“‘Flick’ is my nickname and Felicity is my formal name, but you can use either.” Felicity Wardlaw came to cycling after years doing various endurance sports and her name now sits atop the results sheets of an NRS race. She won stage two of the recent Adelaide Tour and, with the help of a team tactic based around the policy of ‘No Panic’, the 36-year-old defended her lead on GC on the closing weekend.
It was the opening round of Cycling Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) for women in 2014 and therefore a moment of attacking near the close of stage two yielded multiple rewards. @Flickkkkk – as she’s known on Twitter – got a stage win, the race title, and the leader’s jersey for the eight-race series. Oh yeah, and her Bicycle Superstore squad also got what it was after: victory in the team classification.
RIDE caught up with Flick upon her return to Benalla after a long drive home from Adelaide. She offered some background on how she came to cycling, what she took from the victory in Adelaide and an overview of what she’s getting out of her adopted sport. Here is a transcript of that conversation…
Felicity Wardlaw: Winner of the Adelaide Tour
– Interview by Rob Arnold (9 April 2014)
RIDE: Congratulations on what you achieved in Adelaide. Before we talk about that race in particular, can we get a little bit of background on how you came to cycling?
Felicity Wardlaw: “I guess my background is endurance sport. I did rowing when I was at school and through uni, then I moved into triathlons – half-Ironman or full Ironman – and mountain biking and a bit of adventure racing. I’d really focussed on mountain biking up until about two years ago, did the Australian national 24-hour solo championships and then I moved across to the road bike and found myself doing my first NRS stage race in the Mersey Valley Tour in Tassie in 2012. From then I haven’t looked back – pretty much haven’t gotten back on the mountain bike at all.
“The 2012 race – when my road cycling career really kicked off – was my first guest ride with the Bicycle Superstore team and I’ve stuck with them ever since.
“That year was a bit of a suck-it-and-see approach. My coach was really good and he could identify where my strengths lie and that’s definitely with the power I have on the bike. He developed me into a time trial specialist and it’s been building from there.
“I’m relatively new to road cycling but I have developed a strong base through other sports.
“My coach is Mark Fenner. He took me from mountain biking, pushed me out of my comfort zone and got me onto the road. I owe him a lot because without him, there is no way I’d have gotten on the podium of the national champs in January [when she won the time trial title]. We have a really good coach/athlete relationship and we talk all the time.
“I live in Benalla but I’m originally from Tasmania. I spent most of my life in Tassie before moving across to Victoria in early 2003. I think a lot of credit for what I can do on the bike, I owe to riding in Tassie: the hills are what make you stronger.
“When I moved to Victoria the process of elimination because of injury meant I moved towards the bike.”
What’s your day job?
“I work with the state government in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and I’m a fire planner. It’s quite difficult to balance that job with my cycling especially during the summer and autumn months when we’re busy with bush fire emergencies as well as planned or prescribed burning. But my workplace is very supportive of my cycling.”
Can you explain how your team came about?
“It was originally formed in 2012 which was kind of the first year that the National Road Series really came together into the format it is now. That’s when the Bicycle Superstore decided to form a team of women that consisted of mountain bikers and road riders. From there it’s pretty much grown and, in 2013 we started to get some good results and a lot more confidence in the races.
“Bicycle Superstore could really see the value in supporting a women’s team in the NRS and so the decision was made to go full-steam ahead and double the size of the team for 2014. We’ve got 10 women in the team now.
“We share the load evenly in terms of competing in the NRS and it’s just evolved and we can see the change between 2012 and now in terms of the level of management and organisation – and the difference in the quality of racing. Although we don’t have the numbers – like what you see in the men’s or on the European scene – the quality of racing this year and last year, and the change in it, has been awesome to see. It’s becoming a lot more exciting to watch and to be part of.”
It seems that way. There is certainly a lot of social media interaction from the women’s peloton and I guess that helps everyone start to build a presence… the promotion is good but the real following is coming largely through Twitter isn’t it?
“Social media has just been amazing. It would be interesting to see, without it, just how far and noticeable domestic women’s racing would be. That is how we find out all our results and news. All our team supporters and fans and my family back home get everything through social media. It’s such a good way to keep them up to date and it definitely raises the awareness. And people can see it.
“During the race in particular, the live Twittersphere updates have been fantastic and even my parents – I can’t believe it… but they’re onto it! When I talk to my dad at home, he knows exactly what’s going on and who is who. He’s not got a cycling background but just through the information he collects from social media he’s started to understand the strengths of all the other riders and teams…
And what about you? Are you still learning race craft?
