BASE Camp report

The Labour Day long weekend was awesome. I'm all in favour of the union movement if it means that once a year I can get an extra day to go somewhere nice and ride my bike. Since coming back from Tour of NZ I've been enjoying a lovely break off the bike. My body has been struggling with fatigue for a while and a break has been way overdue. So for 2 weeks after I got back from NZ, I put my bike in the corner and didn't touch it. It was heavenly.

Then I started to get twitchy.

The timing was excellent when Marcus Speed (from Perfect Pilates) invited me to join his crew at BASE Camp in Beechworth, VIC, over the long weekend. It was a 3 day multisport training camp that Marcus ran through his coaching business Speed Cycling Systems. Around 30 people came up, of all abilities. I took up my roadie and MTB (yes, these are links to photos of my bikes. They are hot). I also took up my runners and paddling clothes but the riding was so good I never got a chance to use them.

Each day there were myriad options for exhausting yourself and making the most of the region. We'd generally start with a long road ride, then lunch, then maybe a MTB around the Beechworth XC course, or a run or walk around the gorge, then a paddle before dinner. Those who weren't into riding could do pilates, or join a run group, or just sit and enjoy the sunshine with a newspaper. That was the nice thing about it - there was something for everyone, and you could do as much or as little of the organised activities as you liked. If you were super-hardcore like Marcus, you could do all of it. Or if you were soft like me, you'd do the bike bits and spend the rest of the afternoon drinking coffee. There was a mechanic on-site to deal with any bike issues and heaps of spare equipment to use. Plus delicious dinners and desserts all round. We were certainly looked after.

For me, the camp was a perfect way to ease back into training. I was riding because I wanted to, not because I had to, and the good weather and company helped me to remember what I love about riding. My favourite part of the camp though (apart from the food) was being able to spend time with a heap of people I wouldn't ordinarily have met. Some were competitive types who were out to push themselves hard, and others were just there for an active getaway with (or from) the family. At the end of each day, everyone got together for dinner and a drink in the Old Priory garden where we were staying, to share stories from the day. It was awesome.

The next BASE camp will be on the Melbourne Cup long weekend. If you're interested, drop Marcus a line at

Cheats, match-fixing and the integrity of sport

Last week, Mark Arbib stepped down from his role as Federal Minister for Sport. It was a role he had held since September 2010. Under his charge, elite sport in Australia flourished. The AOC loved him, largely because he ignored the recommendation of the very-expensive-and-extensively-researched 2009 Crawford Report to stop throwing money at Olympic sports. Instead, Sr Arbib committed $14m to Olympic sports and created the $4m 'Green and Gold Project' aimed exclusively at funding Olympic and Paralympic sports at the high-performance level. He'd be the favourite man in Australian elite sport, if that position were not already taken by Gerry 'Mr Jayco' Ryan.

As he left office, (ex)Senator Arbib wrote an article in Melbourne's Sunday Age reflecting on his role and the challenges facing sport. He stated that, while doping had been the 'great shadow' cast over sport in the 80s and 90s, it is match-fixing which now poses the greatest threat to sports' integrity. Cheating, he said, erodes people's confidence in sport. So long as there is gambling in sport, there will be corruption. Australia is leading the way in fighting corruption in sport at a domestic level,but at an international level there is not yet any comprehensive anti-corruption framework. Arbib called for an international body to be formed to co-ordinate information sharing between governments, sporting bodies and betting providers: this is what we need to properly fight match-fixing.

Corruption in sport is a hot issue. It is a hot issue because people like sports betting. Match-fixing, and the abuse of insider information - both of which distort betting outcomes - undermine the integrity of sport and can involve significant fraud. In sports where betting is prevalent, like AFL or cricket, match-fixing has the potential to cause significant disruption in a market. Globally, the sports betting industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars: corruption can be profitable and hard to detect.

In most sports, we call match-fixing 'cheating'. The idea of determining the outcome of a sporting event by anything other than athletic ability is abhorrent. So when a football player misses an easy goal, a jockey steers his horse to the outside barrier, or a cricket player bowls nothing but wides, and we find out that they were offered money to do it, we scream blue murder.

Except in cycling.

