Contributed by Ashley Gruber
The women’s Giro d’Italia ran from the first to the tenth of July and should have been decided over two decisive days in the mountains around Tirano. Unfortunately, there was nothing doing against a truly dominant Marianne Vos, who ran rampant across Italy from start to finish over the week and a half lap of Italy.
The 120-kilometer Stage 7 took in the infamous Mortirolo. The women were fortunate to take in the somewhat more manageable ascent from Edolo, but it was on the descent that the race would truly be decided. Vos rode a technically perfect free fall down a 12% average paved goat path to put big time into all her rivals.
Carla Ryan played an instrumental part in this stage. She forged ahead early with a powerful, well-represented break. While the escapees would not ultimately be successful, Ryan was in a prime place to help her teammate and eventual 2nd overall finisher, Emma Pooley, towards the top of the Mortirolo.
Both Ryan and Pooley’s combined efforts would ultimately prove fruitless against the demon descender, Vos, but their rides were excellent.
The next day, Stage 8, was only a seemingly short 70 kilometers, but most of it was painfully uphill, culminating with the seventeen switchbacks to the two ancient stone towers of the Torri di Fraele, which served as Bormio’s outermost defenses in the mountains starting in the 14th century. Garmin-Cervelo’s Pooley would get her revenge on Vos in Stage 8 after another great individual and team effort, but Vos was right there at Pooley’s heels.
Carla Ryan and Sharon Laws approach the Torri di Fraele.
Well before those two hot days in the mountains in July, Garmin-Cervelo previewed the stages. Emma Pooley, Carla Ryan, Noemi Cantele, Jessie Daams, and Sharon Laws arrived to a cloudy Tirano to take a closer look at this year’s Giro Donne climax. The women will tackle the Mortirolo from the eastern side starting in Edolo. From there, it’s 17.1-kilometers at an average of 6.8% to the top of the pass, 1160 meters higher.
The day began under bright and sunny skies, but soon after an extremely short warm-up and the start of the day’s first climb to Aprica, the blue skies turned dark, and the rain began to fall. Pooley pushed the pace from the base of the climb, and quickly shed all company – tearing upward at a tremendous clip. Behind, her teammates pushed forward through the rain and to the waiting team car, nestled under a gas station roof in Aprica.
Team sponsor, Castelli, has produced some impressive wet weather gear in the last couple of years, and every bit of it was put to use as riders prepared for the descent to Edolo and the final climb of the day to the Mortirolo. NanoFlex arm, knee, and leg warmers were donned as well as waterproof Gabba Jackets and the full on Pocket Liner rain jacket.
The descent to Edolo was greeted by more rain, but the rain that had fallen so far in the day was put to shame as the riders turned left on to the stretch of pavement that would take them to the Passo del Foppa, more popularly known as the Mortirolo.
The pace was a bit more humane on the second and final climb of the day – with Cantele, Pooley, and Laws forming a leading trio with Ryan not far behind. The rain, however, turned to full blast. The day became night and visibility was almost forgotten, as rivers of water descended the mountain against the riders’s firm march upward.
Over the top, Pooley and Laws grabbed jackets, then turned around to go check out the top part of the climb a little more…in the driving rain, cold rain.
It was an impressive sight. We often read about the toughness of professional cyclists. We even see it in movies every now and again, but rarely do you get the chance to see the determination and dedication for your own eyes.
And rarely do you get the chance to see the result at the bottom of a difficult, freezing descent – as we drove to the bottom of the descent, we found Carla Ryan, shaking on the side of the road, soaked, frozen, and lost. 15 seconds later, and she was in the car, the heat was on full blast, and the day was done.
After some time to warm up, some food, and rest, we sat down with Carla Ryan for a light-hearted chat.
PEZ: You’re from Nathalia, Victoria – that’s not exactly a metropolis. What was it like growing up in the country in Australia?
It was different. You get another perspective on the world when you start traveling and seeing things. I think you appreciate things a bit differently than when you grow up in the city. I think I appreciate the world a bit more. Coming from the country you don’t have so much. Everything is very simple. The big world is quite exciting. I really am grateful to be able to travel and to be on the other side of the world and see so many different things.
PEZ: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
A flight attendant. It kind of relates to travel.
PEZ: How did you get into racing?
Through a running injury. I bought a bike to do some cross training through my state institute in Australia. They wanted to do a VO2 test and see if I had the potential for cycling. I showed good results, then I started racing and went on a specific cycling program. After a year of that, I was improving, and it went from there.
PEZ: What was the first bicycle you had?
I had a LeMond.
PEZ: What place did you finish in your first race?
I crashed after 50k and broke my wrist. I didn’t finish that one.
PEZ: Was it hard to get back into the races after the first one ended that way?
It was definitely a challenge. At that time I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue cycling. It was more of a try and see kind of thing. It was definitely something I questioned. I thought maybe I’ll just recover and go back to running. I don’t know why. I think the crash and the challenge of it all made me want to pursue it. I didn’t want to stop just because of something like that. I wanted to see how far I could take it.
PEZ: What race are you most proud of?
