Photograhy by Laura Fletcher: The Peloton Brief
InstaFund Racing recently touched down on European soil, following a brief pitstop in Turkey for several UCI races. A monumental occasion for the team who endured an uneventful 2020 season longing for racing with little opportunity to kit up, pin on a number and hit the start line. They took the year in their stride, using the extra time at home to develop as individuals and collectively, and will soon quickly make up for lost race days with a busy block of European racing on the radar. This year will mark the first that the Canadian-made team, focussed on developing the next generation of female cyclists, will take the significant step up to competing against the worlds’ best throughout Europe.
We recently sat down with Isabella Bertold, Rachel Langdon and new recruit, Caroline Baur on a pre-training camp in Girona to talk all things InstaFund Racing – What they’ve been up to, what’s next, their step up to European racing and their optimistically bright future ahead.
THE RETURN TO RACING
Early February, the team had a momentous return to racing at the GP Velo Alanya and the GP Velo Manavgat. A small, yet ambitious team arrived into Turkey following some lengthy, slightly stressful travels to get there. Excited, yet apprehensive as to how they’d feel following a year out of race-mode.
Rachel shared, “It was strange, but also exciting to know that we were travelling and especially for bike racing. I actually got caught out in a random severe snowstorm to start my trip from the US. So, it took me 72 hours to get to Turkey! Just knowing that bike racing was on the other end of it all made the stress seem worth it, and of course keeping it in perspective that it was a great opportunity to actually get to go somewhere and travel. There are still a lot of precautions to be taken to be safe, so keeping that in mind was important.”
They rolled into their first races back driven and motivated, yet without pressure – the key goal being to get those race sensations back and regain confidence in the peloton. Once underway, unsurprisingly they clicked right back into race mode. The year that’s been, quickly forgotten – game on from the gun. They ended their stint in Turkey with some promising performances, and more importantly, a burning desire to hit the ground running in Europe.
“The funniest thing for me in Turkey was that it actually didn’t feel like a whole year had gone by since we’d last raced, even with brand new teammates. As soon as the flag dropped, we were just back doing what we do best, bike racing again. So, I guess that means that we did things right without racing on last season. To keep it fun and not to have too much structure was key. I think everyone sort of got through the year in a pretty positive way,” said Isabella.
While Rachel explained, ‘It was a bit intimidating, but we also didn’t really put a tonne of pressure on ourselves. We wanted to do well, we wanted to see how the legs were and I think we were in the mix pretty well – and it was fun! From the start, it was like ‘game on again’ and that was a great feeling. It was special to pin on the numbers and get a feeling for racing again”.
The team flew direct from Turkey to Spain to join their new teammate, former Israeli National Road and TT champion, Rotem Gafinovitz in Girona. The perfect location to settle in to the time zone and train together ahead of their first European races late March. Girona is popularly known worldwide as a go-to hot spot for cyclists of all levels. Home to many professional cyclists and well regarded for its mostly balmy weather, endless playground of training grounds and ample selection of great coffee locations. The team were all smiles when we sat down to chat with them over a fresh brew downtown.
Caroline shared, “It’s been great. I love that the climbs aren’t super steep – they’re really nice and gradual. Yesterday we did the Coast loop and that was awesome. The atmosphere was so calm, and there were no tourists (aside from us) which I guess is a bit of a novelty here! I’m really excited to ride more and explore while we’re here.
It’s not just the riding, but the city feel as well. It’s so nice to be able to just step outside of our apartment and go for a quick coffee, and there are so many great places to choose from. It’s nice to have that balance – ideal training grounds to put in the hard work, but also a bit of a lifestyle.”
Following some sunny miles and Girona exploring, the riders have since travelled to Belgium where they held their first official team training camp, leading into their debut European race last weekend at the Omloop van de Westhoek where Rachel impressively placed 17th. There, seven of the nine riders were present, providing an opportunity to work on team dynamic and get a feel for the infamous Belgian cobbles.
Isabella shared, “I’ve never ridden the cobbles personally, so the plan for our Belgian camp is to get comfortable on them and ride as a team, while learning a bit about the course and the area. So that’ll be fun! We’ll try to be mindful though of not spending too much time in Belgium as a team in long chunks. It’s important for us that we get riders back to warmer, sunnier places where possible.”
As the first real opportunity in 2021 for the team to get together as a unit, the focus of the camp was to not only master the rough Belgian terrain, but to get to know each other’s strengths, riding styles and to build team morale before crunch time.
“After the year that’s been, I’m really looking forward to just getting the team together and that excitement building. It was slightly anticlimactic being in Turkey with just four of us rather than having the numbers, so I think having the camp in Belgium, with our staff will just be great to really up the motivation and confidence to get right in the mix at our first races here. As daunting as they may be…” said Rachel.
THE STEP UP TO EUROPEAN RACING
InstaFund Racing are still very much new to the professional racing scene, having only established itself in 2019 where they predominately raced through North America. Last season they had planned to follow a similar program with a gradual entry to the European circuit throughout the year. With little racing scheduled in North America until October, they’ve thrown those plans aside for 2021, and have decided to dive right into the European race scene, with a nothing to lose, everything to gain attitude.
Isabella explained, “We have a slower start, but when May 1st hits, we have a full calendar right through to the end of October essentially. This year is very much play it by ear. We don’t want to have much infrastructure after the season, so we’ve rented some vehicles and they’ll move around as we need to and we’ll rent houses where it makes sense. But especially right now, when we have longer breaks between races – we riders will have the freedom to decide where we go. I’ll definitely be returning to Girona – I already know that much!”
