This morning it was announced that two riders from the winning team pursuit squad at this year’s junior world championships will be part of the Orica-AIS line-up in 2015. Alex Manly and Macey Stewart round out the roster with 10 full-time riders and the two youngest as part-time riders. RIDE caught up with Australia’s triple world champion from 2014, Macey Stewart, to find out more about her victories on the velodrome in Korea and in the individual time trial in Ponferrada.
Click the link below to listen to the Soundcloud file of Macey’s exchange with Rob Arnold – and/or read the transcript below…
RIDE: I’m talking with Macey Stewart who is a three-time world champion in 2014 in the junior ranks but she’s made an evolution and she’s going to be professional in 2015 with the Orica-AIS team. Welcome to RIDE…
Macey Stewart: Thank you for having me, Rob.
It feels like, going on the way you handled the media at the Cycling Australia awards, that you’re very much in tune with where you’re going as a professional athlete.
“Yeah, definitely. I’ve got some exciting stuff happening in the next few years, I imagine, and I’m really looking forward to stepping up into the senior ranks – especially with this opportunity I’ve been given to get exposed to the professional lifestyle, and that team environment as well.
“I’m really excited to get involved with the Orica-AIS girls and the whole team environment. Hopefully I can learn as much I can over the next year and really progress as a senior rider.”
You had a few incidents when you got back from Ponferrada; you had a crash… we’ll get to that in a little while but let’s just go through your world titles from this year. You had the omnium on the track in [Gwangmyeong] Korea, and then the team pursuit… could you talk about those two events and what the experience was like in Korea?
“Korea was amazing. It was such a different country as well – the whole experience all together. I’d never been to an Asian country and when we went there it was just so overwhelming. It was such a different environment and the track was absolutely massive; it fit about 30,000 spectators and it was packed with people betting on keirin racing when we first went in there. It was overwhelming seeing that, something so different that I’d never been exposed to before.
“When we started racing it was like a really cool environment – to be in a different country, with such different spectators – and my parents came over to watch as well, so it was awesome to have them there for the first time at a world-level event. To know that they were there no matter what happened was really comforting.
“The team pursuit was my first ever world title and I was absolutely stoked to win it with three girls who I’d gone through the ranks with over years. We’d raced the team pursuit together the year before and it hadn’t gone to plan. We’d come back and trained really hard throughout the year and we just really wanted to get that gold. Everything worked out and, after all the hard work, it just came together… and it was such a special feeling to share it with such close friends as well.
“[The team] was Lauren Perry, Josie Talbot, Dani McKinney, and Alex Manly because there were three rounds. It was run like an Olympic event so there were three rounds and three girls rode different rounds.”
What was the sequence? Who was the starter?
“I started all three rounds so it was a very big day for me.”
Did you do all three rounds in one day?
“Yeah, we did. We had the qualifying in the morning and then the two finals in the afternoon.”
And you’re the starter because you’re the powerhouse of the group, are you?
“I think it’s more of a technique thing. You have to be strong enough to start and still be able to put out a good turn throughout the race, so it is sort of a strength thing as well but it’s more of a technique thing.
“There’s a real technique to getting out of the gate fast. And I’m just a natural at that and I’ve been doing a lot of that since I was quite young.
“Since I started [cycling] young, I have nailed that technique a bit.”
…How old were you when you started racing a bike?
“I started when I was about eight years old, so I’ve been riding for 10 years now. I’m nearly a veteran, I’d say.”
And is that because Tasmania is a cycling hub? Why did you come to it? Did you start on the velodrome or the road?
“I started on the track and it was through the Tassie Christmas carnivals which are a huge thing for Tasmania. It brings out a lot of people and a lot of young juniors get into cycling because of those Christmas carnivals.
“I was lucky, I had my two older brothers who were both racing and I was really enthusiastic – as you can imagine – when I was really young and I just wanted to do everything.
“I’ve been dragged around the racing and I couldn’t wait to take my brother’s bike and borrow some of their kit and that sort of thing and get on as soon as I could.”
Let’s just go back to Korea quickly and get a summary of the omnium experience…
“Yeah, the omnium was awesome. [They] are such an emotional thing and there are so many ups and downs.
“It’s really hard, after one event, to totally forget about it and focus on the next one. That’s something I’ve been learning to do since I as a first-year under-19 and it’s something that I’ll keep working on in the future.
“It was a really tough event… and, to be honest, I don’t think I won it how I would have liked to have won it because there were a few crashes and that sort of thing.
“I was very excited to have won my first individual world title but I didn’t really feel like it was [right] because a few of the good girls had crashed out… and I didn’t get that full satisfaction out of it. But I was told, when I was a little bit disheartened about it: ‘That’s bike racing… the thing is, you have to keep your bike upright.’ That made me feel a little bit better because part of racing is being able to ride in a bunch and get close to people and be able to keep your bike upright. I was able to do that and I was lucky enough to come away with the omnium title as well. It was absolutely an amazing feeling… it was a very emotional time.”
You mentioned you had two older brothers. Are they much older than you?
“One is 22 and one is 25.” [Macey turns 19 on 16 January 2015.]
You live in Devonport, is that right?
And that’s where you had your little accident after coming back from Spain. Can you just quickly go over what happened?