In 2009 I won the Australian National time trial and road race. That was pretty special to take both titles when I didn’t expect it. To do it in my home country in front of my friends and family was pretty overwhelming.
PEZ: What was it like to hold both titles for a year?
It was really nice. It was the first year that Cervelo Test Team came together, and it was really nice to have the Green and Gold with you on your clothes. It’s nice to be able to bring the jersey with you to Europe.
PEZ: What was it like to go 1-2 with your teammate, Alex Rhodes, this year?
Yeah, that was really cool. I’d won championships before, so I know how special it is. For Alex to win it when she’d never won it before gave me great joy seeing her with the jersey, and now riding beside her with the jersey it really brings good feelings. It’s at an early time of the year. You don’t really realize how much confidence you get from it. It’s really nice to go 1-2 and stand on the podium.
PEZ: Do you have the Olympics in your sights?
Yeah, it’s something I’d like to be involved in. I haven’t given it total thought because I’ve still yet to see how the course looks and how I can best ride a course like that and whether I’m best suited to domestique well or have an opportunity for myself. That’s something I’ve yet to discover. It’s one of these rare times when you can put so much emphasis on one bike race. You’ve sort of got to think to put all your eggs in one basket for one race. There are other races on the calendar that I’d like to get results in for the team too. You have to weigh out what’s most important.
PEZ: What other races are you thinking of in specific?
The stage races and the tours. The chance to ride when it’s time to go for them I don’t want to say “No, I’m going for the Olympics instead.” You never know what could come in the future. If other riders are targeting the Olympics then there might be a chance that I get to go for something myself.
PEZ: What’s you’re favorite race?
The Tour de l’Aude. It’s a French ten day tour in May, but this year it’s been taken off the calendar. I’ll have to say the Giro. I love stage racing and mountains. Most of the time those tours bring that. Hopefully the Tour de l’Aude will be back on the calendar soon.
PEZ: What men’s race is there where there isn’t a women’s equivalent that you’d like to do?
The Vuelta. Stage races. There are some really cool stage races that they get to do. My ultimate dream would be a two week Tour de France. I know they do three weeks, but they would never do something like that for women. Once upon a time, before I started cycling, they did have a women’s Tour de France for two weeks, and I’d love for them to bring that back.
PEZ: Do you have an opinion on the new radio rules?
Yeah, like everyone, I think it’s not the best move for cycling and moving forward with cycling. Why should we take a step back when we’re moving forward in so many other ways? They’re continually making huge leaps forward in our equipment from clothing to bikes to wheels. With everything else moving forward, why move back with something so important? I think it’s a bad idea for so many reasons. Just one is the danger of not having it. Simple things like crashes and things like this that you’d never know about if you don’t have radios.
PEZ: What has it been like to be a part of all of the Cervelo women’s teams – from the Lifeforce team, to the Test Team, and now Garmin-Cervelo?
It’s been fun and interesting. I’ve certainly noticed a big difference going from Cervelo Lifeforce to the Test Team and now with Garmin-Cervelo, because we have enjoyed a huge step in the right direction in having the men on board. Having a men’s team with the women’s team really helped us in terms of what we get for support. We get more help and support from staff and sponsors and a bit more exposure.
It’s different from the early days of Cervelo Lifeforce. We were a small group without many riders and staff and access. It was more like one small little family. Going to the Test Team the access changed, we took on the same philosophy. It was a really nice group with the guys and the girls together. Like one big family. We’ve been creating that for two years, and then you move again into something, and we’ve come together again in a great way. It has been a nice journey.
PEZ: What do you mean by the access changed?
What we received and the access to sponsors, staff, materials, equipment. Back with Cervelo Lifeforce, we’d get a few sets of shorts to last the whole year, whereas now we get more clothing and extra equipment. We have more things available to us.
PEZ: Besides attaching women’s teams to men’s teams, what else can be done to bring women’s cycling forward?
We basically need more exposure. To be able to race alongside the men would be great. They have so many races on the calendar and all they have to do would be to have us race before them on the same day as them without adding extra money for the whole organization of it. It’s quite simple, but it’s quite difficult to get the right people to do that. It would make a huge difference. Already this year we have more women’s professional teams which is great, but we have less racing on the calendar. On one hand it’s going forward and on another it’s going back.
PEZ: Do you have any nicknames?
Sometimes people call me Carlita. That’s pretty cool. Sometimes Carlotti.
PEZ: Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Coffee. For sure. I’m a big coffee fan.
PEZ: Beer, wine, something else?
Both. Depending on the weather. Being an Aussie I enjoy beer, I have to say. In Europe, especially in places like Italy or Spain there are some really nice wines. I enjoy finding and trying nice wines. I guess I’m a bit of a wine snob. It’s nice to appreciate small things like that when you travel so much. I get to try different things from around the world.
PEZ: Do you have a favorite ‘thing’ you’ve discovered on your travels?
I’m still really set into gelati. I love going back to Italy. I couldn’t live there, but I really enjoy the fantastic pizza and gelati. You don’t get there anywhere in the world. I live in Girona, and I really enjoy the lifestyle and the tapas that you don’t get everywhere else.
