When Emily Watts rides she starts a conversation.

Emily Watts is a young Australian cyclist with ambitions to reach the top and to inspire people in the process. She recently won the best young rider category at the Tour Down Under and rides for a team with a mission to advance women’s sport and promote positive mental health among the wider community.

Emily’s cycling career began on the quiet roads of Hartley on the edge of the NSW Blue Mountains, and the 21-year-old is now a familiar sight on her long, lonely training rides whenever she makes it back home.

While the dream of world championship and Olympic success dictates Emily’s strict daily routine, she is acutely aware of the need to ensure her general wellbeing and holistic development. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Education / PE Teaching at the University of Sydney and teaches swimming part-time, and is looking for a well-rounded World Tour team to join in the future.

“I’d like to ride for Canyon Sram or Trek Segafredo, because they seem to have the same values that I have. Each individual rider in the team is supported and they look like they enjoy being in the peloton, and it’s important for me to ride for a team with the right atmosphere.”

Emily is a General Classification rider with Knights of Suburbia, a team which actively promotes the wellbeing of its riders and the general community.

“KOS is a team with a strong meaning behind it. We’re a competitive cycling team and we race to win, but we’re more than that. The team was established with the specific goal of providing opportunities for female cyclists who don’t have the financial resources or other resources to race full time.

It’s also part of a community with a strong focus on supporting people through mental health struggles, and the values of the team align with my personal values. Everyone in this team is supported and this is something that I really enjoy about racing with them.”

KOS is aligned with the Love Me Love You Foundation, which promotes positive conversations about mental health and helps people through those challenges in life. The group runs social rides from Melbourne to Mt Isa, with the goal of bringing people together to remove the sigma around mental health and to promote wellbeing.

It also creates an extra element for the members of KOS.

“Riding for a team like this does carry more responsibility. The way we carry ourselves, the way we speak in public and the way we conduct ourselves is very important because when we pull on the jersey, we’re not just representing ourselves but also a community and the team which has a purpose. When we ride, we’re advocates for LMLY.”

Emily has also faced mental health issues in her own life, from specific challenges in elite sport to negotiating adolescence. As recently as January her mental fortitude and flexibility was tested.

“At the Tour Down Under, I was road captain on stage 1, which was a new responsibility for me. Normally I get pretty stressed before a stage, but this time I had to stay calm for the sake of the team and relax into the race.”

It worked, as Emily won the stage in a sprint against riders from some of the world’s best teams.

She also overcame challenges during high school.

“I went through mental health issues, some which affect all teenage girls going through high school like identity, and high academic expectations.”

Emily’s dedication to sport, and her passion for cycling, also caused some issues, even in a sports-mad nation like Australia where sports stars are adored.

“Some students saw my sport and dedication to cycling as bizarre and I was seen as a bit of a weirdo. There was definitely an aspect of tall poppy syndrome. It might also have been because I developed a greater sense of maturity than the average teenager, because when I was in high-school I was already racing and training with cycling squads and many of them were adults.”

“Or maybe it was just jealousy because I was beating the boys in the cross-country races.”

As a future secondary teacher, Emily is also very aware of mental health issues in teenagers, and in particular the impact of social media, especially because today’s elite athletes are required to have a presence on social media. They use social platforms not just to communicate with fans, but to promote themselves, their sport, their team and especially their sponsors.

“I’m very aware of the dangers of social media and how it affects young people. What matters is the way we use social media, and not putting everything on it, and being careful about what we see. For teenagers, it’s vital that they learn how to self-manage.”

Being a female athlete also forces Emily to spend more time on social media than she otherwise might.

“It’s also a bigger part of the sport in the women’s peloton because there’s not as much coverage of our races on TV or in the media in general. We need to be active on social media to get our story out there and to try to attract support for ourselves and our teams, and even for a foundation like LMLY.”

Images: Getty Images, Knights of Suburbia

Emily Watts is hungry for more success.

Emily Watts is chasing domestic and international success in 2022 after claiming the biggest win of her young career in January.

Emily won stage 1 of the Tour Down Under to start the year and also claimed the white jersey as best young rider. This followed bronze medals in the U23 Road Race and ITT at the national titles, and proves that she if fulfilling her undeniable potential.

Success at TDU preceded a block of training with the Podium Potential Academy in Adelaide on the track and the road, before reuniting with Knights of Suburbia teammates at the Tour of Gippsland.

