Liz Hatch, Brooke Gillott and Kerri Mowat all have other halves who race for three of the most powerful World Tour outfits of recent years: Team Sky’s Andy Fenn, Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Nic Dougall and Tinkoff’s Jay McCarthy. Ex-pro Liz settled in Italy after calling time on her racing career. Brooke and Kerri left jobs and university Degrees behind, packed a suitcase and followed their sweethearts to the other side of the world to chase a dream. There are many great accounts of racers’ lives chasing this dream. In the interests of balance, Always Riding went in search of the female perspective. And for the gossip, naturally…
Always Riding: So, how did the romance blossom for each of you?
Brooke Gillott: I was a photographer for the Queensland Academy of Sport. I was out taking pictures and ended up sat down next to Nic. When I got home I told my mum I had the met the man I was going to marry. I didn’t tell my boyfriend at the time though!
Kerri Mowat: Jay and I have been together since he started cycling, since high school. High school sweethearts…
Liz Hatch: Andy is practically my high school sweetheart as he is ten years younger than me!
AR: And this romance eventually led to the decision to up sticks and chase off around the world to follow your sweetheart’s dreams. Easy call or not so?
KM: When Jay first asked me I said no: I was at university, I wanted my own career, wanted to be an independent woman. I only really decided about a month before we moved. What changed my mind? It sounds so emotional, but, my Dad. He was helping me check my car, moaning at me for not filling up the oil, all the usual things. Then, in the middle of that – and he’s such an Aussie Guy, never emotional – he turns to me and says “Kerrie, just move to Italy. You can come back tomorrow if need be. Now, about this oil…” So, yeah, I just gave up everything and here I am!
BG: I was in the States working in San Francisco. Nic got offered a Neo-Pro contract, halfway through the season. We had about 3 weeks notice. He said “Look, I wouldn’t expect you to come too, we’ll just make it work”. He got on a plane and in the time it took for him to fly to Italy from San Francisco I’d sat down on the couch and watched all the episodes of Sherlock, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, just sat and thought about what I was going to do. By the time he had landed I’d decided: I’m doing it, I’m moving! It was a hard decision as it means I’m not using my Degree, I gave up the job I had – it continues to be in some ways but it’s also the best our relationship has ever been!
LH: For me it’s different, it’s a case of life has been here since I was about 28 after moving over to race. My parents back in the States now live in South Florida – I did not want to move back there!
AR: Was there a degree of culture shock at all?
BG: Bureaucracy in Italy: Big nightmare! They don’t have such thing as a queue or a number system here. There’s seventy five pieces of paperwork to do just one thing, then every time you go back, they ask you for a different piece of paperwork. Plus, Italians will always say ‘No’ first off. So you go along, you’ve got all the words, you’ve google translated it, you’ve practiced in front of the mirror, checked your forms and you go and stand in front of the counter and you say your piece that you’ve rehearsed and they say “No. Not possible – Next!” You just have to jump through hoops!
AR: Were you all big cycling fans beforehand? Perhaps it was different for you, Liz?
LH: I didn’t know anything! I just liked to cycle and race – there was not really any coverage so I had no idea!
BG: I grew up on the sport. My dad has been big time into cycling for as long as I can remember and is also a Commissaire. I don’t remember personally, but I’ve been told stories of me being three years old and screaming “Cipo, Cipo, Cipo!” at the TV – which is hilarious now as I see him riding through town with no shirt on all the time! My brother has raced at State Championship level and won everything and still races.
AR: How is it watching the menfolk racing? Exciting? Nerve-wracking?
LH: I don’t watch anymore – it’s too stressful. You watch how much effort they put into training and how crabby they are when they come home…
BG: I think it’s because it’s really hard to watch someone you love suffer so much, whether that’s suffering through the training or suffering through racing. And, of course, crashing. We watched Paris-Roubaix and Flanders this year on TV in their entirety and every time somebody went down it was Gasp! “Is that someone I know? Is that Andy? Is that Jay? Is it Nic?”. Every time, it’s that fear. I haven’t watched a race on TV since then. We watched Chris Juul-Jensen crash at Milan-San Remo last year, face first into a wall!
LH: Oh God yes! We thought Andy had caused it! They were coming down the Cipressa and Andy had been pulling into the climb – we thought he was still there – and the Sky guy crashes! Andy’s mother stands up and starts screaming “Andrew, Andrew!” But it was Puccio: Puccio crashed, not Andy. I had to then go upstairs, I couldn’t watch any more of it. Never watch with mother, ever!
