Women in sport: Riders team up for Bendigo

BENDIGO is destined to have a stronger presence on the women’s cycling scene, with an all-local, all-female team about to hit top gear for a huge season of racing.

The 2012-13 Building Champions Squad women’s team will have members riding at state and regional track and road events throughout the summer, and will compete in several stages of the elite National Road Series.

Backed by several Bendigo businesses, the BCS squad includes Kate Finegan, who has raced in Europe and the US, former Australian rower and 12-year cycling veteran Cait Fraser, mountain bike star Jo Wall, track champion Carly McCoombe and relative newcomer to the sport Nicole McNamara.

They are joined by teenagers Lauretta Hanson and Madison Leske, who are studying year 12.

McNamara and Finegan formed the team in January to give female cyclists a supportive home-town network and the chance to train, compete and socialise together.

Instead of starting from scratch, the pair approached the local men’s Building Champions Squad about establishing a partnership and were thrilled when their proposal was accepted.

“We felt that by attaching our- selves to an existing team, it would be easier to attract sponsors after we had been around for a while, rather than go in as a new entity,” McNamara says. 

Start-up funding to cover riding kits was provided by Greg Burkinshaw Roofing, owned by McNamara’s husband, and the team recently signed sponsorship deals with Symes Motors Skoda, Specialized bikes through Bendigo Cycles and BenBal Financial Services.

As well as supporting talented cyclists already involved in the sport, it is hoped the venture will also encourage future generations of central Victorian girls to jump on their bikes.

“In 10 years time, we hope this team will still be around providing a clear pathway for young girls in this area,” McNamara says, “and hopefully then there will be a lot more under-17 and under-19 girls still involved in the sport.”

Finegan shares the vision: “I want to be able to eventually be a non-racing mentor/ coach for younger women in central Victoria and have a team that women aspire to be a part of.”

McNamara says there has been a shortage in of female riders aged 15-18 in Bendigo, and the BCS team will help bridge that gap between sub-junior and elite riders.

They have received money from one sponsor who wants to remain anonymous to fund a young local development rider: Madison Leske has been chosen to fill that spot on the racing team. 

“We wanted someone who wasn’t attached to a team already and Maddi is at cycling week in, week out, always doing the best she can,” McNamara says. 

“We felt that because of her level of commitment it was perfect to give her that opportunity. 

“She will get encouragement from a supportive team network and some of our more experienced cycling girls can give her some advice about what to expect in certain races.”

McNamara also hopes the BCS squad will also inspire women to consider taking up the sport later in life, just as she and Cait Fraser did.

Fraser, the oldest member of the team at 39, says cycling is the perfect sport for females, especially mums.

“You can get fit, have a chat with the girls while you train, and then finish off at the coffee shop,” the mother of two says. 

“And if that isn’t enough to inspire you, there are always a few good-looking blokes floating around.

“I think a major barrier for women are the limits they place on themselves, thinking they could never keep up in bunch rides or that it is too scaring riding on the roads. The reality is that cyclists in Bendigo are extremely supportive and the roads are generally very safe.

“I also know that mums often feel like it is selfish to take time out for their own sport and exercise, when the opposite is true.

“Getting out on the bike is a great way to clear your head and recharge your energy so you can enjoy family life.”

The BCS women’s team plans to tackle the Adelaide and the Gold Coast legs of the National Road Series in 2013, as well as the Victorian stages of the series. 

But with the estimated cost of taking the team to Queensland for the three-day race at about $2500, the girls say they need all the support they can get.

Despite the financial challenges, they are determined to make the Bendigo presence felt.

“At state level, we want to be winning or having a podium finish at every event we go to, which we believe is quite achievable,” Finegan says.

“Nationally, it’s about providing experience and exposure for the younger and less experienced riders – our goal would be to have all the team members finishing those events.

“At the end of the day, we are a local women’s sporting team com- peting at the national level and we are encouraging women in our sport.”

The BCS women’s team is holding a fund-raising trivia night in the Sky Lounge at Bendigo Stadium on Friday, October 12. 

For details, contact Bendigo Cycles on 5441 3532.  

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