Emily has won medals on the track at national level, but sees her future on the road and has mapped out a three-year-plan accordingly. Now that she has beaten some World Tour riders, she wants to join them.

“By 2025, I’d like to be riding for a World Tour team,” she said, while confirming that success at the World Championships and Olympic Games is the ultimate goal. The first step is to perform well on the National Road Series before heading overseas for the remainder of 2022.

“Winning the GC at the Tour of Tasmania is a major goal. I’m looking to learn as much as I can over the four days of the race, and combine this with what I learned at the TDU this year.”

One lesson was managing the added responsibility as road captain on stage 1 of the TDU.

“Normally I get pretty stressed before a stage, but this time I had to stay calm for the sake of the team and relax into the race.”

It clearly worked, as the KOS team planned their attack perfectly and launched Emily to the biggest win of her career in the bunch sprint, a result which surprised many, including Emily herself.

“I’m not a pure sprinter, I normally sprint well under load, but being an uphill sprint worked to my advantage over the pure sprinters. The win improved my confidence in sprinting, but If I did decide to become more of a pure sprinter, I’d have to change my training.”

The same is true of her climbing. She regards herself as a proponent of short, sharp, punchy climbs, and for that reason has her sights set on GC results in the long term.

Upon completion of the 2022 Australian racing season, Emily plans to travel to the United States to chase races, prize money and increased exposure in Criteriums and road races. If this objective is achieved, she will then head to Belgium in future years and into the heartland of international cycling.

“In Belgium there are races almost every day, plus a very high standard of racing and the chance to be noticed by some world tour teams.”

“I’d like to ride for Canyon Sram or Trek Segafredo, because they seem to have the same values that I have. Each individual rider in the team is supported and they look like they enjoy being in the peloton, and it’s important for me to ride for a team with the right atmosphere. This is what I feel riding for the Knights of Suburbia team as well.”

Despite planning to base herself in Belgium, Emily does not anticipate a career in Cyclocross.

“Cyclocross requires some pretty good bike handling skills and coordination. I don’t have very good hand-eye coordination, so maybe I shouldn’t ride Cyclocross,” she laughs, while also ruling out a career in AFLW:

“I’m studying a Bachelor of Education, PE Teaching, at Sydney Uni, and on a teaching practicum recently I had to teach the kids how to kick an AFL ball and, well, when I finally managed to kick it the kids all clapped and cheered.”

21-year-old Emily may have planned her career trajectory perfectly as the sport of women’s cycling continues to grow.

“By 2025, there might be more races for women,” she predicts.

“We already have the Giro d’Italia Donne and the women’s Paris Roubaix. I handled the gravel sections of some of the Aussie road races well, so who knows. This could mean more opportunities for female cyclists in general.”

Racing the Giro or the Hell of the North is a long way from the tiny town of Hartley on the edge of the NSW Blue Mountains where Emily grew up on the family property.

While a country childhood denied her the chance to train with a local squad on a daily basis, riding alone day after day helped to forge the self-discipline and mental strength that are vital to road cycling success. She is now a national U23 champion in the Individual Time Trial.

“I would get up at 5.30am to get in some training before going to school in Bathurst, and sometimes I’d leave my bike at the Principal’s house and then ride home to Hartley. I don’t remember exactly how long it would take, but I think it was about 60 – 70 km.”

“Plus, riding to places like the Jenolan Caves was enjoyable, and riding on the road to Oberon was hilly, so that developed my climbing skills.”

There was one ride, however, on which her father and younger sister would join her.

“To the Lolly Bug shop, because we could buy lollies halfway.”

Images: Getty Images

Instaworthy.

“I’m not surprised. I just don’t understand why.”

“So true Cody. Chaz Girewski can’t win, but he’s in the start hut for run 2.”

“This can’t be good.”

“Tyler, you’re track side, buddy, what’s happening?”

“Well Cody, I can’t get to Chaz because it’s absolute mayhem here. Officials, doctors, even other riders are all surrounding Chaz and, wait…someone just tried to take his bike off of him…but that’s not his bike, it’s Seth Daley’s, but Chaz won’t let it go, oh boy!”

“Tyler, is he wearing someone else’s helmet?”

“Yeah, that’s right, it looks like Sepp Bol’s helmet, guys it’s pure chaos here.”

“Thanks Tyler. Well folks, Slopestyle finals here at Crankworx Whistler have been stopped while they try to prevent Chaz Girewski from taking his second run, so let’s look back at the replay to see where it all went wrong.”