My dad has been big time into cycling for as long as I can remember and is also a Commissaire. I don’t remember personally, but I’ve been told stories of me being three years old and screaming “Cipo, Cipo, Cipo!” at the TV.
KM: But, it can be fun too – when Jay won his stage in the Tour Down Under I was there and it was so cool! I mean, I never go to races because I’ll be working as I have my own life here too – maybe a couple of stages of the Giro– so to be there on the finish line when he actually won – he just looked up as he crossed the line and there I was, it couldn’t have worked out any better! But then, the commentator on the speakers said it was someone else who’d won, not Jay! It was so awful – I saw Jay, I just looked at him and thought “Oh no – it’s so embarrassing! Oh poor thing…” – he’d saluted the crowd and everything. But he just looked right at me and he was like “Kerri, I won – I know I won!”. Then they corrected the announcement and I just felt “Oh Thank God!”. It was the best feeling. Like the others have said, we watch them day in, day out; it was reward for the pain. To see reward for all the sacrifices the boys make and for it to be at home when it all came together…really cool.
LH: I’ve only been to one of Andy’s races here so far this year – and even then, I just went to pick him up.
AR: You mean like ‘Soccer Mom’, collecting him after the game?
LH: Haha! Yes – Exactly! With some oranges in the car!
AR: What about any favourite races for them to race?
LH: For Andy and I, the Spring Classics are it. I’ll watch the Tour – well, it goes on, I ignore all of it, I fall asleep until 5km to go then watch the finale. For us it’s the Spring Classics; Belgium is just a really special place to be at that time of year. There’s just this atmosphere. Watching a race out on the course is usually the worst way to see all of a race – except for the Spring Classics!
AR: What are the guys like to live with? Racing surely takes a toll and there’s that huge training volume…
KM: We’re basically unqualified therapists. Just all the day to day stuff, them having to get up rain, hail or shine – you just really get a respect for what they do. People still say to me “But what else does he do? Ok, he rides his bike – but what does he do for a job?” I mean, my God, they have no idea! They get so fatigued and I think we sometimes forget too just how much they have to give, every day. But then, it has to flip back and they realise how much we have to work as well. But sometimes you do forget how tired they get. When Jay got home from the Giro he was finished.
BG: He was asleep for four days solid. We threw a couple of parties, y’know, ‘Welcome home from the Giro, Jay’ parties and Kerri would turn up and say “Sorry – he’s been asleep all day, he’s still asleep, he can’t make it”
KM: Seriously, it kills him! He gets sick – not just tired, sick. You forget how much pressure it is on the body.
BG: Nic had a coach in Australia, Pat Jonker, who always said “If you’re walking, stand; if you’re standing, sit; if you’re sitting, lay down; if you’re laying down – go to sleep”. I think when you move in with someone it’s difficult to understand at first unless you’ve ridden professionally yourself. I’ll say to Nic “Ok, you’ve only been on a three hour ride today so let’s go walk the dog in the afternoon!” and he’s like “Errmm…No” To which I say “Yeah, but you’re not that tired, you only did three hours, not six!”. No. Not happening. Nic’s very good now- not so at first – with helping with housework, groceries, etcetera, but still very much abides by the whole ‘get home from training, eat, shower, eat, sleep, eat again’ – and then doesn’t move until he has to eat yet again! But, that’s the life we signed up for!
AR: Liz – being both a new mother and an ex-pro, do you perhaps have a level of empathy with the whole ‘baby crying in the night’ thing that maybe other new mothers may not have for their other halves?
LH: Oh, Andy didn’t get up once! I don’t think he’d wake up through a hurricane! But he’s not that precious really – OK, there’ll be times when he just needs to rest but we’ve always done stuff, he’s not that kind of guy who’s all “OK, I need to sit with my legs up, compression socks!”. I think they’re all different and it can be more of a mental response in some. Walking to the fridge is not really going to do that much when you’re so highly trained – a few footsteps of energy is nothing to you. I’m very grateful to Andy for that!
AR: What about their annoying habits then – leg hairs in the plughole?
KM: Hold on – who are we talking about now!? Actually, I make Jay shave his chest too…
BG: There needs to be two packets of razors in the house at all times: Pink packet and blue packet. And you do not touch the pink ones – ever! I don’t want to be going to use mine and finding it blunt!
