It has been over ten seasons since one of New Zealand's best ever roadies Susy Pryde was crowned the number one female road rider on the USA circuit. The Auckland law student, team boss and pro rider heads up the campaign stateside with partner Chris Drake for a third season with the support of naming sponsor "Jazz Apple". Cyclingnz.com brings you a close up look of the "International, New Zealand team".
CNZ-The season has started off well for the JA team with podiums and QOM titles already. Is this season surpassing the others?
SP-It is surpassing previous seasons in different ways. To date we have had more appearances on the National Racing Calendar (NRC) podiums -through placings and wins in the Queen of the Mountains. We're realistic that we do not have a sprinter that is going to beat some of the more experienced sprinters and focussed on aspects of the race we can win. And because of some of the depth of climbing legs in certain teams such as Webcor and Nurnberger in Philly we have had to use the strongest elements of our team to attain those titles. In each QOM sprint thus far we have had to use at least Dotsie and Lauren every time -and we relied heavily on Marina in Philly. On the other hand, for fast flat finishes, such as criteriums, we're still well off the sprinting elite. There are still big opportunities for improvement, and previously we have had experience such as Sarah Ulmer (in our first year) delivering wins here. So on balance, it is surpassing others in that our development riders such as Ruth and Lauren are maturing with winning performances, and all the members have a better understanding of the nature of the racing here, and our strengths and weaknesses as a group.
CNZ-It's the 4th season now for the JA team in the USA , how has the look and the feel of the team changed over the seasons?
SP-With our strong development purpose, we started with a team that had an average age of 21 -maybe we look a both older now(!) -we have some late 20 year old riders but even they could still could be considered development. Ruth is still new in the sport, and when we picked her up last year she had been riding locally for about a year. The biggest change has probably been the addition of Dotsie Bausch. Dotsie has a wealth of experience in Europe and the US, and more importantly, a succinct and caring ability to communicate. Dotsie can really be there in the race with the girls when it counts and so as directors, we complement each other well.
CNZ-There are many long termers on board, it must be encouraging to see them develop as riders ?
SP-Yes, that's right, it is. Development is an ongoing process for anyone -it never stops. Sometimes development can be in the wrong direction, and with some many outside pressures such as finances, school, love life etc it can have a real impact on athletic performance if an athlete hasn't got the ability to isolate those aspects. It is very rewarding to see them have moments of realization in managing themselves and their cycling and just figuring it out -and we really get to see that with the athletes who have been with us the longest.
CNZ-What started out as an all Kiwi entourage has now turned into a multinational pro team, how many nations are represented on the squad and is there a Jazz Apple interest in all of the countries?
SP- We have four nations represented; an American, Dotsie Bausch; a Canadian, Steph Roorda; an Australian (you'd forgive us of you knew her -she's a treasure), Ruth Corset; and kiwis, Lauren Ellis, Marina Duvnjak, Malindi Maclean, Rosara Joseph.
In fact the reason for adding North Americans this year was because of the Jazz Apple growing areas in these regions -and Jazz Apples are now grown and sold in Australia.
CNZ-The team has a real all round mix of abilities with sprinters, climbers TTers and GC riders all represented, it must take a lot of planning to deliver the right rider with the right form to the right event on time!
SP-Yes, again, that's right - it does take careful planning as well as communication with the riders. But there is an element of luck as well. Even careful planning won't dismiss the chance that our riders could get sick. We just hope things like that don't happen. And often it turns out that 'plans' for riders at events are quickly supplemented with new plans if the situation calls for it. For example, a non GC rider may find themselves in a break and then by virtue of a surviving break that rider is given the opportunity to learn how to ride like a GC contender. That is part of what we like to do with the team -expose the girls to as many situations as possible so long of course as that situation does not overthrow our best possible chances.
CNZ-What is the length of the campaign this year and is there an event the team is really looking forward too?
SP-Three months is the heart of the North American campaign. We have done various other events throughout the season but the major 'on the road' component is the three months from May 1 til the end of July.
