Southern Spin catches up with recently signed Orica-AIS rider Sarah Roy to talk about her first year racing in Europe, riding La Course and defending her Australian criterium title…
It came as no surprise when reigning Australian women’s national criterium champion Sarah Roy was, along with Lizzie Williams and Chloe McConville, signed by Orica-AIS.
The 28-year-old former triathlete is fresh off her rookie European season and showed she has the durability needed to last an entire season. Roy, who won the inaugural Sydney Club Cup on October 19, raced every race on the calendar for French-based Futuroscope and racked up a handful of top-10 finishes, including two fifth-place outings to kick off the Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen in July.
Roy, a protégé of 2006 Commonwealth Games road race gold medallist Natalie Bates, honed her skills racing criteriums last summer with Chloe Hosking of Roxsolt Sydney Uni.
Roy joined Futuroscope in February after selling her bike and launching a fundraising campaign to help her with her overseas expenses. Through the generosity of Avonlea Labels in Sydney, Roy designed and printed 2,000 "Share the bike love, and the road" stickers, which she sells for $10 each.
With a degree in sports science and currently studying for her Masters in Physiology, Roy spoke with Southern Spin on Thursday, a day before an exam and two days before racing the Noosa criterium, to talk about joining Orica-AIS, struggles and success in Europe, and her upcoming title defence in January.
Southern Spin: First off, congratulations on signing with Orica-AIS. You must be thrilled?
Sarah Roy: Oh, thanks. I was taken aback really. I was totally not expecting it. But it was a nice feeling and a nice reward for sticking it out in France on a French team where communication was difficult at times.
SS: How did it all go down?
SR: Orica head coach Martin Barras contacted me. He said ‘How would you like to ride on a new team next year?’
I said, ‘Oh, depends on what team’ as if I didn’t care.
He said, ‘Well, it’s Orica’ and I was like ‘Really?’
But to be perfectly honest, I knew what he meant from the start and I was buzzing.
SS: We talked in June and you mentioned finding life abroad difficult at times in terms of the language barriers and feeling a bit isolated. Looking back after the season, how would you describe your first year in Europe?
SR: I found it really hard. Futuroscope and the Australians who have the connections with it knew how difficult the transition has been for the Australians in the past, so they planned it to have two Australians to come over together this year.
But it worked out that Kimberley Wells had pneumonia, and she did not come over initially. I had already been here for three months on my own when she did come over, and she left after three weeks and never came back. So, I was pretty much there the whole year on my own.
SS: How’s your French?
SR: I picked up a lot, but I am not going to be able to have a real conversation with anyone.
SS: How would you gauge your season with Futuroscope from a riding perspective?
SR: I was super lucky as I was the only rider on my team to race every single race on their calendar. I really appreciated that because I sat down with them at the beginning of the season and said that my objective this year was experience and to race as much as possible and that was a lesson in itself. It was perhaps a bit too much racing and it showed a little bit in my performances, but that is just something you learn from and that’s okay.
I was so lucky and got to do a lot of major races and having the chance to race on the Champs-Élysées at La Course as an Australian on a French team in France was massive. They took me when they could have taken another French rider.
SS: Speaking of La Course, you were in the mix towards the finish and your name was mentioned a time or two inside the closing kilometres. Talk us through what happened?
SR: I hate to have any excuse, but this is one race that I am going to stand up and say I dropped my chain. My chain just bounced off and I don’t even think I was changing gears. I think it just came off because I didn’t have any pressure on the pedals and the chain came off about one kilometre to go and actually came wrapped around my foot and went on the outside. To get it back on I lost a lot of speed and a lot of position, and that was it. My race was over.
SS: What was it like to race on the Champs-Élysées?
SR: It was an awesome feeling actually. It was a point for me when I realised how far I’ve come and how far I’ve dragged my family along with me. Because it has at times been a rocky road and that I’ve been doing it all on my own even without sometimes the full backing of the really close people around me.
But it was so special as my older sister, Kate, came from Sydney to watch me race, as did my Aunt Leslie who lives in America. When they came over they had all these presents and cards that all my family and friends had written to say good luck, they are proud of me and what I have achieved was amazing. Reading it all before the race I was overwhelmed as I didn’t realise I was such a big moment in my career.
SS: Did any message in particular stand out the most?
SR: Yes, I got a message from my coach Nat Bates just as I was warming up on the wind trainer. She said she was a little bit jealous that I got to do this, and I was like ‘wow, she’s a commonwealth games champion’. I always look at her and everything that she has done and I want to do the same as her. Then for her to say that to me really put it all in perspective on where I have been and where I’ve come.
SS: You had two top-5 finishes at Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen in July, your best results of the season since the criterium nationals. Did that give you confidence that you can perform on a world stage?
SR: Absolutely. That was my first time with the Australian national team after having all the months with the French team and being a little bit at stale point and feeling isolated. I felt revitalised and really grateful for the opportunity. It really shows how important being in a positive mindset and what being around like-minded people does for an athlete.
SS: Any ideas on what your role at Orica will be?
SR: I think they are going to give me an opportunity to do a little bit of sprinting, but we will see what happens. We all know I like leading people out, so I am happy to do that too.
SS: Did you get to wear the Green and Gold stripes much this year?
SR: I did a few criteriums in Holland for fun where I got to wear the jersey.
SS: Looking back over the year, how important was your winning the national criterium title in January, and how keen are you to defend it?
SR: I am super excited to defend the jersey. It’s going to be difficult as there are lot of good sprinters in Australia now and the NRS is really strong. It is not going to be easy, but I will be lucky as I will be racing with the Orica girls by then and it will be my first time racing with a strong team that I trust.
In terms of the significance of the race and winning it, having a national title definitely put my name on the map and it gave the teams a bit of a reminder that I am still here and that I am here to race.
SS: Will you race the road nationals and the time trial as well?
SR: Yes, I hope so. That’s my plan.
SS: Can’t mention time trial bikes without thinking about your triathlon days. Do you miss it?
SR: No, I am having too much fun in cycling. I miss the running, but I was never very good at swimming. I didn’t really like getting punched in the face in the swim and not being able to punch back.
SS: Before the season you launched a creative fundraising campaign. With the Orica-AIS signing, no need for that this year?
SR: No, I don’ think so now. However, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do this season before they called so I had started planning on fundraising for next year, and actually had a goal and few ideas.
SS: Anything you can share?
SR: I better keep those ideas close to my chest in case my career at Orica doesn’t last and I need to use the ideas later.
SS: Aside from your bumper sticker campaign, it was reported that you sold your bike and no longer have a personal ride. Is that still the case?
SR: Yes, I don’t have one of my own. Bikes are too expensive and I don’t have any money to get one, but I was sent home from Europe on a beautiful Scott from Orica, so I am very lucky and look forward to racing it every chance I get.
Aaron S. Lee | Follow on Twitter