LH: I’m a clean freak – but then Andy just goes and dumps his dirty kit on the floor! Sweaty, disgusting… euugh. Seriously, Andy, just throw it in the washing machine and I’ll handle it from there – I don’t wanna have to pick it up and put my hands in the ball sweat…
KM: Jay is the worst for just waking up at 3am: He’s waking up, he’s going downstairs, eating, he’s doing this, doing that, he’s staring at his bike… One time that always sticks in my mind is him coming back upstairs and saying “Babe, Kerri – where are the allen keys?” Seriously, like I ever use allen keys! It’s 4.15am! “But Babe, I can’t find them!” So I get up, walk downstairs and they are literally sat on the windowsill right next to his bike!
BG: If you ever have a question at 3am in the morning, call Jay. He’ll be awake. Especially if you have a food question, he’s watched every Food Challenge on Youtube…
KM: It’s ridiculous! Yet he still gets up and goes training…
BG: There was one time in our old, small apartment where the only place Nic could set up the indoor trainer was between the sofa and the TV. I was sitting on the sofa poking him during his intervals because he hadn’t put a mat or towel down beneath him for his three hour session on the turbo: If he thinks he’s going to sit and sweat onto my terracotta floors then I’m going to poke him and I’m going to pull his earphones out ‘cos he needs to remember that I am not mopping his sweat up!
LH: Andy used to do turbo in the hallway between our bedroom and the baby’s bedroom and sweat a lot. But this year, for Valentine’s Day, he went out and did it outside where I could just hose it all down – without me even having to ask! Happy Valentines!
Jay is the worst for just waking up at 3am: He’s waking up, he’s going downstairs, eating, he’s doing this, doing that, he’s staring at his bike… One time that always sticks in my mind is him coming back upstairs and saying “Babe, Kerri – where are the allen keys?”
AR: What about the bad aspects of the sport as a career?
KM: The uncertainty. The contracts. This goes back to them working so hard, yet when it comes to contract time it’s a case of “Well, what did he do this year?”. So there’s always this fight to do better and you never really know where you’re at. It’s at the end of the year; if you haven’t really done anything in the last two months it’s a case of “Sorry, bye!”. It’s that never really knowing. Cycling is a business and people want to make money. You see the mental pressure each year with the boys when it comes to contract time – that’s when I wish the sport would change.
BG: Yes, the uncertainty. I mean look at Nic, he’s had an injury for the last few months so it plays on your mind. It’s all about performance and we understand that, fine. But it’s hard when something like that happens, an over-use injury… I can’t make it better for him and all he can do is rest. He does this job because he loves it, being able to get outside and exercise, so being housebound is the most frustrating thing in the world. So I’d say the uncertainty – and them not being here! We’re alone a lot.
LH: They’re away a lot. But it is a great sport. It’s great seeing them when they win – like when Jay won this year I was “Yay! Jay won!”. You get to be friends with these people and care how they do, it’s a small community. Sure, with the guys and the contracts, it can be hard. But in many other walks of life you don’t get ten year contracts either; you could be a footballer or a garbage man and find you’re out of a job tomorrow ‘cos you’re shit at your job!
Andy used to do turbo in the hallway between our bedroom and the baby’s bedroom and sweat a lot. But this year, for Valentine’s Day, he went out and did it outside where I could just hose it all down – without me even having to ask! Happy Valentines!
BG: It’s the best and the worst – sure they go away but when they’re at home and they only have to go training for an hour, you’ve got them around for the rest of the day.
LH Also I kinda like it when they go away sometimes. Sometimes it’s like “He’s been home for six weeks! He needs to go race!” They just get kind of antsy, so ok, time for you to get on a plane, see you in a week or whatever…
BG: But – hey, it’s why we’re all here and it’s a once in a lifetime experience and only a tiny percentage of the population might get to have anything close to that
KM: And it doesn’t last forever! If Jay didn’t get a contract for next year we’d have to go home tomorrow. You learn to appreciate, as much as we’ve given up stuff it’s also a new opportunity – I’ve done things here I would never have done with my life in Australia. You can think about the negative aspects but I have to stop and just look around and it’s like “just get over yourself!”. This sport allows us to have time to grow as people and do things out of the ordinary which I’m so lucky to get to do – which I love!