Over the last three years, the coronavirus pandemic has touched us all in some way, from the virus itself to the lockdowns, and the financial strains it has left behind.
Among other things, Brodie Chapman — who signed for Trek-Segafredo this season — believes that the early part of the pandemic had a lasting impact on her development as a professional rider.
The 31-year-old had just got off to a strong start in her WorldTour career with FDJ at home in Australia, but the pandemic would cut her off in her stride just two months into the season.
She had been ready to fully immerse herself into European life and build on her first two years as a pro but had to head back to Australia after just two races in Europe and wouldn’t compete again for almost five months.
“I didn’t race for ages, when I was in good shape, and happy and excited,” Chapman told VeloNews. “I think it changed a lot for a lot of people. Some people went back to their family home, which was in Europe, and had a really consistent time at home and training well and came out fantastic, but I felt very awkward because I had just finally moved to Europe.
“It’s not easy to move countries when you’re on a small team and your poor, and my boyfriend was just about to move and we’d packed up our whole life, moved out of our apartment, and then you come back for I don’t know how long for. I could have, upon reflection, maybe I could have done that better, but that’s how it went.”
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Chapman had gone into the season raring to go and fight for leadership roles, having shown herself as a proven winner already with wins at the Tour of the Gila and the Tour de Feminin the year before.
But, after months of disruption, she had lost form and lacked the confidence to ask the team to back her and there were other riders who would.
“I was a leader on TIBCO, and I was confident that I could win races. I was willing to try and win races and I did have the support of the other riders,” she said. “On FDJ, I did have that support in Australia, and I won a race, which was cool. Then the pandemic happened. That threw me a lot and I had some health issues with my breathing a lot that year. It was super stressful, coming back to Australia and living out of a suitcase that I’d thought I’d be in for two weeks, but ended up being two months.
“I wasn’t in the best shape, so then any opportunity I had to feel confident in my ability to win was gone. Cille [Uttrup Ludwig] was a very clear leader, and she definitely put her hand up to try and win. She always was very consistent and she was always willing to take on the pressure of being the leader and I definitely didn’t put my hand up because I didn’t feel I was good enough right, which was true.”
As time went on, Chapman slotted more firmly into the role of a domestique and a road captain while some of the team’s younger riders and new signings took those leadership roles.
As she improved to a point where she did feel confident in her capabilities as a potential leader, Chapman realized that she had been typecast and she needed to do something to change that.
“Oftentimes, I would do a lot of work early in the race, but when it came to the time when the women’s cycling television turned on with 20 minutes to go, or whatever, I wasn’t there. So that was a bit shit. But then as the other girls improved, and the whole team professionalized, they could perform a lot better early in the race, and then I could be there a bit later and we could have two leaders in the final,” Chapman said.
“I expected I would maybe have more opportunity, and that I would have the team say, ‘hey, Brodie, we really see your strength, we see your work, we’re going to all work for you today.’ But I also think that because I was good at being a captain and the domestique and I will never be sneaky and do my own thing when I know we have people in the race who are really likely to win. I was a bit stuck in that domestique role. Part of the reason I left is that I didn’t see that changing.”
Flying at Flanders and moving to Trek
Chapman had proved herself time and again as a strong support rider and previously as a good team leader. However, she really announced herself to the wider cycling world at the Tour of Flanders in 2022, where she escaped up the road with Marlen Reusser and eventually finished in ninth after getting caught.
“In Flanders, there was a lot of attention was on me that wasn’t on me before. Because I was in front of the race for on the Kwaremont. It was not lost on me how cool that was,” Chapman said. “[I thought] ‘oh my god. I’m at the front of Flanders on the Kwaremont and there’s actually a crowd this is pretty cool. This might never happen again. Just keep riding hard and enjoy it.”
Chapman believed she might have been able to improve on her ninth place if she’d been given a bit more leeway up the road, but the result was a big hint of what she is actually capable of and what she hopes to be able to do with Trek-Segafredo over the coming seasons. She’s already got off to a winning start by claiming the Australian national road race title last week.
Despite her departure from FDJ over the winter, she looks back on her three years with the team with fond memories.
“I definitely value every single person on that team, and I think we had a really, really good vibe together. Because we, I would say we grew as a team rather than just individually. And that helped us all grow individually,” she said.
“I wasn’t desperate to leave FDJ because I didn’t leave on a bad note. It’s hard because FDJ is a really good team and there’s good people. I do think there was more room for growth, for me. The team has changed dramatically over the last three years, but if you never go you never know. So, I was like, ‘what can I learn? How can I grow? What kind of confidence can I gain? What roles can I take on?’”
Chapman’s move to Trek-Segafredo might seem counterintuitive as she looks for more leadership opportunities, given the team has so many star racers, but she believes that the different approach in tactics means that she will get her chances. Meanwhile, she’s still happy to play that support role when she’s needed.
“I do feel that on FDJ I was highly valued as a domestic, but I think I was a bit stuck in that role. I want to try to win a race, which is probably whatever domestique says and I accept that. I enjoy being a domestique, but I would also like some people to support me in a race one day. Obviously, if I wanted to just be a leader, I wouldn’t go to Trek because it’s full of the best riders in the world.
“They definitely have superstars on the team, but I believe that the point of racing is that you’re like, ‘okay, who is most likely to win today or who’s in good shape? Who can we support to try and win?’ That’s not just such a clear-cut thing, but sometimes that’s necessary. I think you can apply a bit of a different formula to some different races. And yeah, Ina Teutenberg [Trek’s lead women’s sport director -ed] is a legend, so I want to get what’s in her brain into my brain.”