It is always superb to race the Philadelphia Liberty Classic. The city and event is tremendously exciting, and it is a major market for the Jazz Apple. Its a tough race though -everyone wants to win it, so doing well there is major coup.
CNZ-The new bikes from FUJI look great, it seems to be a brilliant platform for FUJI to release their women's flagship range. How are the bikes feeling being on specific women's race models?
SP-The FUJI bikes have been very successful for our riders. The top tubes are slightly shorter, and consequently reach and comfort levels have been a positive talking point. The frames are very light and responsive-Lauren's frame was underweight (well under 15 pounds) for the weigh in at Joe Martin, and Lauren does not have a peculiarly small frame. In particular, Ruth, who is 5'4" tall, loves climbing on her Supreme RC. The combination of weight and fit for Ruth has been a real success.
CNZ-Since your time racing pro in the nineties, how has the pro women's scene changed? It seems the US women really are the ones to beat?
SP-Boy has it changed. In many ways for the better. There are more evenly balanced teams at the moment and not one dominant team beating up on everyone all the time. Once it was something to strive for, to be part of that clearly dominant team, but in hindsight, I am not convinced it was the best for women's elite cycling on the whole, especially sponsorship. In fact I think it drove sponsors away when they could never get any of the limelight. That just was not good.
It is difficult to pinpoint any racing dynamics that have really changed in that time. I think that is because that is mostly influenced by other variables such as terrain and the competition, something that is never constant. Perhaps technology is still having something new to say, and the TT equipment is the obvious example of that. But tyre technolgy, hydration and recovery systems are becoming increasingly advanced and widespread. There is much better access to info through the web and I think this also has had some influence on how athletes conduct their race experience. I would have to say that although radio technology was around in the nineties (even then!), I think that that is still the biggest change that I have witnessed in how the competitors race. All in all, the changing faces is the obvious noticeable difference, and it always fantastic to see new faces excited by the sport. It is defintiely still a great place to be.
CNZ-How many times have you pinned a number on this season? Coming from the hectic schedule of full time law student to pro racing must have been a big ask?
SP-Not many -(tempting as it is to add 'if any', I'll refrain). It is has been nearly impossible this year. I have had several other final aspects of my degree to wind up this year -opinions and further credits which have only added to my full time load at Uni. I miss being on my bike and feeling supremely fit but I just don't think I would get any sleep if I tried to train to a level that would allow me to race properly. My first priorities are to the team in managing and directing, and my studies. If I get to race with them it is a real privilege, so I do it when I can.
CNZ-With a reasonable number of riders on the squad and racing all over the country, logistically how much work goes into planning a month of racing?
SP-A huge part of of the work with the team is planning months and month in advance. We spend from September through January planning and organizing. When we actually get closer to the race season there are only final details to wind up. It is definitley a logistical puzzle moving 10 people around in a season. There's accomodation, race entries, rental cars to factor and jigging a calendar that fits with our sponsor's expectations and exposing the athletes to the best racing just scratches the surface on planning activities. Usually we need to coordinate sponsor activites as well with Jazz Apple, so we do a separate calendar for that.
CNZ-With the sponsorship area really feeling the effects of the global credit crisis this season, has it had an impact on teams and event organisers in the USA ?
SP-Yes. Defintiely. Many events have hung on this year but many have threatened to cancel. We have suffered event losses in the triple crown series, and downgrading of national racing calender status of other events. It is really a shame. Teams have struggled too -we've had constant emails from riders, good riders looking for rides at events because things have taken an unfortunate turn with their team financial status. It is terrible. But there are still increasing numbers of competitors.
Those that make it possible for the Jazz Apples!
JAZZ APPLE: www.jazzapple.com
Champion System Clothing: www.champ-sys.com
ControlTech parts: www.controltechbikes.com
Smith optics: www.smithoptics.com
Lake shoes: www.lakecycling.com
E2 Performance hydration: www.e2performance.net
GU gels: www.guenergy.com
Continental Tyres: www.conti-online.com