“Rider no. 4, Chaz Girewski, the Phoenix Phenom. 19 years old and one of the hottest Slopestyle riders on the planet right now.”

“Without a doubt Cody. He’s about to absolutely send it. He’s been posting amazing tricks on his insta @chazzyg lately and this could be epic.”

“Rolls into the first ramp, big air and a Can-Can with double Bar Spin and a Superman”

“Oh…My….God, did we just see that?”

“He’s hunting Emil Bjornssen’s 94.20 folks and he’s all in”

“2nd ramp, what’s he got?”

“Tsunami Backflip with a Tailwhip and a Cork 360 “

“No, this is insane!!!!!!”

“He’s killin’ it, Cody. He’s taking huge speed in to this final jump. Pushes hard into the ramp and rocks a Highland Fling up onto the Whale Tail”

“First time ever in competition. We are witnessing history!!!!!”

“Off the Whale Tail with a Nac-Nac into a Cash Roll and…”

“Oooooh, eeeeuuuwwww, yuk, no…”

“Oh no, that’s nasty”

“He’s slammed into the ground super hard and he’s not moving.”

“Doctors are on the course and holding his neck. Chaz is still not moving and there’s an eerie silence over this huge Crankworx crowd.”

“Let’s see what happened. Off the Whale Tail and then halfway through the Cash Roll he loses his rotation and we can see his foot off the pedal, then the rear wheel hits the lip hard and he flies over the handle bars.”

“Oh guys, this is hard to watch”

“In slowmo we see the visor snap and part of his helmet crack, his goggles fly off, snapped spokes and parts of his bike, I think it’s his brake mount, go spiralling into the air…”

“Wow, that’s nasty”

“We can see now that doctors are asking him to press on their hands”

“Well, that’s to check for a spinal injury, Cody”

“Wow”

“That’s how it happened folks, now we’re back live and Tyler is finally with Chaz in the start hut.”

“Chaz, buddy, that was a massive crash, you should be in hospital dude, what are you doin’ here?”

“I have to do that run again, I forgot to turn on my GoPro.”

Nancie Akinyi wins three in a row at the Migration Gravel Race.

Nancie Akinyi of Kenya has won her third straight stage at the Migration Grave Race after taking the fourth and final stage in 6:57:54 ahead of Dorien Geertsema in 7:22:15 and Betsy Welch in 7:26:15.

Akinyi raced with pure determination on the final stage. She trailed Welch by 20 minutes overall leading into the final day despite winning the Queen’s stage and the third stage, and left everything on the dusty gravel roads in the search for victory. She powered through the first feed station at 60km without stopping, knowing she had to make up a considerable deficit.

Welch arrived some time after Akinyi, and was forced to stop for mechanical advice.

“My chain fell off 8 times already,” she explained.

“I’m feeling ok but the clutch fell off when it’s on the low gear.”

After a snack, a drink and a chat with the mechanics, she set off after Akinyi with Spanish rider Marc Roig.

Geertsema and compatriot Mieke Luten arrived at the first checkpoint in high spirits.

“We saw a cheetah,” they beamed, “and an elephant.”

The Dutch pair have ridden together throughout the race but Geertsema had stronger legs at the end of the final stage and followed Akinyi across the line.

Ian Boswell wins stage 4 of the Migration Gravel Race.

Ian Boswell finally claimed victory at the Migration Gravel Race with a strong solo breakaway to finish ahead of a chase group containing the contenders for the podium. Boswell powered to victory in stage 4 just a few kilometres from the place where he struck disaster on stage 1 and lost his chances on winning overall.

“It took me 580 kilometres to find my terrain,” he said.

“Just about 5k from here is where I lost the chance in the overall at the start of the first stage with the mechanical, so to win here today does feel a little strange.”

“Today is the culmination of everything I’ve learned on this race. I’m now more familiar with the racing style here. Even near the end there I was cruising through cars and cattle and people on the road, so I just went up onto the grass to go around them. The great thing about this race is that anything can happen.”

Boswell and Laurens Ten Dam were the two clear favourites for the overall title. Boswell has ridden in all three grand tours and recently outsprinted Ten Dam at the Unbound Gravel race. Ten Dam placed in the top 10 at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. Boswell, however, lost about 1 hr and 30 minutes due to multiple mechanical failures on the first stage, and had to fight for a stage victory to redeem his race.

A large lead group established itself at the beginning of the final stage, and only broke up during the first climb. This is where Boswell seized his opportunity.

