September 3/08 5:49 am - Interview with Leigh Hobson
Posted by Editoress on 09/3/08
Leigh Hobson Interviw
by Anne Guzman
As a female involved in the bike racing world I always find it exciting to try to learn from the best athletes. In Ontario we are fortunate to have several professional cyclists who are still racing or retired. I have decided to get in touch with two of our retired professional female cyclists to get some insight on life as a professional female cyclist. Both Leigh Hobson and Amy Moore have been kind enough to spend time with me to share some of their experiences, in order to help other female racers. First off is an interview with Olympian Leigh Hobson. I hope that these interviews can be both inspiring and helpful in your journey through bike racing. Stay tuned for part two with retired T-Mobile racer Amy Moore! Thanks for reading.
Anne Guzman: 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!
AG: Obviously you planned to retire at the end of this season. Was that your plan regardless of Olympic team placement? 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. They gave me an extended leave of absence, and I really wanted to return to the same school. I made that decision very early on in my comeback to cycling...it helped me have a specific goal and timeline.
AG: 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, took 2 years completely off in the middle...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 for a running race until that weekend when 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.
AG: That is a great story to tell! 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...he put in a good word for me and opened a lot of doors!).
AG: What were the struggles, if any, that you faced when transitioning 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...
AG: As far as teams are concerned, did you find most teams to be organized? What was your best team experience? Why?
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 favorite team was Cheerwine...primarily because we had a solid core of amazing women who were committed to the team and to each other.
AG: Yes, that was a very successful run you had with Cheerwine and it was one of the most aggressive teams in the peloton. You did seem to have great chemistry. So, how did your goals change from the early parts of your career to later on? When did you decide you were going to try to 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 on 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 for 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.
AG: For Canadian Women, the Olympic selections seemed very late. What are your thoughts on how this may have impacted the qualifiers? Would this not mean that contenders would have to peak in March, April, May and June at World Cups in order to try to get an Olympic spot? And then again in August for the Games? Thoughts?
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 the athletes chosen to be going well the year of the Games (not necessarily those who might have gone 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 - ie, Nationals and Worlds).
AG: 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.
AG: To give local female racers an idea, how would you compare the difference between racing locally and racing NRC or European Races?
LH: Local racing is very different than 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/positive race. Each person can only do so much on their own. The second way it's different is that women of all different levels from beginner to elite race the same race...that's crazy if you think about doing the same thing in any other sport.
AG: 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!
AG: I think you nailed it on the last part about keeping the love for the sport alive in ways that it works for you. Often it seems we get so focused on goals that the joy disappears. It seems the most successful cyclists still have fun with it. Good point, Leigh.
How important would you say it is that a racer is willing to give up their glory for the TEAM's success. Do you find even at the 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.
AG: Is there money in women's cycling?
LH: Relative to other professional sports, there is very little money in women's cycling.
AG: If you could look back now on your career and do one thing differently what would it be and what advice can you give on that?
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.
AG: Was there a change in your training that really seemed to correspond to a change in your performance at any point in your career, 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 and my philosophies coincided really well. 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.
AG: 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.
AG: Yes I can see how that could get frustrating. Good thing you decided to come back! Do you plan to stay involved in cycling? 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 GRCI (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.
AG: Plans from here? What is next for Leigh Hobson?
LH: I started back teaching full time at GCI Tuesday...it'll be one day at a time from there!
AG: Okay...quick word association. Don't think, just answer the first thing that comes to mind...one to two word answers only....ready???
Favorite Race: Tour de Thuringen
Best Cycling Memory: Epic winter rides with good friends
Your Biggest Fan: My mom
Favorite Post Race Food: Fruit smoothies
Bang for your buck training: Criteriums!!
World Champion 2008? Trixi Worrack
Favorite Bike raced on? Orbea
Feeling at the end of Olympic RR? at ease
Thanks for your time Leigh, we hope that you will keep us posted if you remain involved in the sport.
Anne Guzman is a member of Team Kenda Tire