In cycling, deals are made all the time. And they generally involve money, because cyclists race for money. Riders in a breakaway agree that one will take the intermediate sprints and the other the stage win. Two friends agree that one will win this week and the other the week after. Vinokourov famously (allegedly) offered €100,000 to Alexandr Kolobnev in the final kilometres of last year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège to sit up so that Vino could take the win. At the 2009 Australian road championships, Mick Rogers reportedly offered eventual winner Peter McDonald thousands of dollars to let him ride away on the last lap. When I first started bike racing, my friend rocked up on the start line of a local crit to see three other girls already dividing up the placings and prize money between them.

This kind of fixing is not seen as wrong because it's part of the strategy that earns cycling its reputation as a game of chess on wheels. It doesn't involve an entire team or field. It may not work due to other variables in the race. And, largely, it affects few beyond those people directly involved. The agreements are made between riders on the spot, not pre-meditated. The objective for the rider offering the fix is to get a better result, not to distort a betting outcome. For these reasons, it's difficult to categorise this behaviour as corrupt. But it does affect the outcome of competition. So why do we not mind?

If we look at the two major challenges that Mark Arbib identified in his article - doping and match-fixing - and apply them to cycling, it is clear which one has been the bigger problem. Historically, doping has been the method of choice by which professional cyclists distort competition outcomes. The economic rationalists of the peleton can see that it's easier to make one rider go faster than anyone else than it is to fix agreements with every single cyclist in a 100+ bunch. So the importance of an agreement between two riders on whether or not to sprint fades into insignificance when compared with the fundamental, inarguable wrong of doping.

Until the 1920s, doping was considered a normal part of professional bike racing. As the competitive landscape evolved, doping came to be viewed as detrimental to the integrity of the sport. Now, doping in the professional peleton - if we believe the reports - is becoming less and less prevalent. There are biological passports. There are surprise drug tests. If cycling is not winning the war on doping, it is at least making progress. When - or if - it does win that war, does that mean that the 'gentlemen's agreements' that we currently consider to be a normal part of cycling is the next frontier?

Law-makers in Australia are moving to introduce nationally-consistent legislation criminalising match-fixing in sport. The NSW Law Reform Commission has just proposed an amendment to the NSW Crimes Act which, if passed, would impose criminal penalties on conduct that corrupts the betting outcome of an event. Under the proposed law, conduct would be illegal if (a) it is undertaken to obtain a financial advantage as a result of betting, and (b) is contrary to the standards of integrity of the sport.

As long as making fixing agreements is 'normal' is cycling - that is, so long as it is not considered contrary to cycling's integrity - then it will be seen as a tactical decision rather than cheating. And until cycling generates the kind of betting revenue that sports like football and cricket do, it is not likely to attract attention from regulators. But when it does, the sport will change. Because it is a fine line between strategy and corruption... and today's gentleman's agreement is tomorrow's conspiracy.

Ride happy.

Mt Gambier 100 Mile

The Mt Gambier 100 mile is such an epic race it made me wonder why I hadn't raced it before. At about the 125km mark, I began to realise why. This is a cracking hard race. It's a handicap, so you are sitting at your limit trying to catch the group in front of you, and trying to stay away from the group behind. For the 155km race, we averaged over 38kph on a windy course. I am smashed.

This race didn't suit my strengths at all. It was flat and windy, and I suffered like a small dog with a Masters degree in suffering. Despite that, it has gone to the top of my must-do races for next year. Here is why:

  1. An awesome atmosphere: The whole town came to the party. The police shut down the main street; there were people dressed in costumes cheering along the side of the road; and the local paper gave the race so much attention you felt you were really part of something. At the end of the race, a bloke I'd never met before came up and told me that he'd won the race 70 years ago. How awesome is that?!
  2. A weekend of racing: Like Tour of Bright, this is an event where people travel from all over to have a hard, fun weekend. You can race both days and the organisers put on a dinner on Saturday night. (And unlike Tour of Bright, you don't need to enter 6 months in advance!)
  3. Excellent organisation: Everyone was friendly. The race starter had made an effort to know the riders and gave the crowds a running commentary at the start. No one yelled at me for pinning my race number 3cm to the left of centre (Victorian commissaires take note). The presentations took place quickly and with good cheer.
  4. Local hospitality: If it hadn't been for Robert's pre-course briefing, feeds at each of the feed zones, and post-race assistance, Chloe and I would have been dead women walking. We were really well looked after - particularly by Rob, but by everyone we talked to. It was really touching.
  5. Prize money: I don't like to give this as a reason to race, but the Mt Gambier Triathlon & Cycling Club had put an enormous effort into raising enough sponsorship to make the prize purse fricking HUGE. And they deliberately allocated significant prize money to women to encourage more chicks to enter.
  6. A thrilling finish:  Scratch caught the front runners with 1km to go on a downhill finish, with SASI's Glen O'Shea taking out the win. Well done, handicapper!

