07 January 2020
Every January, the road cycling World Tour heads to Australia for the very beginning of the season, before heading to Europe for the remaining 10 months. We caught up with Lauren Kitchen, Shara Gillow and Brodie Chapman on what it means to race in their home country.
No matter who we are, every year we live has 12 months, 52 weeks and 4 seasons, right? Those numbers will never change, but the way we interpret them can vary from one person to another. For Australian professional road cyclists, they have a totally different meaning. With 95% of the calendar of cycling races taking place in Europe, more than 20 hours flight away from their country, ‘Home’ is a slightly different feeling and Australians only spend a few months of the year on home soil, from November to February. Experiencing 2 summers a year, being far away from family and friends, having to adapt to very different cultures in Europe…
Eager to learn more about this very singular lifestyle, we asked Brodie Chapman, Shara Gillow and Lauren Kitchen to tell us what it is like. They kindly accepted to open their lives to us and needless to say, we learnt a lot of things!
Is it hard to travel to Europe for 3 quarters of the year?
Brodie: It is hard to be so far of my own country. I obviously miss my family and friends. You don’t get much time to see them and just head downtown with them. If you do see them, it’s brief and you try and cram everything together, that’s the hardest part. But when I moved to Europe I knew I had to make it feel like home straight away. For me, that meant finding accommodation that I could call my own, with my boyfriend. Now, I look forward to going back there and spending time in Spain in January. Home is a feeling, it’s people, it’s a sense of familiarity. It doesn’t have to be a specific place, it’s just kind of where you feel comfortable at that time.
Shara: I have a really big family here in Australia, 3 brothers and 3 sisters. We’re all very close. I’ve been going to Europe every summer for 6 years, I’m always using Skype and Facetime. It’s pretty difficult not to see them but you’re very focused on training and racing. There are times when you miss the Australian culture and weather. But I also love experiencing different cultures all over the world. I lived in Holland for a year and now live in France.
Lauren: It’s tough to be in Europe for most of the year. When I was younger, it was easier because I was driven on getting to Europe. Now, I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years. I still love it and enjoy it but I do miss Australia and home more. I think I’ve learnt that I have to make sure I have time for myself and take some Australian comfort with me, and then enjoy my time back in Australia to recharge for the next season.
What do you miss most about home?
Brodie: When I’m in Europe, I miss the Australian hot humid tropical weather. I grew up in Brisbane where it’s pretty much warm all year and you have these amazing storms in summer every afternoon. It’s very warm and suddenly you have this fantastic thunderstorm. I haven’t experienced one of these in the long time. I really miss the storms, the café culture and the food. I think Australia has such a diverse range of food available, especially like Asian food and really good coffee. I also miss the cycling culture. Melbourne and Sydney have a really strong cycling culture where any day of the week you’ll have someone to ride, go on a bunch ride and almost choose what kind of ride you want to go on!
Shara: I love the beaches. I live 25 km away from Noosa Beach & Sunshine Coast and it’s amazing, I really miss that & my family and friends when I’m away. When I’m in Australia I love going to the ocean, swimming, surfing. The beaches are a big part of the summer for me. It’s an amazing time in November and December. It’s always a lot of training with really good weather and then a session at the beach, swimming or surfing.
Lauren: I’m from the country in Australia, not from a city. When I go training here, I often see just two cars in 50 kilometers. I really like feeling so remote, I like that aspect of being in the vastness of Australia. It’s hard to get that in Europe. Of course, I also miss family and the cultural things. Just having breakfast at a café is such a big thing in Australia and I struggle to find it anywhere in Europe.
How does it feel to be back home?
Brodie: It does feel nice to be home. I usually catch up with some family and my closest friends whom I haven’t seen for a long time. It does feel nice if you have a sense of familiar places. I go around the places where I used to commute and I do look forward to the long summer.
Shara: When I come back, I feel really excited and ready to reset. I usually have a little bit of time off the bike so it’s great to catch up with family and friends. I’m pretty blessed to live in such an amazing tropical place with amazing beaches. It feels like holidays but you can also go for a 5-hour ride with great weather and then go the beach. It’s also very special because family is around at the same time and I get support from friends. Being back on Ozzie soil is unique and special.
Lauren: I love coming back home, to my family, to my parents. I’ve been travelling to Europe every year since I finished High School so I always come back to my home town in the summer. About 2 years ago, my parents moved away so it was kind of a shock as I suddenly came back home and everything was different. It was also very exciting as I have been able to discover a new place as I was going to visit my parents. It’s always great coming home, it’s so mentally refreshing. Pre-season is very different than Europe, I get to ride outside in the warmth.
What is the most cliché thing about Australia in your view?
Brodie: Foreigners always think that there are spiders everywhere. I can’t remember the last time I saw a snake in a city. Some people think that as soon as they’re going to step off the plane, they’ll step on to a python but it is not quite true, you have to go to the bush to see that wildlife.
Shara: For sure, a lot of foreigners think Australia is too far to come. They think that there will be all kinds of snakes, sharks, spiders, crocodiles as they step foot out of the plane. We do have some pretty scary animals here but it’s not that bad. Some people ask how I can live in Australia, but we’re used to it!
Lauren: Once, I saw koalas while I was training, and I sent a picture to some of my teammates and their response was ‘Oh I want to cuddle them and give them a big hug’. Some people who live across the road from my parents recently underwent surgery because the koalas attacked them and ripped their arms apart, and these people are doctors and ambulance officers so they know how to deal with it! Foreigners think koalas are cuddly and cute but they’re very aggressive with very sharp claws, they’re very dangerous!
What do you do in your free time in your Australia?
Brodie: In my free time, I’m pretty one dimensional, I just like to ride my bike, and my Mountain Bike. I spent a lot of time riding my MTB in the bush. In Queensland I spent a lot of time night riding because it was so warm during the day. It was more exciting to ride at night on the trails. I also love going to the beach. I’m really lucky to have lived in Sydney and there are fantastic beaches around there. I also really enjoy just going to cafés and swimming in rock pools, going swimming in natural water… Being in water is something you can do anywhere in Australia.
Shara: When I’m back here, I spend a lot of time catching up with family and friends in between trainings. It’s the only period of the year when I can be in one spot for several weeks in a row without having to jump on a plane. It’s pretty amazing and special. I love to go surfing and have beach time for the family. While putting in some training, swimming blocks and gym. October and November is a very important part of the year with a lot of cross training, gym and swimming sessions, running sessions, and lots of kilometers on the bike.
Lauren: I Recently finished a degree so I now have a little more free time than I had. I’ve spent a lot of times at cafés recently, things like that and helping my parents set up the place where they just moved to… That’s how I spend most of my free time in the summer. Lots of coffee time and check out the new cafés, catching up with friends and family.
What is the Ozzie lifestyle?
Brodie: The Ozzie lifestyle is café culture, spending time outdoors and hanging out with mates. It’s all very typical but it’s also very true! I guess the reason why things became typical is because there is an element of truth to them!
Shara: The Ozzie lifestyle is pretty relaxed, Ozzies are more laid back.
Lauren: The Ozzie lifestyle is an outdoor lifestyle, café culture and a dynamic culture. At the moment we’re dealing with a lot of bushfires, it’s constantly changing, it’s dynamic for sure.
Thanks to our 3 Ozzie riders for their time!
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