Women's Cycling: One On One with Brodie Mai Chapman
Brodie Mai Chapman has shown consistently good form as an elite athlete for years, but her path to pro-level cycling has been far from typical. Turning professional in January 2018, she enjoyed a solid two years with US-based women’s team Tibco-SVB – revered as the world’s longest running women’s cycling team.
Switching to French team FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope for 2020 and beyond, Brodie kicked the year off in exemplary style by winning Race Torquay, pre-cursor to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Sadly that sledgehammer start to the season came to a screeching halt with the onset of Covid-19 and the unprecedented stop to the WorldTour racing calendar.
And this is where we turn to Brodie Mai Chapman.
Bicycling Australia: Thanks for speaking with Bicycling Australia. You came into 2020 on top of the world with wonderful form, a new team and a major win on home soil. Then the race season came to a standstill. Can you tell us about the leadup to Race Torquay?
Brodie Chapman: I often reflect on that race and how special it was to win in the way I did, given the year that followed. It turns out a home soil advantage is a real phenomenon. To be honest, my preparation for January racing was different than other years, it wasn;’t the goal to be ‘peaking’ at these races but be fit enough to be competitive and contribute to team goals. It was part of a build towards the European spring but I am pleased I could take advantage of an opportunity at Race Torquay. Many people assume I was ‘adapted’ to the extreme heat that day, but the truth is I spent most of my ‘summer’ in European winter.
BA: Jumping back a couple of years – In early 2018 we recall you busily working on women’s cycling coverage at the Tour Down Under Media Centre. Just a few weeks later you were lining up for the Herald SunTour …. Can you tell us about this seemingly whirlwind transition from scribe to pro.
BC: This is a really big question – to answer it briefly I was always a rider, always a cyclist and an athletic competitive person. But I didn’t follow the typical trajectory to elite cycling. I got into the sport as an adult so naturally I had to prioritise my study and work life over my ‘passionate hobby’. I did shape all my life decisions around cycling, so when the stars aligned and I could finally find myself competitive against girls I had a sense that I could match, I took the opportunity to showcase the talent I had at the right time.
...Brodie kicked the year off in exemplary style by winning Race Torquay, pre-cursor to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race...
BA: How have you handled the past few months of disruption?
BC: Well it all happened rapidly and I found myself back at my childhood home in April. I suppose everyone’s situation is different but all because of the same reason. My situation has been really ideal in that I have spent more time with my partner and my family than I have in a really long time. There has been lots of riding around my hometown that I had actually never done before, so that was cool. I have had days of unexplained anxiety and uncertainty, but found that catching myself comparing my experience to other peoples was often a catalyst for the pessimism.
We have really good support from my team FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, and also the Australian Cycling Team with regular check ins, performance goals and psychology, as well as all the Aussie girls really communicating and keeping in contact through the whole pandemic.
BA: From a professional athlete’s perspective has it been a case of staying race ready or have you made changes your training routine?
BC: It’s been a case of staying ready to train for racing – not too much but not too little – and consistent base kms with a degree of intensity so when it is time to do the real work it isn’t a huge shock to the system. After about two weeks I figured out how my days might work well and wrote up a weekly plan, set some goals with my coach.
BA: It’s well documented that top-level women’s cycling is a tough gig …. Have the past few months been a setback or could it somehow become a net positive for women’s cycling?
BC: I think it has been a setback for sport and cycling in general. Professional cycling exists for the fans and sponsors of professional cycling, not the riders. It has been cool to see that the virtual racing has given an equal exposure to men’s and women’s racing but this isn’t some huge progressive act that should be applauded.
...I am not willing to abandon important relationships or my long term health in pursuit of a goal...
Even with no racing on, cycling media will write a whole article about what one male pros uneventful training ride but hardly mention the training and behind the scenes of what the women racers are doing or planning. Articles create interest. Interest creates a fan base, fan bases demand media. So much is said about ‘progressing womens cycling’ for the sake of saying you support equality but I would prefer it to be seen as another way for cycling fans to simply be able to consume more cycling.
Professional sport is for the fans, the sponsors and the growth of the sport as a whole. Women’s cycling isn’t a segway for virtue signalling from big organisations or some sort of act of corporate social responsibility.
BA: One piece of wonderful news was the announcement of a women’s Paris-Roubaix. How did you react to this news and will you be there?
BC: Yeah it will be awesome, really welcomed but the peloton and we are all very excited to see it eventuate. The details are not clear yet, but it will be awesome to know that I will get to be part of the inaugural event. Everyone loves watching Roubaix, so surely it can only be good to watch two races.
BA: Talking cobbles and uneven surfaces, you have a background in MTB … How much does this help your road riding and in what ways?