“This year, for our team, we have a dedicated DS with Chris Savage. He’s added so much to the team in terms of tactics. That’s why we’re starting to see different approaches being played out on the road. It challenges us and, in the Adelaide Tour, we were all very excited about trying different tactics.
“We learned so much and we know now how to further build on what we’ve experienced. It’s new for the women’s peloton and it’s good, it’s what’s needed.”
What did you do in Adelaide that was different. Where was the trick?
“It all depends on what the team goal is to start with. What we wanted to achieve as a team dictated our approach. We wanted to take out the team classification and anything else would have been seen as a bonus, so what we needed was a strong team to start with.
“Chris made sure we had the strongest line-up going into the tour. We knew stage one was to finish shortly after a hill climb and to take out the teams classification we needed all five of us to finish in the top 10. And as we don’t have a pure climber in our group we knew it was going to be quite difficult.
“We had four of us in the top 10 on day one.
“Coming into the Corkscrew climb all four of us were riding together and we team time trialled down to the finish line. And after that we had four in the top 10 on GC so we had a few tactics to play going into the next stage. It opened up more opportunities for the following stage.
“Stage two suited us because we knew we were a strong team and we needed to keep our legs fresh for the first lap and then start to instigate some attacks on the second lap.
“Where it got more exciting for us was in the criterium and the kermesse [stages three and four].
“What Chris got us to do was watch the men’s criterium closely. And he pointed out to us why Budget Forklifts, for example, were sitting on the front driving the pace and then let two Drapac riders go up the road. He explained the tactics as to why that happened and we used that going into the final stage of the tour…
“It was almost as though it was okay to let, for example, Ruth Corset go up the road because we had five of us who could pull her back in.
“In the past what would have happened – and it still did to an extent – is that everyone will chase whoever was on the attack down almost immediately. There’d be a mad scramble to chase every move down. But what we are trying to do is what we call ‘Don’t Panic’ – it’s okay to let someone go up the road on their own or in a small group. What our team decided to do was get into formation, and then just get a rolling train happening that gradually pulled people back in. It’s logical but it worked better rather than using excess energy and fret.”
Well, that’s the theory but it’s more difficult when contending with someone like Ruth Corset who does seem to have quite an engine…
“Yeah, she does. The hardest thing is letting an escape happen and trusting yourself and your team-mates and knowing you’ve got the strength and the depth as a team. But once we get in formation with five team-mates against one rider up the road, we’ll do some significant damage.”
When you’re swapping off with the team, are you coming through and giving each other encouragement or are you well-drilled enough not to have to talk?
“No, communication is key. And that’s one thing we’re getting better at and it’s happening a lot more.
“Chris assigns a road leader and we all run through the race the night before and discuss what he has planned. And having the leader on the road is what’s needed to keep the communication going and make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on. That’s something we’re all learning and it’s really beneficial to the team. We communicate as much as possible in the races and I think the results reflect that as well.”
You finished stage two on your own. How far from the finish did you launch your attack?
“We knew that, after the QOM – which was at about 25km to go – that we wanted to animate the race. I followed an attack made by Kendell Hodges and then I went over the top and just kept on going.
“In the past, I’ve just been reeled back in purely because, well, why would they let a time trial champion go up the road? But this time it was different. I went off the back of an attack, built up a significant gap, I knew there were also two other riders up the road who I was aiming for and picked them up on the way…
“I was expecting the other teams in the peloton to drive it and pull me back in but I saw I was getting a bigger gap and I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to keep going until I get caught…’ and I went into time trial mode.
“My team-mates helped me initiate that attack by blocking the bunch as much as possible and letting my gap grow. It was up to the other teams – mainly Holden who were riding for Ruth – to really start pulling me back in. But I just kept my tempo going and was concentrating on keeping it as smooth as possible.
“I knew that they would be really hitting it hard on the hilly sections so that where I really had to dig deep and then when I hit the gravel section I just opened it up for the last five kilometres and drove it on home.
“The finish was amazing. I haven’t won a stage in a National Road Series race before so it was even more exciting. What added even more to it was realising that we got the yellow jersey and my team-mate Rebecca Heath finished second in the stage.
“Not only did we get teams classification, we were able to win the stage, we got second in the stage, and I became the overall race leader. It was pretty significant and it really set us up well going into the final two stages.”