“Didier (Munyaneza) attacked on the climb and by the top he had a bit of a gap. I decided to go with him then pushed on. Didier dropped off on the descent and I decided to go for it once I had a gap. I knew it would take a lot of commitment for all of the chase pack to work together.”

The chase pack contained Ten Dam and Suleman Kangangi, who were the only two riders with a realistic chance of overall victory. It also contained a contender for the third podium spot, Kenneth Karaya, plus John Kariuki and Jordan Schleck. Geoffrey Langat, who won stage 3, was also within reach of third place overall, but he and Kato Paul punctured early in the stage and lost contact with the leaders.

Munyaneza eventually crossed the line behind the chase pack, and the Rwandan road cyclist was satisfied with his performance in his first ever gravel race.

“Boswell dropped me on the descent after the climb. This is my first gravel race so it was good for me to get experience against European riders. Next time, I’ll do more training for longer before the event. I will be stronger.”

Boswell enjoyed his last day on the gravel roads of the Maasai Mara.

“The last 50k or so was fast, with beautiful dirt roads. I saw two elephants and some wildebeest on the ride today, so it was a fun way to end it.”

Geoffrey Langat rocks to victory in the Migration Gravel Race.

Kenyan Geoffrey Langat attacked through a rock garden to win stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race ahead of four East African riders. Langat won in 4:34.22 ahead of Kenyan Riders teammate John Kariuki, who finished in 4:39.40 to lead home the chase group of compatriot Kenneth Karaya, Ugandan Jordan Schleck and Kenya’s Suleman Kangangi, plus Laurens Ten Dam and Ian Boswell.

Langat broke away from a group of seven riders in the final 20 kilometres when they confronted a rocky section of the otherwise smooth gravel road. The Kenyan battled through the rocks while the rest sought smoother lines off the side of the road, and he’d established a meaningful gap when the group rode back onto the rocks. A few minutes later, a herd of cows, then a flock of sheep, slowed the chasers, leaving some to wonder whether the local boy had arranged for the cattle to be herded onto the road.

Langat was soon nothing but a trail of dust to the chasing group.

The largest lead pack of the race so far stayed together for a long time on the fast, flat stage, and watched as wildebeest and zebra sprinted across the trails in front of them. A select group of five riders then formed, without overall leader Ten Dam. Boswell, Schleck, Kariuki, Kangangi and Langat sat about 3 minutes ahead of the Dutchman as the tailwind propelled them across the gravel. The three Kenyan Riders surged in an attempt to distance Ten Dam, but he worked with Karaya and both of them eventually clawed their way back to the front.

Ten Dam started the final stage with a lead of about 19 minutes over Kangangi. Thomas Dekker and Karaya are 57 minutes behind, while Langat and Boswell are about 1 hr 20 minutes off the leader. The battle for the bronze is particularly interesting.

Stage 4 is 160km long and features 1600m elevation. What will it do to the podium?

Nancie Akinyi wins a wild stage of the Migration Gravel Race.

Nancie Akinyi sped to her second consecutive victory during stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race on a day when riders crossed paths with Kenya’s famous wildlife. Akinyi finished ahead of Betsy Welch and may have set herself up for overall victory.

Akinyi and Welch rode together for the first hour before back pain slowed Welch. Akinyi then broke away from the American and the Dutch pair of Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten, as ostrich, zebra and wildebeest sprinted across the flat and dusty roads right in front of the riders. The Kenyan took advantage of the tailwind to maintain a consistently high pace and successfully weaved her way through the cattle, goats and sheep which blocked the road throughout the day.

Reflecting on the first 3 stages, Welch said her arms hurt more than her legs, and re-ignited an old debate when she asked:

“Should I have brought a mountain bike?”

Riders were invited to see two goats slaughtered in their honour by their Maasai hosts after the stage. Some accepted, some declined. The fate of the goats reflected the harsh reality of rural Kenya, something riders will again experience on the 4th and final stage.

Who will stand on top of the podium in the inaugural Migration Gravel Race?

Follow the action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace

Who will win the Migration Gravel Race?

The winner of the inaugural Migration Gravel Race will be crowned on today’s fourth and final stage through the Maasai Mara region of Kenya. Laurens Ten Dam and Suleman Kangangi will fight for victory in the men’s category, while the women’s race is a showdown between Nancy Akinyi and Betsy Welch. The fight for bronze will be just as fascinating on the 162km stage with 1600m elevation.