Melissa McKinlay took out the women's race with a fantastic ride. My teammate Chloe McConville was fastest woman (look out Honda Tour!).

Chloe and I were sorry we had to head back to Melbourne on Saturday and miss the Kermesse racing on Sunday. Next year we want to make a weekend of it. I'd love to see more women racing next year. The race organisers have put a lot of effort into making sure that the women have a generous prize purse and get equal attention in race build-up and presentations. This is a huge demonstration of good faith - now it's up to us chicks to show that we're worth it.

Things that have made me Ride Happy this month

Crikey! It's been a tough month. No, make that a tough year. Being injured, seeing people I love hurt and rider fatalities have made 2011 a toughie. It's made me grateful for a lot of things in life that once I would have overlooked. Here are some gems that have made me smile and ride happy this month:

  • A great Winter ride in the dry, getting my ass kicked on Tour de Burbs (Tues night edition). It was so good to be able to ride pain-free at intensity that I could overlook how much I was getting schooled by everyone else. Now to get some fitness... If you would like to come kick my ass yourself, please come along to the Chandler end of Kew Blvd Tuesday nights @ 7pm.
  • Discovering the joys of toe covers. Warm AND they protect my shiny white shoes. Vanity and utility for only $30.
  • Tour de France highlights! And parties! And live coverage! And tipping! ALL THE TIME! I love July.
  • Finishing my 'Get Massive Month'! I am officially massive. 3x week gym sessions for 6 or 7 weeks with my strength & conditioning coach Harry Brennan @ VIS has been great. Now to consolidate.
  • Getting less hip pain! Woohoo! Not out of the woods but getting there.
  • SNOW! Getting some xc ski action to whip my ass into shape.
  • Some awesome coffees at Bell Jar in Clifton Hill and Giant Steps in Healesville (en route to Lake Mountain). Every time I consider cutting down on caffeine they give me cause to reconsider.
  • Attending a Barrett Consulting business mentoring program @ VIS. Barrett Consulting has teamed with VIS to provide a series of seminars for athletes wanting to start a small business. The first one was last week and it was so inspiring to hear all the ideas from some of the other athletes. Look out, world!
  • Discovering frozen dim sum in my local Asian supermarket. Winner winner, chicken wonton dinner.
  • The iTunes University podcasts. For all you geeks out there.

What are your highlights?

New contact form

Just a quickie today guys to say that there is now a Contact form up on the site to enable you to send in your photos, letters to Lisa's Mum, questions for What Would Cipo Do? and general comments. I've tried to make it as quick and user-friendly as possible but let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement. It would be great to hear from you! The reader input I've had so far has been just awesome, and the more that comes in, the better Ride Happy will be!



Welcome to Ride Happy!

Welcome to Ride Happy! This is a first post and a touch experimental, so please forgive me for newness.

Ride Happy started as a blog charting my cycling exploits, on and off the bike.

This is me.

Despite my initial fears, we did eventually get the teeth marks out of my handlebar tape (photo: Greg Long Photography)

Last year, I spent a season in Europe on the Australian national team. It was awesome.

This year, I was minding my own business when I received a knock on the door from this character:

She made it clear that she was from Ride Happy and had come to help. She also knew Lisa's Mum and indicated that the two of them were now in charge.

She didn't give me her name so I've got to find one for her. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas. 

Ride happy

PS: A HUGE thanks to Niki Fisher who created the new Ride Happy logo! I didn't think it was possible to capture the essence of Ride Happy in a character but she's nailed it.