04/06/18

The Teardrop Crit

Words: Matthew Slade

Images: Matthew Slade

   Summertime — Sun pours in from the west and slowly hides behind the city.

Amongst the lush, green Yarra Bend parklands of Kew, an area divided by the Yarra River yet unified by its endless array of trails and tracks, it might be the last place you’d expect to find a crit circuit – a course for one of cycling’s shortest, fastest and most intense races. Centred around an upper loop known only as ‘The Teardrop’, Wednesday evenings of the Summer months attract a large crowd to watch cyclists of all levels go toe to toe. The racing is hard, sweaty and intense. As if the stakes weren’t high enough already, crashes are fierce, unforgiving and all too common. D & C grades are the punters having a crack at the racing scene, while B & A grades, made up somewhat of professional athletes, are simply a level above. There’s a vast difference, but a common element between them all – pure drive for it.

In classic summer-fairytale fashion, the crowd watches on with beers and snacks in hand, with the sun shimmering off of the distant cityscape putting on one last show before it finally sets for the day. Just before the racing crowd slowly thins out, trophies are handed out atop the podium. Most then move onto dinner with friends somewhere in the local haunts of Collingwood or Abbotsford that, when looking at the landscape seem a world away, but are really just next door. Once all is said and done, and the only gears left spinning are of the commuters rolling home on the surrounding trails.

For an event consisting predominantly of men, there’s a smaller emerging crew of women grinding it out just as hard for the place at the finish. In partnership with Bicycle Network, photographer Matthew Slade spent some evenings down there with Edwina Buckle, Melisssa Mackenzie and the entire crew of epic women working hard to pave the way and grow the female cycling scene.

 

Why did you start cycling?

Edwina: Initially as a way to get around the inner city more efficiently, but it morphed into being so much more than that. Alone or with mates, challenge or just chill. I love how versatile it is.

Melissa: I was doing a lot of running and had completed a couple of marathons and wanted a new challenge. I also signed up for the ride to conquer cancer with my mum, so the two of us went and brought our first road bikes together. That was nearly 4 years ago and we have both been cycling ever since.

In regards to cycling, how did you get to where you are now?

M: I’ve been riding for nearly 4 years. I started cycling in triathlons but didn’t like the open water swims, so I decided to focus just on the cycling. I pretty much signed up for as many races as I could when I started because I found it the best way to improve. 

E: After too many mornings dealing with public transport, I decided to purchase a very cheap commuter bike to get around the inner city of Sydney. This quickly spiralled into a full-blown obsession that cumulated in me insisting on taking my bike to Canberra whilst on a mid-winter work conference. A few people had suggested I try racing, but it wasn’t until I went to watch the Hawthorn Crits and saw how friendly and encouraging people were that I actually decided to give it a go. Racing is an awesome feeling, I love focussing my riding towards a goal and the challenge of pushing myself. 

“…I decided to purchase a very cheap commuter bike to get around the inner city of Sydney. This quickly spiralled into a full-blown obsession…”

What barriers have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

E: Barriers are different for everyone, but I think the most important thing is to just start and chose one action you can do to take you closer to where you want to be. The other thing I’ve learnt along the way is, figure out what you want to know and then ask people to show you – I’ve found people are always happy to help.

 

A common barrier is confidence. What would be your words of inspiration and motivation to women who want to get started?

E: It’s hard to be confident when you feel like you’re not as good as you want to be, but starting really is the only way to improve. To keep myself motivated I’ve learnt to break down my bigger goals into many smaller goals. When I decided to race crits, I broke it down into a number of small boxes to tick-off such as; go see the course, watch how people take the corners, race without any self-expectation to place, then try to place. Each step was a positive move towards what I wanted to achieve and that gave me the confidence to keep going. It’s important to celebrate the incremental improvements because they add up.

Each step was a positive move towards what I wanted to achieve and that gave me the confidence to keep going.”

M: Don’t overthink it and don’t worry about what people might think. I’m guilty of this, but in reality, the things I worry about rarely happen and nobody is judging you for having a go. Really what is the worst that could happen; you might get dropped or not finish a race but you just try to hang on a little longer next time, we’ve all been there and we all still get dropped sometimes – everyone has bad days. You might find that you love it and meet some amazing new people. You won’t know unless you give it a go.

Where do you hope women cycling will be in the future?

E: My hope is that all avenues of cycling – even to learn simple things like mechanics of fixing a bike, changing a flat, and being able to ask for help or learn these things without feeling intimidated – are accessible in a way that all women feel comfortable and are welcomed to engage with. I hope that women will continue to encourage one another and create a supportive space for each other to enjoy the sport in the way that they choose.

M: It would be great to see more women cycling, whether that is racing, socially or just commuting to work. The more women that get involved the more events and opportunities there are going to be for women in the future.