Ten Dam leads Kangangi after the Dutchman won the first two stages and rode strongly in stage 3 to regain contact with the leaders after numerous mechanicals saw him dropped. Kangangi and his Kenyan Riders teammates Geoffrey Langat and John Kariuki attacked Ten Dam, but could not break him.

Akinyi has now won two stages after Welch took stage 1. Akinyi has looked stronger as the race continues and has been too fast for her rivals…when she stays on the course. She got lost on stage 1 and 2, but showed enough strength to catch and then pass the other women in the field. Meanwhile, Welch is battling her own mind as she constantly asks herself whether or not she cares about winning, and whether or not she is competitive. Now is the time to decide.

Ian Boswell and Langat battle for third position. Boswell lost more than one hour to the leaders on a horrid first stage, but has clawed his way back on the subsequent stages to challenge Thomas Dekker and Kenneth Karaya who sat in 3rd and 4th before stage 3.

Langat is looking very strong after powering away to win the flat and fast stage 3, while Boswell is yet to win a stage after taking out the recent Unbound Gravel race in the US. Boswell has ridden in all three grand tours, but Langat employed his local knowledge and inherent toughness to escape from the lead group in the rock garden on stage 3, and leave his rivals in the dust. Jordan Schleck, Edwin Keiya and the Masaka Cycling Club duo of Wasswa Peter and Kato Paul could also fight their way onto the podium.

The Dutch duel.

Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten will contest the final podium position in the women’s category. The duo from the Netherlands have ridden together and supported each other during the first three brutal stages and were locked on the same overall time entering stage 3.

Will they cross the line together, or will competitive instincts kick in and prompt one of them to attack?

Follow the final day’s action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace

Boswell is back.

Ian Boswell is fighting for a podium position in stage 3 of the Migration Gravel Race, while an intriguing battle between Nancie Akinyi and Betsy Welch awaits. Boswell finished second behind overall leader Laurens Ten Dam in stage 2 after a disastrous first day, and is chasing Suleiman Kangangi and Thomas Decker on the 130km stage which involves 1300m of climbing.

Akinyi rode powerfully to win the Queen’s stage and now sits about 28 minutes behind Welch after the American won stage 1. Dutch duo Dorien Geertsema and Mieke Luten occupy 3rd and 4th position, and are locked at exactly the same time. The pair have ridden together throughout the race and will have to decide at some point who claims a spot on the podium.

Stage 3 is shorter and flatter than stage 2, but stage 1 taught riders to assume nothing and avoid complacency on the rough gravel roads of the Maasai Mara region.

Ten Dam extended his overall lead with victory in stage 2. Kangangi is 19.07 behind, with Dekker and Kenneth Karaya 57 minutes back. 1.19.30 separates Boswell from Ten Dam.

Akinyi and Welch appear to be the only contenders for the overall title in the women’s race, as Geertsema and Luten are about 2 hrs and 25 min behind Welch. But this is Africa, there are two tough stages remaining and anything can happen, as Boswell proved on stage 1 when multiple mishaps destroyed his day.

11 of the top 15 riders in the men’s field are from East Africa, while riders from Kenya and the Netherlands are expected to medal in the men’s and women’s categories. Will the USA also grab podium positions in both categories?

Boswell won Unbound Gravel in the US recently, outsprinting Ten Dam at the finish. He has ridden all three grand tours and has the pedigree to challenge any rider in the field. He currently sits in 5th overall, 1 hour from Kangangi, but only about 22 minutes behind Thomas Dekker in 3rd. Kenyan Geoffrey Langat also made a big move on stage 2, and at only 23 minutes behind Dekker, he will also threaten for a medal.

What will Boswell do in stage 3?

Follow the action at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com, and http://www.instagram.com/migrationgravelrace.

Which dot have you got?

Who are you tipping to win the first ever Migration Gravel Race? Who will conquer the gravel roads of Kenya and emerge victorious on June 26 after 4 days of gruelling, dusty, hot and challenging riding?

Ian Boswell

Laurens Ten Dam

Thomas Dekker

or one of the African men?

Mieke Luten

Dorien Geertsema

or a woman with inside knowledge of local roads, such as April Kelley or Nancy Akinyi?

Stage 1 has just started and 61 riders set off from Naretoi Estate, and are making their way through Enonkishu Conservancy.

Follow the dots at http://www.migrationgravelrace.com.

Image: Vermont Social