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Interview with Olympian Leigh Hobson

September 4, 2008 – As a female involved in the world of bike racing I always find it exciting to try to learn from the best riders. In Ontario we are fortunate to have several professional cyclists who are still racing or retired. I decided to get in touch with two retired female pro cyclists to get some insight into the life of a professional bike rider.

Both Leigh Hobson and Amy Moore have been kind enough to spend the time to share some of their experiences to help other female racers expand their knowledge. First off is an interview with Olympian Leigh Hobson. We hope that these interviews are both inspiring and helpful in your journey through bike racing. Stay tuned for part 2 with retired T-Mobile racer Amy Moore! Thanks for reading.

Congratulations Leigh on your Olympic accomplishment! How do you feel now that it is over and you are back home?
Leigh Hobson: I think it’s going to take more time to sink in that it’s actually over…especially now that I’m right back to teaching. It’s been great seeing everyone again and sharing stories from Beijing. The students are really excited about it!

You planned to retire at the end of this season – was that your plan regardless of your Olympic team selection? If so when did you decide this was your last season?
LH: Yes, I’d planned to return to teaching as soon as this season was over. I really wanted to return to the same school and they had given me an extended leave of absence. I made that decision very early on in my comeback to cycling… it helped me have a specific goal and timeline.

How long have you been racing your bike in total? What was it that first got you involved in cycling?
LH: I began racing in 1995 and took two complete years off in the middle of my career… so that would be about 11 years in total. I had been competing in triathlons during university. I heard about a road race at Hidden Valley Road and was all ready to sign up, believing it was a running race, until that weekend arrived and I realized it was road cycling – so I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it try. My dad came with me to the race (he used to race himself).

Because I had the mindset of pacing myself (from running), I asked my dad to time my laps and yell out my splits. He gave me this incredulous look and said: “If they go hard, you go hard!” I took his advice, and hung on to the finish of my first novice race. The sponsor of the race, Ziggy’s , gave me a jersey to wear instead of my tri-top I was racing in. I joined the club that fall and the rest is history.

That is a great story! At what point did you turn professional?
LH: I raced for my first professional team in 1997. Shaklee from California took me on for the spring (thanks to Eric Wohlberg who put in a good word for me and opened a lot of doors)!

What were the struggles you faced when you transitioned into a full time racer?
LH: There were lots of challenges during this transition: Getting results in order to prove myself to the “professional” managers of the US trade teams; finding the balance between working to pay the bills and training full-time to get results; aiming to peak at Nationals so that I’d be selected for National team projects….

As far as teams are concerned, did you find most teams to be well organized and what was your best team experience?
LH: Each team was different. Some had larger budgets than others, some had better managers than others, and some had better riders than others. By far my favourite team was Cheerwine, primarily because we had a solid core of amazing women who were committed to the team and to each other.

How did your goals change as you matured as a rider, and when did you decide to try and make the Olympic team?
LH: When I first began to race, I wasn’t as focused on the long term goals. Finding your way in this sport can be a complicated process. I was very focused on getting personal results for the National team and finding a trade team to ride with that had goals which coincided with my own. When I returned to cycling, I had a very specific goal of trying to make the Olympic team with a very specific timeline. But I was also more relaxed about racing… I enjoyed it more, and I think that helped a lot.

The Canadian women’s Olympic selections seemed very late i.e. contenders had to peak from March to June at World Cups to get selected and again in August for the Games – what are your thoughts on this process?
LH: The Canadian women had about a year and a half to make the Olympic Pool of athletes vying for the three Olympic spots. If you were in the pool, you could then focus your season around the Olympics. I think it was important for the final qualifiers to be selected just prior to the Olympics. Cycling can be so up and down… you want riders that are doing well the year of the Games (not necessarily those who have done well in the past). Yes, it meant that we had to peak in the spring and in August (but it’s not uncommon for cyclists to have two peaks a year i.e. Nationals and Worlds).