BC: It helps a lot in your reaction time and familiarity to feeling the bike move underneath you or your wheels sliding. Contrary to popular belief the handling skills you get from MTB don’t translate well to ‘bunch skills’ as on the MTB it’s just you and the line you want to take. In the peloton your skills have to consider hundreds of other riders around you.
BA: Would you recommend this to other roadies – to diversify with gravel and or even MTB, and why?
BC: If you enjoy it I think it is a brilliant idea. I find when I ride the road bike heaps, I miss mountain biking, and when I have been mountain biking a lot, I can’t wait to get back onto the road. I try and keep data and training out of my mountain biking and focus more on the feeling and fun. It’s also just another great way to get a break from traffic when you live in a big city.
BA: For weekend riders, those trying to balance work and family commitments with training for say a Gran Fondo event – What would your three tips be for those struggling with a bike/ life balance?
BC: Figure out what ‘balance’ actually looks like to you. Socialise with others who have a similar life style, perhaps who work and ride as well so you can stay accountable and set goals together. If you have a good community of like-minded people around you socialising and bike riding are one in the same.
If you have performance goals then using an indoor training platform like FulGaz is a efficient way to make physical gains. Employ a coach for a short period with your goal race in time. Most coaches work with every day people not necessarily professional athletes.
BA: Training at home can help those with less time. What’s your online / real world training split and how does virtual training benefit you?
BC: I spend most of my time outdoors on the road but I am learning to love the ergo to really hit specifics. Just make sure you fuel and hydrate for the indoor sessions, even though they are shorter in duration they are a often a way higher demand on your energy systems.
BA: One benefit from the past few months has been a bike shop boom and increase in new riders – what would your advice be to these new recruits?
BC: Practice skills, ride with others and do what
you enjoy. There is no right way to be a cyclist. if you love the new matching kit and shiny bike aesthetic, and that’s what gets you pumped, then embrace it.
If you only want to ride on sunny weekends with your mates, that’s also fine. If you want to stay off the roads and use your bike to go on camping trips, also rad. Try things out. Maybe you are a Zwift lord or a fiercely competitive crit pig. Riding a bike can be a really nice life-long activity, it’s not a 6 week quick gym fix where you punish yourself only to give up. Talk to the bike shop people, Establish a relationship so you can always go back to them for help. Get the right sized bike and equipment.
BA: Looking forward, how about your dream future as a pro cyclist?
BC: I dream big but don’t get caught up in a pipe dream. I know big goals are possible but only if the process is the focus. I aim to learn as much as I can to improve in every capacity, tactically, physically, emotionally. I read, I ask questions, I practice through trial and error. I experiment with the limits my comfort zone regularly.
It was actually quite a big life shift going from a normal human in their 20s to living and behaving as not only an elite athlete, but a professional one. There are so many nuances and things to learn and practice. I aim to keep doing the job that needs to be done at the time to improve. There is not fastrack, no hack or anything to get to the top. I have belief that I am capable of winning a gold medal for Australia, but I have to optimise my daily environment and behaviours to make that a reality.
I accept there will be periods of consolidation and stagnation and also big surges forward. Having a dream isn’t enough. I find I have to really work with yourself to figure what you are willing to do to get there. There are some things I am willing to go all in on, others I am not. For example I am not willing to abandon important relationships or my long term health in pursuit of a goal. But I am willing to change some of my fundamental behaviours around socialising and other hobbies, change my priorities and also accept that what works at one time in your life might not always work. Adapt and adjust, Have clear goals with flexible methods.
BA: And finally, your advice for someone keen to follow a similar path?
BC: Find a reason why you do something, what drives YOU and remind yourself of it. There are a million pieces of advice and relevant quotes I could say to inspire someone on a similar path, but I find that external motivators only get you so far. If you are in for the long game its got to be for a real, authentic reason that matters to you. Write it down. Stick it on your fridge. I guarantee as a pro athlete you will visit your fridge many times per day.
Brodie’s Top 5
Favourite Bike and Why?
Loving my Lappiere Xelius. It is all Shimano Dura-ace and Pro bike components which i have been using for years, so its really familiar and functional.
Three things you take on every ride?
A SiS bar to eat, my phone and ID
How would you fuel and hydrate for a 2hr, 1500m training ride?
I would have two bidons, one with water or green tea, and one with a SiS hydration tablet.
Favourite post-ride indulgence?
I am a huge fan of Açai bowls, and if they are full of sugar, great, that’s exactly what I want after a long hard ride. That or a huge homemade sandwich.
Best tip for fellow riders?
Don’t act like your racing unless you are actually racing. Same deal as driving really. Be attentive, predictable and calm.