While Rachel confirmed that they’re up for the challenge ahead, “We’ve definitely been thrown in at the deep end and I don’t think we can discount the hurdles we’re about to come across as a team racing in Europe. But we’re all up for the challenge.”
THE DREAM RACE
As they’re about to embark on some of the biggest races of their careers, and with that compete against the best female cyclists in the world, we asked the riders what races they’d most like to compete in and perform at best.
Caroline shared, “For me, it has to be the LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour – a pro level stage race in East Germany. I’m German and Swiss, so it’s close enough to a home race. Then eventually, the women’s Tour de Swiss. Unfortunately, it’s cancelled this year, so hopefully in 2022. For me, home races are the best and where I’m most motivated to perform.”
For Rachel it’s all about the UK, having grown up there before moving to the USA at 17. “Getting a start at the Tour de Yorkshire or The Women’s Tour, just to have family there and be on home roads would be pretty epic.”
While Isabella found it difficult to narrow it down to just one race day…
“Every single race day! I really miss the adrenaline rush from racing, and I think just the number of race days over in Europe compared to a North American season, especially in women’s cycling – there’s just so much more. Looking forward, I’m like ‘three races, four days off, then back to it!’ There’s always going to be another opportunity just around the corner. I just love the rush – the race rush.”
THE FACTOR O2
Ahead of the 2020 season, Factor Bikes proudly joined forces with InstaFund Racing. Since, they’ve been training and now racing on the O2, in a fitting Celestial Blue, blending nicely with the team colours. So far, so good for the riders who only had positive words to share when reviewing their bikes.
Caroline shared, “I rode the O2 for the first time in Turkey and instantly loved it. Gritty and super-fast . I love both climbing and descending with this bike. Joining InstaFund and riding Factor Bikes, for me – it feels like a big step up.”
While Rachel echoed, “At team camp last year, we were riding the bikes for the first time and our initial reactions were like ‘holy sh**t, this feels amazing.’ It’s super comfortable, it’s compliant and it felt like my bike even on the first ride, rather than going through that long process of getting used to new equipment. It’s been a great bike to ride and I’m now excited to get out and race more on it.”
Backed by Isabella who shared, “It’s probably the first bike that I’ve said, ‘I can’t think of anything that I’d change on it’. It just does everything right.”
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT
The team was initially created out of necessity, with lack of women’s racing teams through Canada and North America. They are now providing opportunities for their riders to race internationally, with a strong focus on development and growing the team to a top tier level. Having spent some time with the ambitious, driven group of young women, it’s clear that they are on the right trajectory to achieving just that.
Isabella explained, “The team really did sort of come out of necessity. There just weren’t enough women’s teams that were racing at a UCI level in North America and that was where our motivation stemmed from – that there needed to be more support and opportunity. In terms of where it’s going, it’s sort of ‘sky’s the limit’, and there isn’t really a moment where the organisation isn’t trying to move forward.
To continue the team’s development and growth – the first big first step was arriving here in Europe. It’s not easy for a North American team, without a service course or even getting race invites for the first year. We’re that unknown team that no one’s heard of in Europe. But, we’re doing it and there will be many moments of learning this year. Next season we’ll continue to build on that and just keep plugging away.”
A FAMILY FEEL
One of the key ambitions when creating the team, was to create a supportive, family environment where the riders would feel right at home, relaxed and part of something special.
“Our goal is to have a sustainable program and a family environment. So, when any of our riders want to speak with the owner of the team, it’s just a WhatsApp message away. We want to be a smaller organisation that compete at a very high level and a tight knit unit that’s around for a very long time. Rather than a team with 30 staff – that will never be us.
This also applies to our sponsors and positioning ourselves with the right people to build this organisation-wide family dynamic. Last year, this really stood out when we met Factor for the first time on our team camp. They bought cake and cupcakes and talked to us about being part of the Factor family. So that really aligned with our team and confirmed that there was a special fit there, and they were definitely a brand we wanted to be associated with,” shared Isabella.
Confirmed by Rachel who felt right at home from her first race with the team in 2019, “I guest rode with this team in its first year. It was all home races and most of the riders were still local and regional, but they already had this big vision. For me, it instantly felt like home, so when the opportunity arose to sign with them, I didn’t even blink.
Then there’s the trust in the management. Last year we were meant to take the step up to race all the UCI events in North America with a sprinkle of European races to get our feet wet. That didn’t happen, but they bravely surged on and now here we are sitting in Girona preparing for a big European block. I’m incredibly grateful for that, as otherwise we’d still be sitting at home.”
CARBON NEUTRAL INITIATIVE
To add to what we are sure will be a prosperous season to come, the team have also been deep in planning mode looking at ways they can improve their carbon neutral footprint, with the goal of becoming a carbon neutral team by the end of the 2022 season.
The news was recently revealed by the team who stated, “We are excited to share that InstaFund Racing is taking on the challenge to have a carbon neutral footprint by the end of the 2022 season. This season the team will learn about our current footprint, and we hope that you will learn with us.”
To help raise awareness and provide an opportunity to support their efforts, they have designed a special 2021 season edition ‘Ride With Us’ sustainable T-shirt, now available at the InstaFund Racing store. All proceeds will go towards their 2021 season carbon offsets.
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