It seems Nicole Cook was able to focus all season on the Olympics… do you think this was advantageous?
LH: I think it definitely helped.

How would you compare the difference between racing locally and racing at NRC or European races?
LH: Local racing is very different from NRC and European racing primarily because of the size of the peloton. When you have more women and full teams, everyone shares the job of making it a fast, exciting, and positive race. Each person can only do so much on their own. Another difference is that women of all levels from beginner to elite compete in the same race… that’s crazy if you think about doing the same thing with any other sport.

What suggestions would you give to women who want to race professionally today?
LH: Be realistic about the challenges, but don’t let them deter you from pursuing cycling on a professional level. If you really want it bad enough, you’ll be persistent and the doors will open. Have short-term goals along the way to help you keep your motivation when things don’t seem to be going the way you want them to. But most of all, keep your love for the sport alive in the ways that work for you!

I think you nailed it on the last part. It seems the most successful riders still have fun. How important is it for a racer to give up their personal glory for a team’s success? Do you find that top racers are still selfish in this way?
LH: One of the most fulfilling parts of cycling is to contribute to the success of a teammate, and ultimately the success of the team. When the trust and team dynamics are there, a team that works together is MUCH stronger than one that has all riders working for their own result. Because there is not a lot of money in women’s cycling (relative to other professional sports), the incentive to work as a team comes down to the rider’s feeling of security on that team… be it financial, social or emotional. Everyone on the team needs to feel valued and needs to have the opportunity to fulfill her own goals as well as the team goals. It’s a definite challenge in women’s racing.

Is there money in women’s cycling?
LH: Relative to other professional sports, there is very little money in women’s cycling.

If you could look back now on your career and do one thing differently what would it be, and what advice would you offer?
LH: Looking back, I would have taken more control over my season. When I was starting out, I didn’t really plan my training very well. Some years I would race and race and race because the National team gave me the opportunity. My results weren’t always that good because I didn’t give myself the chance to recover and peak at planned times. It was definitely a learning experience… hindsight is always 20/20.

Was there a change in your training that seemed to correspond to a change in your performance, or was it gradual improvement?
LH: When I returned to cycling, I found a really good coach (Frank Fogolin). I’d had some very good coaches in the past and learned a lot from them, but Frank’s philosophies coincided really well with mine. He was the right person for me at this point in my career. Over the four years we worked together, we learned a lot from one another and were really able to pin my training and racing – so well that I had the best season of my life in my final year of racing.

What was the biggest setback you ever faced and how did you overcome it?
LH: I broke my collarbone four times in two years. It was very tough because it felt like my fitness was always being set back. I think it was one of the factors that contributed to my taking a hiatus from the sport in 2000. I had a plate put in my collarbone, started teaching and changed my focus for a little while.

Good thing you decided to come back! Do you plan to stay involved in cycling and if so, how?
LH: Definitely! On a personal level, I’ll keep riding for fitness. I hope to do some mountain bike enduro type racing with my husband and friends. On a less personal level, I hope to start a mountain bike team at GCI – as I did previously at GRCI during my first break from the sport. I’d also like to advocate for cycling as a means of transportation in our community.

Plans from here — what’s next for Leigh Hobson?
LH: I start back teaching full time at GCI tomorrow. It’ll be one day at a time from there!

Okay, quick word association. Don’t think, just answer the first thing that comes to mind.

Favorite race?
LH: Tour de Thuringen.

Best cycling memory?
LH: Epic winter rides with good friends.

Your biggest fan?
LH: My mom.

Favorite post-race food?
LH: Fruit smoothies.

Bang for your buck training?
LH: Criteriums!

World Champion 2008?
LH: Trixi Worrack.

Favorite bike raced on?
LH: Orbea.

Feeling at the end of Olympic road race?
LH: At ease.

Thanks for your time Leigh. We hope that you will keep us posted if you remain involved in the sport.
LH: Thanks.

Anne Guzman rides for Team Kenda Tire and races locally for Mazurracing.com.

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