, but halfway there the train suddenly stopped and the inspector started saying something to me in Flemish, realised I didn't understand, then said 'The train is no longer running. You have to get off'. So there I was, in a new country with no way of contacting anyone, and only speaking a few words of the language.

Luckily, I mustered up as much Flemish as I could to ask someone if they spoke English, to which they willingly helped me. The Belgian people were so friendly and helpful - some gave me tissues for my tears, some carried my bags down stairs, and some directed me to the correct platform, and asked if I was ok. Thankfully it all worked out and I got there in the end, but that was by far the biggest and most daunting challenge I faced not only in my time in Belgium, but in my entire life.

How important is it for your career having had the opportunity to race at a World Cup and the World Championships?

At the moment, it was just a step forward. It was a step in the right direction, which has helped me to know what I need to work on, what Cyclo-cross in Europe is all about, and where I need to set the bar for myself. As far as my 'career', it hasn't really changed anything except for me knowing that Cyclo-cross is definitely the sport I was to pursue. I made a lot of contacts in Belgium and met many people who are willing to help me when I go back next time, but in Adelaide I am still training relatively alone with the help of only a couple of people purely because they believe in me. My trip was entirely self-supported including bikes, wheels, flights and kit etc. which is something people may not realise. Cyclo-cross is so new to Australia and there is still a long way to go for both myself, and the country.

Cyclo-cross isn't the biggest sport in Australia how did you find the racing in Europe compared to Australia?

The racing cannot even be compared. I watched so many races online before going to Europe and I thought that gave me a pretty good idea, but it didn't. I watched the World's replay and sections, which were big hills, looked flat in the footage - it truly has to be seen to be believed. What looks muddy is 10 times muddier, what looks steep is 10 times steeper! As far as the racing goes, the number of people racing is one of the biggest differences, along with the level at which they race, the technical aspects of the course such as corners, climbs, off camber sections, the course conditions, the fact that it's almost impossible to do a race without multiple bikes and wheels (mostly due to the course conditions), the huge crowds and avid supporters, and something totally new and unknown to me - the need for a camper/motor home so you can eat and drink warm things, rest, get changed, clean off the mud that covers your entire body, and don't get frostbite!

How important is the introduction of the under 23 category?

The introduction of the U23 category is a huge step forward for not only women's cycling, but cycling in general. It provides a platform for junior (U19) riders to step up to, rather than being thrown straight into the deep end of elite racing. It creates more equality between the men's and women's categories and it gives riders such as myself, from countries where Cyclo-cross is only just beginning, a chance.

What is next for you?

Next, I am looking towards the National CX series (if there is one), potentially the Victorian CX series, and obviously the South Australian CX series to try and get as much CX racing in as I can on different courses, and different conditions to learn as much as I can and adapt to changes - which are always thrown at you when racing in Europe. I'll still be doing some road races within that, as it's great training for cross. As far as Cyclo-cross in Europe, I'm aiming to be selected for the Worlds team again and will (hopefully) be heading to Belgium at the start of December and stay through until early February! This will give me a chance to get a season of racing in, better acclimatise to the weather conditions, and hone in on my skills, fitness, and racing!
 © 2016