ROAD cycling may seem like an individual sport, but for professional cyclist Jessie Maclean and the other members of Orica-AIS, teamwork is everything.
Orica-AIS is Australia’s first professional women’s cycling team to compete internationally, formed in 2011 as one half of a venture that includes the Orica-GreenEDGE men’s team.
The women’s team is number one in the world, and Jessie puts their success down to strong camaraderie.
“We really value the team culture and that’s why we get so much success; we’re willing to really put it on the line for each other,” she says, having just pedalled to the AIS in 40C heat to speak with “CityNews”.
“Everybody’s got their role and they understand that, and they know that their role is valued and we work together really well.”
Orica-AIS recently demonstrated the well-oiled machine it is at the National Road Championships, with the team’s other Canberran Gracie Elvin winning for the second year in a row.
“Kathy Watt’s the only other woman to have done that,” Jessie points out. “It was a real team effort and we’re all really proud of it; we all really share in each other’s victories.”
This week, the tight-knit group has been braving the South Australian heat in the Santos Women’s Cup and in February they’re heading off to the Ladies’ Tour of Qatar.
It’s a lot of fun travelling all over the world as part of the team, which is based in Varese, Italy, but of course it requires immense physical and mental strength to deal with extremes of heat and cold, hillclimbs from hell and, of course, the inevitable crashes, while staying focused over countless kilometres.
“An easy week would be about 300km – and that’s really easy – and then we do up to and over 800km in a big week,” Jessie says, leaving the “CityNews” team slightly stunned.
Now in her late twenties, she was encouraged to try cycling in high school through the talent identification program, cut her teeth with some other newbies in the Canberra Cycling Club, and won a scholarship to the ACT Academy of Sport in her late teens.
She excelled on the track and was the Junior World Pursuit Champion in 2003, the same year she graduated from Dickson College.
She moved to road cycling and won the Amy Gillett Scholarship in 2006, “but it wasn’t a good year,” she recalls.
“I was pretty sick so I didn’t get to go overseas and race in Europe, which is what the Amy Gillett Scholarship provides.”
Next, Jessie moved to the US and raced with a small team in Philadelphia called Verducci. It was a lot of fun but after four years, Europe was calling.
“I came back home and really wanted to step it up a notch,” she says, recalling the brutal “boot camp” she survived in 2011 to join the Australian national team.
“You can’t just go from Australia and race in the World Champs. You have to race in Europe first, because it’s really different racing, so that year I raced with the national team, proved my worth and got selected in the team for the World Championship.”
After that, she signed a contract to ride professionally for Orica-AIS, and has since represented Australia in a second World Championships.
In the team, it’s not her job to sprint across the line and claim the glory. Her specialties involve working up the front of the pack early on, and throughout the race as a “domestique” to help the team’s best-placed rider.
“In some races you might go back and get bidons [water bottles] or sit on the front and chase down a breakaway, or your role might be to attack and make the race harder for somebody else, or just look after your lead rider in the bunch,” she says.
She finds it very rewarding, and is widely recognised within the sport as being very good at it.
This year, Jessie hopes to be among the six women to ride for Australia at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but no matter what happens, you can be sure she’ll be enjoying herself and doing her part to keep Orica-AIS on top.