Born in South Africa in August 1994 Brittany Petersen is one of those different cyclists, who lately discovered in cycling a hidden passion. Former kayaker and member of the South African national team Brittany Petersen took an unexpected turn in her career earlier this year to become a pro cyclist. Her late start to her cycling career reminds us somehow how other cyclists made their way into professional cycling (as was the case of Evie Stevens or as nowadays Lorena Llamas keeps doing).
Brittany Petersen unorthodox sports switch
When and what was the turning point, you decided to pursue a professional career in cycling? Why and when did you decided to move to Girona during the European cycling season?
I started off doing some easy short rides as part of my off season for kayaking. I took part in World Championships each year for kayaking and after last year’s Worlds I decided to have a little break and do some longer rides to keep in shape.
I found that I loved being on the bike and the new challenges it brought. I then decided at the beginning of the year that my passion lay in road cycling and that it was time to hang my paddle up and give cycling a go.
Shortly after this I went to Spain to get mentored and coached by Ashleigh and Carl Pasio for 3 months. I absolutely loved the riding there… and pushing myself harder then ever. It sure was a shock jumping into my first UCI races and lining up at stage races with 200 girls on the start line, all very fast and talented. I had only done a handful of races in South Africa so to be racing all over Europe was a fantastic experience.
How would rate the kick-starting season of your cycling career?
I feel really privileged to have had this opportunity because I know not many people have and it opened my eyes seeing the high level that the women race at. I certainly didn’t know how positive the racing was and how strong those ladies are. It was incredible getting to stand next to women that I had only heard of or seen on TV… Some heroes and role models, and I had the privilege to race with them.
2017 aims and plans
What are your goals for the South African season? Do you have any plans for the 2017 European season? Are looking for a team/club for the European season or did you already have any contact with a team you could mention?
I will most likely be moving to Australia at the end of the year or beginning of next year and I’m hoping to get into a team and take part in their national series. I’m really going to try improve over the next few months and get stronger to have a strong National Championships and of course, getting into Europe is every riders dream. I don’t yet have any teams helping me for next year but I hope that I’ll be able to get stronger and noticed throughout next year as it’ll be my first full year of focusing on riding.
Cycling specific demands
Brand new to the sport, at least on the competitive side. How are you dealing mentally with riding in the bunch and going downhill inside a peloton, which generally are two of the toughest things to deal with as a sports newcomer?
It’s taken some time to get used to positioning in the bunch, but I am a really competitive person coming from my kayaking background. I think it’s tough because as a newcomer nobody really knows you and you almost have to earn respect. You do feel intimidated lining up and racing girls who are national champs and represent the country each year, but it’s important to mentally grasp that they’re just people too, and if you put the effort during training in, there’s no reason why you can’t stay with them and possibly beat them one day. I’ve also found it difficult because I’m at the stage where I do need to get a coach and have a more structured training program, so this is something I need to sort out. I feel I’ve got the ability to get there, and I’m willing to push myself, I perhaps need some guidance and a good program.
How have you physically changed your in order to adapt to specific demands of cycling? How has your training programme changed in order to do so?
I’ve actually had to change my physique quite a lot, my arms and back have lost a lot of muscle and my glutes and legs have grown. I obviously still have a way to go, if like to loose a few more kgs because I feel I’d perform better with a little less mass. It has taken a while to lose the upper body muscle from kayaking. I was obviously lifting 1 and a half times my weight in bench press, with 2 hour sessions 3-4 times a week and now I have to change muscle I’d been building for the past 5 years.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio as a leading figure and mentor
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is one of the greatest African cyclists and athletes. How important is her leading figure for women’s cycling in South Africa? You sometimes train along with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and other Cervélo Bigla riders nearby Girona, what piece/s of advice do they give you in your pursuit to become a professional cyclist?
I think it’s really great having Ashleigh as a role model for the women in South African cycling. She has achieved some incredible results and it makes it seem doable for all of us to see someone from our country doing what she’s doing. It’s not without a lot of hard work though! Having the opportunity to ride alongside her was incredible… She really climbs effortlessly, and yet when she does intervals, my mind boggles at how powerful that tiny body is… She’s dedicated, passionate and hardworking and that’s a great combination to be a champion.