“I was out training by myself and I’d just done about three hours out in the hills and I was really stuffed. I was only about five kilometres from home and I was taking a right-hand turn from the left-hand side of the road… and up onto a bike track which went across a bridge and led to my house.
“I indicated to turn right and the car behind me had slowed down to let me turn… [but] the [driver] behind that car had been very impatient and has gone to overtake. So they’ve come around the car behind me and I was already on the other side of the road. They hit me from the back right-hand side and it all happened really fast. I think I saw his mirror on the ground – the mirror that I’d snapped off his car [as he hit me]… then I noticed that there was a massive truck coming towards me on the other side of the road and I wasn’t very far away at all. I wasn’t sure how long trucks take to stop… so I had to crawl off the road as fast as I could.
“Supposedly, [but] I didn’t see this because I was too worried about being injured, but the person who had hit me had got out of their car, come back to pick up the mirror and got back in and driven away. That was pretty ‘nice’ of them…
“It was a really scary experience at first and I had to fly to Adelaide the morning after for the track endurance camp and I was a bit worried that that wasn’t going to happen. I may have been a bit injured and that could have changed everything leading into these first few months of me as a senior rider which are really crucial for building on that strength and base – and becoming a good senior athlete.
“I was really worried at that point that my injuries may have been a bit more serious.
“I had lots of shoulder pain. I pulled something in my shoulder… and I was a bit worried that I’d broken something.
“It was all very stressful but mum was called straight away and she came with the ambulance and they looked after me very well. In the end, I only had minor injuries which is awesome.”
You’ve got a little bit of news to share with us and that comes off the back of your win in Ponferrada, so before we get to the discussion about what’s happening with Orica-AIS, tell me about the time trial in Spain. You had a wet day as well…
“Yep. It was raining for the majority of the race.”
And your distance in the juniors is…
“It was 13.9km.”
So when riders in other categories are pretty much getting your first time check, you’re coming to the finish line. Let’s talk about that junior race… you won by about 10 seconds. Were you getting any time splits or was it just: go out of the blocks and go as hard as you can and treat it like a pursuit?
“Yeah, well… it was pretty much like that… We had [someone] who was going to give us the time splits at the hill which was about three kilometres from the finish and it was the most crucial part of the race. And because I was the first Australian off, they hadn’t done the time splits for me yet. So unfortunately I didn’t get any times… so I pretty much went as hard as I could the whole time.
“And when I got to that hill, knowing that it was the most crucial part of the race, I could see a girl in front of me and I was just getting closer and closer to her. I had an [earpiece] with Martin Barras [at the other end] in the car behind me. It was quite crackly and I couldn’t hear what he was saying for most of it. But when I got to that hill, I could just hear: ‘Catch that girl! You’ve got to catch that girl!’
“I had her in my mind and I just dug so deep I couldn’t see where I was when I was going up that hill. And that’s probably a place that I’ve never really been before – I hurt myself so much. I knew the race pretty much finished at the top of that hill… and that’s where the race had to be made.
“I dug as deep as I could and when I got to the finish line I could hardly stand up. I had to sit down and I had a headache for a good half-an-hour afterwards.
“I had really hurt myself but I guess that’s what it takes.”
So, back up to a podium… collect a third rainbow jersey for the year. And then that leads you towards the Orica-AIS arrangement. How did that come about? Were you aware of that possibility before going to Spain?
“No. I hadn’t really thought about it at all, to be honest. I hadn’t thought about that ‘Next Step’ and that next level. I didn’t believe that I was going to win a world title when I went to Spain. I went there with the attitude that I just wanted to have fun and do the best that I could.
“I’d just come off the track and I didn’t really think I had the form… so I was surprised with all of that.
“After the time trial, Alex Manly got the same offer as me.
“Kevin Tabotta [the Australian high performance manager] came and talked to us and told us what the offer was. He’d like us – myself and Alex – to have a bit development… he’d like us to go through Orica-AIS as a bit of a developmental thing and to learn from the other athletes – and bring me through the Australian track program as well – so I could have the best of both worlds.
“I had offers from a couple of other teams and I think they really just wanted to keep Alex and I within Australia and within the system.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed. Alex and I looked at each other and nearly burst into tears after he had left the room. We were so excited and it was just an awesome offer and something we definitely didn’t expect.
“It was the start of a really exciting few months and I’m still so excited about what’s happening. I’m still in disbelief to be honest. After everything that’s happened, I still can’t comprehend that I’m world champion in the individual time trial – it’s something that I hadn’t dreamt of.”
And you’ll collect a salary and do a road program with Orica-AIS…?
“We’ve worked out a deal because Alex and I are so young. They don’t want to send us over for a full road season and emotionally drain us… and that sort of thing. So we’re going to go over [to Europe] for a short period of maybe three or four months and we’ll do a bit with Orica-AIS – a few races – so we can learn from the senior girls. And we’ll do a bit with the AIS track program as well…
“We’re just mixing it up so that it won’t keep us in a stale environment yet, at such a young age. They just want to keep everything exciting and keep us moving around and enjoying every moment of it.
“It won’t be a full road season with the team but I’ll get a bit of a taste for what it will be like and, in the next few years, I plan on moving up to that level and spending a bit more time in Europe.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold