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

Retired sprint cyclists to donate their muscles to charity.

Professional sprint cyclists will donate their unwanted leg muscles to charity upon retirement to give recreational riders a new level of speed and power.

“Retired cyclists don’t need their leg muscles,” announced a spokesperson for the charity.

“This initiative allows those riders to donate their muscles to a recreational rider and to see those muscles re-used. Sprint cyclists work extremely hard to build their extraordinary muscles so it is great to see those muscles will not go to waste. It’s also another way for cyclists to give back to their sport.”

Thousands of local riders have already signed up for the program, and have requested muscles from one track star in particular.

“Robert Forstemann.”

“Every local rider wants Quadzilla’s thighs. Even though he’s still competing, he has promised to donate them to the charity when he retires from international competition. The muscles are so big we actually plan to divide them and distribute them to about 10 different people – no single amateur rider can handle thighs that big.”

“We’re also offering Thighs of the Realm, from Sir Chris Hoy and Elis Ligtlee, who is a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau. Muscles were also donated by Shane Kelly, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, plus Kristina Vogel, Anastasia Voynova and the recently retired duo of Stephanie Morton and Anna Meares.”

Road cyclists have also agreed to participate in the program. German sprinter Andre ‘Gorilla’ Greipel will donate his calf muscles when he retires to concentrate on his singing career. Dylan Groenewegen and Erik Zabel are offering their pistons, and Mario Cipollini’s muscles come with a free waxing and tanning kit.

Each set of muscles comes with a diet and workout guide to help maintain the muscles, as well as a free pair of custom-made jeans which will actually fit over the ample legs.

The program is so popular organisers are requesting muscles from current riders, and may expand the program’s remit to include other body parts.

“We’ve made contact with Peter Sagan, whose muscles have been requested by road cyclists, sprinters, puncheurs and mountain bikers. Marianne Vos, Wout van Aert and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot have been swamped with requests, and everyone wants Mathieu Van der Poel’s legs, heart, lungs…

Image: http://www.gettyimages.com