Just to prove how tough they are, I had a 3 hour ride with intervals one morning, and a few hours later, Carl Pasio arrived for a hard motor pacing session. I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it, but it showed me that you have to be mentally tough in this sport if you want to make it, and that’s what Ashleigh is.
They’ve told me that you have to love and have a passion for what you’re doing, and that it will be tough and there are days that you feel like giving up but that’s when you need to keep going and push harder, because those days are the ones that make you tough and get you to where you want to be.
Cycling in South Africa
Pietermaritzburg, the capital city of the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), it is Brittany Petersen’s born place. It is an important city for cycling having recently hosted many international cycling events including several World Championships and World Cups events.
How has cycling changed/developed in the past years in SA and particularly around Pietermaritzburg? Has it changed the daily life of the local community -eg: has it become a mainstream sport/ more children/adults willing to practice cycling?
I’m actually quite new to cycling, I was originally a kayaker, but every weekend, I saw cars full of bicycles going to do mountain bike races around the province of KZN and would often see people training around the midlands area which is where the second race of the KZN summer series took place.
I had to give riding a go when I saw how exciting it looked, and watching it on TV just wasn’t the same.
How has women’s cycling developed in South Africa throughout the past years? What’s the atmosphere in South Africa around these three women one-day races and around women’s cycling in general?
Since I’ve been riding, over the last year, I’ve been loving it. I’ve noticed that over the last year there are more and more women riding in the races and the level has gotten really competitive. I think the women’s bunch is getting a lot more confident, and strong and as a newer rider, it’s great to see events like the KZN Summer Series take place because it encourages more women to come and race, especially in KZN because most of the road racing takes place in Johannesburg, like the 94.7.
KZN Summer Series
Regarding the courses of both races. Do you like them? Where do you think is going to be the key sections/areas where top riders would try to break away the race?
Both of these courses are difficult. The first race has a large amount of climbing, so those climbers and girls who can stick it out will do well. This time of year it is getting warmer, and the temperatures on the routes make a big difference so eating and drinking is important when it’s 35 degrees. The race has a long down hill into the valley and then a long climb out again before descending to the finish.
The second race is a lot faster with an out and back course but there are a few climbs that can be tricky. Towards the end of the race there is a 5km dirt climb that is quite tiring after a long hard race and that can really make or break the race right at the end.
I am actually from the area so I often train on the second race’s route. I know it well but you never know what to expect from top European teams as well as 5 national champions on the start line. Overall I think it is great to have the KZN summer series in our province, and for the European girls to also see our part of the world and help raise the level of racing, and show us what the level is like and where to aim for.
- Favourite race: Tour Durban in KZN, my first podium and the course suits me.
- Favourite performance meal (pre/post race): I usually have chicken breast, sweet potato and salad the night before a meal…It’s the usual pre race meal on the menu at my house.
- Favourite training route or loop: I love riding out into the midlands at home in KZN, it’s beautiful. And in Spain, going up Mare de deu del Mont is just breath taking!
- Greatest ambition in the sport: I really want qualify for a Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games. I’d love to have a national title and I’m hoping to be an inspiration to young riders one day like Ashleigh and some other women have been to me.
- Biggest sport or cycling admiration: I really do look up to Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, she works incredibly hard, sacrifices and believes in the overall picture and also does a lot for women’s cycling and that’s something I’d like to live by.
- Toughest moment in your sports career: I think the toughest moment in my sporting career was when my kayaking partner and I had trained really hard for world championships and felt that we had a good shot at qualifying for Olympics at our continental championships, but shortly before were told we could not use the event to qualify at. This was the final deciding factor that helped me decide to move to riding.
- Biggest achievement in your sports career: My biggest achievements in my sporting career would be that I represented my country 7 times for kayaking, also that my kayak partner and I came 3rd in our heat at sprint kayak world championships, and getting my first podium at a big national road cycling race here in South Africa.
- Pietermaritzburg nightlife or Girona’s? Pietermaritzburg is quite a small town, and it’s very sporting based. There are a lot of athletes around because it is a quiet place and conducive to training. There are a few clubs and sports bars around, as well as local night markets and events on. Girona seems to always be a hive of activity. There are people eating out late, and staying up late at night, unusual for someone coming from a small town. But I adapted and enjoyed the hustle and bustle.
Pictures taken from Brittany Petersen’s Instagram account