Carla celebrates her national championship win in 2009.
PEZ: Do you have a favorite food?
Yeah. Steak. I’m a carnivore. I don’t mind good sushi, but steak and red wine? You can’t go wrong. Oh, and hang on, I have to say, peanut butter is a big thing for me. It’s really difficult to find it in Europe. You get maybe one jar which is the really oily version. Holland has really good peanut butter. They have a good variety. I always go to a health food shop to get the natural one. That’s generally the best bet. When I was in California I could kind of stock up.
PEZ: What’s your favorite pre and post race food?
I always go for pasta bionic. White pasta with olive oil and parmesan. If you’re in Italy then sometimes the smallest things like quality oil and parmesan makes it taste perfect. For me it’s not about the flavor, it’s about fuel and I do like maybe some eggs as well and chicken, but mostly something really plain.
During the race, obviously our team race food and caffeine gels. I’m a big believer of caffeine in a race, and I use the caffeine gels. Post race is always a good protein shake, which we’ve always got provided for us by the team as well. I really enjoy the Cliff bars, which is also one of our sponsors and that’s really nice.
PEZ: Do you consider yourself a calorie counter or do you eat what you feel is right?
I eat what I feel is right. I like a balanced diet. I’m aware of what I’m having but at the same time I don’t limit myself. I still like to enjoy treats. It’s good to have everything in moderation.
PEZ: What would your last meal request be?
It’s hard to pick just one thing. My favorite meal when I’m home: once a week I go to the Sushi Train, and then I go to Baskin and Robbins Ice Cream for Peanut Butter Chocolate ice cream. That’s my weekly treat.
PEZ: What kind of car do you drive and what’s your dream car?
I don’t have a car because I don’t require one. My dream car is, I don’t know…I’m not really materialistic with those kind of things, for me I’ve always wanted a family car. A simple car that is fine. I grew up in the country. I’m not really into cars and things, I’d prefer maybe to get a motorbike one day.
PEZ: Do you train with power?
PEZ: Do you have a favorite workout?
I really like indoor training sessions on an Ergo or a Wattbike or one of these kind of things. I feel like I get a really good, intense session. I love hurting myself. It sounds crazy, but I can get a quality workout when I train with one of these sessions. I also love going to the mountains and getting a 20 or 30k climb. I could just climb long climbs all day up into the snow and around through some of the Italian passes. It’s really pretty.
PEZ: What do you take with you in your jersey when you train?
Normal food. Not bars and gels. Bananas and sandwiches or something. Generally not so many bars. I usually try to carry as little stuff as possible and wear the right stuff when I’m training, but it’s not always possible. You have to sometimes take a rain jacket. If it’s a bit overcast I take a rain jacket. I always take my phone and money. If I’m out by myself I take an iPod to give me a bit of background music.
PEZ: What’s your favorite place to ride?
I’m quite biased now that I’m living in Girona. I’m really enjoying the roads here and every time I go outside of Spain I feel it’s really busy. I think we’re really spoiled here. The roads are really amazing. Quiet and lots of options.
PEZ: What are the top artists on your MP3?
I’m really into dance music. My teammates are quite sick of it. It keeps me in a good vibe and in a good mood. Tegan and Sara are a Canadian band, they’re cool. I pretty much like a bit of everything.
PEZ: Do you have any secret talents?
Not that I would say. Maybe someone else might. Yeah, nothing that I can think of. I’ve come from running. I’m a pretty good runner. One day I’d like to come back and run marathons since I never got to run that distance when I was young. I stopped when I was still getting better. There is a bit of a possibility to take that up one day, but not until I’m older.
PEZ: Is there anything in particular that you take with you when you travel?
No, I’m pretty simple. I just go with the flow and I get what I’m given. I don’t have anything specific or superstitions.
PEZ: Where’s the most interesting place you’ve slept as a bike racer?
Nothing is ever really glamorous. I’ve stayed in some really bad places. In the middle of summer you get no air conditioning in the middle of a tour. In the Giro you put wet towels over your legs to try and go to sleep because you’re so hot. Sometimes having to sleep with teammates, because there is no room. Then you really appreciate the nice hotels when you get them.
PEZ: Do you train by yourself or with friends?
I do both. If I have specific intervals to do I’ll go out by myself, but sometimes if I have a longer ride or recovery ride I’ll go with friends. It’s nice to mix it up a little bit.
PEZ: If you weren’t racing what would like to be doing?
That’s something I’m still not 100% sure on. Obviously I’d be with my friends and family in AUS. That’s one thing that is hard about being in Europe. I miss them dearly.
PEZ: If you could have dinner with any famous person living or dead who would it be?
I can’t think of anyone. I don’t particularly idolize one person.
PEZ: What advice would you give to a young racer?
Have fun, that’s number one. Never lose the fun of it. Listen to your body. The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is to listen to my body when training. Not necessarily in racing, but definitely when training. To become a racer you have to be smart. Have fun! If you’re not passionate or you lose the passion, then you’re never going to be the best bike racer you can be.