The Teardrop Crit
Words: Matthew Slade
Images: Matthew Slade
Â Â Summertime â€” 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 youâ€™d expect to find a crit circuit – a course for one of cyclingâ€™s shortest, fastest and most intense races. Centred around an upper loop known only as â€˜The Teardropâ€™, 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 werenâ€™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. Thereâ€™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, thereâ€™s a smaller emerging crew of women grinding it out just as hard for the place at the finish. In partnership with Bicycle Network, photographerÂ 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 moreÂ efficiently, but it morphed into being so muchÂ more than that. Alone or with mates, challengeÂ or just chill. I love how versatile it is.
Melissa: I was doing a lot of running and had completed aÂ couple of marathons and wanted a new challenge.Â I also signed up for the ride to conquerÂ cancer with my mum, so the two of us went andÂ brought our first road bikes together. That wasÂ nearly 4 years ago and we have both been cyclingÂ ever since.
In regards to cycling, how did you get to where you are now?
M: Iâ€™ve been riding for nearly 4 years. I started cycling in triathlons but didnâ€™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.Â
E: After too many mornings dealing with publicÂ transport, I decided to purchase a very cheapÂ commuter bike to get around the inner city ofÂ Sydney. This quickly spiralled into a full-blownÂ obsession that cumulated in me insisting on takingÂ my bike to Canberra whilst on a mid-winter workÂ conference. A few people hadÂ suggested I try racing, but it wasnâ€™t until I went toÂ watch the Hawthorn Crits and saw how friendly andÂ encouraging people were that I actually decidedÂ to give it a go. Racing is an awesome feeling, IÂ love focussing my riding towards a goal and theÂ challenge of pushing myself.Â
“…I decided to purchase a very cheapÂ commuter bike to get around the inner city ofÂ Sydney. This quickly spiralled into a full-blownÂ obsession…”
What barriers have you faced, and how did you overcomeÂ them?
E: Barriers are different for everyone, but I think theÂ most important thing is to just start and chose oneÂ action you can do to take you closer to where youÂ want to be. The other thing Iâ€™ve learnt along the way is, figure out what you want to know and then ask people to show you – Iâ€™ve found people are always happy to help.
A common barrier is confidence. WhatÂ would be your words of inspiration andÂ motivation to women who want to getÂ started?
E: Itâ€™s hard to be confident when you feel like youâ€™re not as good as you want to be, but starting really is the only way to improve. To keep myself motivated Iâ€™ve learnt to break down my bigger goals into many smaller goals. When I decided to race crits, I broke it down into a numberÂ of small boxes to tick-off such as; go see the course, watch how people take the corners, race withoutÂ 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. Itâ€™s important to celebrate the incremental improvements because they add up.
M: Donâ€™t overthink it and donâ€™t worry about whatÂ people might think. Iâ€™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, weâ€™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 amazingÂ new people. You wonâ€™t know unless you give it a go.
“Each step was a positive move towards what I wanted to achieve and that gave me the confidence to keep going.”
Where do you hope women cycling willÂ be in the future?
E: My hope is that all avenues of cycling – even to learn simple things likeÂ mechanics of fixing a bike, changing a flat, andÂ being able to ask for help or learn these thingsÂ without feeling intimidated -Â are accessible in a way that allÂ women feel comfortable and are welcomedÂ to engage with. I hope that women willÂ continue to encourage one another and create aÂ 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,Â whether that is racing, socially or just commuting toÂ work. The more women that get involved the moreÂ events and opportunities there are going to be forÂ women in the future.