Sometimes, knowing exactly what you are, and what you represent, can be your greatest asset as a team.
I don’t really like pigeon holing things, but in cycling its inevitable, I’ve seen lots of teams muddle their ideals and confuse their agendas by not really getting to grips with why they exist in the first place. This doesn’t ever bode well for their long term survival.
One team that definitely bucks this trend and frankly revels in it’s identity is Les Filles. An all female squad that has entered its 6th year of existence and by all accounts is stronger than ever.
Led by the no nonsense micro tyrant Nicole ‘Captain’ Oh, the team runs as any other with the exception that all riders are full time employed in various occupations, all are old ‘enough to know better’ and none hold aspirations of racing for a living. They seem revere cake above pasta, prosecco over protein shakes and fun above all else. Yet remarkably this all culminates in some head-scratchingly brilliant results and a competitive spirit that leaves rivals more than a little intimidated come race day. Bike racing is an all encompassing lifestyle, but not the be all and end all, Les Filles seem to have found a very happy balance.
These ladies have left a trail of laughs, destruction (metophorically speaking) and results that have elite teams slack jawed.
Maybe its a little unfair to compare elite squad ideals with those of established amateurs in the sense that Les Filles is not having to juggle sponsorship requests, rider development and team structures, but its a massive eye opener to how things ‘can’ be for any team. Basically, don’t get hung up on having sponsors, don’t worry so much about free shit, don’t be intimidated, don’t let age be an excuse, get out there, ride as a team, eat cake, enjoy your racing.
We grabbed five minutes with Nicole to get her take on their team and the current state of play in womens cycling, hit it!
I don’t like to use the ‘F’ word, but sometimes it is necessary
Nic, how ya doing, how was the holiday? (Nicole has recently returned from her homeland Australia)
Good thanks. It’s good to keep tabs on the homeland. I ate ALL the food, didn’t put on weight, and have a wicked tan. What’s not to love?
Seeing as we are worried you may be planning a return to Oz, tell us your favourite things about being back?
Hmmm, I’ll get back to you on that one. In March. When I head to Girona (for training camp)!
Your beloved ‘Tuesday Secret Chaingang’, you are a bit of a tyrant on those aren’t you?
There are a lot of people who need some #helpfuladvice. They are usually male. I’m sure they’ve watched the Tour de France, don’t they know how a chaingang works? The chaingang wouldn’t have to be secret if people didn’t ride like dicks… in the dark… in traffic… often on wet roads… in winter. I don’t like to use the ‘F’ word, but sometimes it is necessary.
Your team seems to hold a unique place in the UK road scene, you occupy a space between pro and club, was this always the intention?
Basically, I started the team because I wanted a bunch of like-minded people who just wanted to race, and race as a team. I wouldn’t have even branched out on my own had I not had a bit of a disagreement/fight with my cycling club. We had some crazy (very talented) rider in our first year called Alexie Shaw (also one with a foul mouth) who wanted to do everything – Tour Series, National Series, National Champions etc, which is how ended up racing at that level. Oh, and we wanted nice kit!
How are you guys percieved within the peloton, one minute doing a local crit the next your are lining up at the Tour Series or a National road race.
I’m not sure what people think of us sometimes. Some people think we’re a bunch of pissheads (not entirely untrue). I’m sure some people think we’re a bunch of loudmouths (also not entirely untrue). But our team is very friendly and happy to help less experienced riders out, and we do put a huge emphasis on just having fun, so I think in general, we do have respect in the peloton.
What demands are made of the team riders?
There is only one demand – that you race, and that you are capable and willing to race at National level. We are a race team after all. Other than that, anything goes, people can be as much or as little involved in all the social events and banter (for which there is plenty). Oh, and that you reply to my emails, on time. Or else!
I know you guys have had a close relationship with Imperial Cycles and for this year you are supported by Queen of the Mountains clothing, you even have a pizza named after you at The Dynamo (local restaurant). How do you go about creating relationships with sponsors?
Sponsorship is a funny thing. Like your riders, I think you also need to choose your sponsors carefully, and you don’t want to ever rely on sponsors to support the existence of your team. Being the type of team we are, we can all afford to fund our own racing should we need to, although having some help financially is always appreciated. Also, being all old and in full-time employment, we want to choose the bikes we ride and equipment we use and can afford to pay for it. I tend to only go with sponsors who are small businesses, with a good ethos that fits well with ours, who want to support women’s cycling, which will be mutually beneficial. My rule is that if the sponsorship is going to be excessively time consuming or a hassle to me, I won’t go with it. I don’t have time for that. I have a full time job.
What are the team’s goals for the season?
We don’t have any set performance goals. Of course we like to win stuff. There are a few team time trials we would like to win. No doubt we will also be out at Palace in force. There are a few National Series races which we will treat as a good weekend away. I’m not sure anyone is that concerned with their actual results.
Running a team must be pretty all consuming, how do you juggle the demands of a team, a job and your own racing agenda?
I have a flexible job, that is also related to cycling, I’m a Cycling Physio, so they kind of interact. I am also very organised. That helps. It also helps that everyone in my team is also my friend, so races are also social events where you get to ride your bike fast and hang out with your mates.
Here’s a tricky question, how does someone apply to become a ‘Les Filles’?
You either ask to be in the team, or you are asked if you want to be in the team. Basically, I have to like you. That’s about it. Of course you also have to be willing and capable of racing at National level (see above), and be a team player. No one has ever got into the team by sending me a race CV. Most new members already have some connection with the team – they may have guested for us in the past, or hung out with us at races, or know some members of the team already. I think the most important thing about sustaining a team is picking the right riders in the first place, and that has more to do on personality than ability. Also, I tend to know most people in the UK women’s peloton, and will know what type of rider you are anyway.
Do you have any advice for teams trying to get established?
Decide what type of team you want to be, then choose your riders carefully. Make sure there is someone passionate and organised running the show – most teams fall apart because they lose their management, sponsorship or riders. Show up to race in numbers, then people will remember you even if you don’t win.
Where do you see the local scene and specifically women’s racing, is it all good in the hood are are there some short comings?
It’s definitely all good, and has grown massively in the 6 or 7 years I have been racing. There are plenty of good 2/3/4 and 3/4 races on now and the numbers to fill them. At the top level, National Series races are now often paired with a men’s Prem calendar race, or whatever they are called now, they get coverage on Eurosport, and I think there is fairly equal prize money. Perhaps there are not many road races available for E/1s outside of the National Series and Team Series, but if you don’t want to travel the country and race those races, don’t get your 1st cat licence. It’s not that hard to avoid – just don’t do lots of midweek races, or stop racing when you get to c.180 points!
A few quick fire questions for you;
Lincoln GP and the Nocturne
Best cake stop
Lamingtons at Bletchingly
Bernie Eisel and Emma Johansson (except she has now retired and is about to have a chid)
We enjoy any time we get to hang out with you guys, thanks so much for your time Nicole, see you at the races and all the very best for the season!
Check out more on Les Filles here:
And definitely check out these guys: