Elke Gebhardt Gets PEZ’d!
Interview’s with women professional riders are fairly thin on the ground and as the female scene has turned a corner and seems to be going in the right direction with more riders, teams, races and most importantly; more money without the drug scandals that the men have had, I thought it was about time we spoke to one of the girls. German rider Elke Gebhardt is riding with Argos-Shimano in 2013, here is how she sees her career and women’s cycling progressing in the near future.
According to the Argos-Shimano team info pack; Elke Gebhardt started cycling so she could beat a class-mate riding uphill, not a bad way to an eventual professional contract with probably one of the biggest teams. I met Elke at the Argos team launch in Spain, after the official presentation stuff when the press and riders were left to mingle at the buffet. We were both looking at the coffee and hoping it was nicer than the caffeine/brown drink that was on offer at breakfast. Elke has a lot of experience and has a great insight in the World of women’s cycling, so she was an easy interviewee.
PEZ: How much time will you have spent training in Altea Hills (Costa Blanca, Spain)?
Elke Gebhardt: Well the girls were here in December, I was only here for three day’s because I had to go back, then we came back on the 3rd of January and we stayed until the 12th of January, then for one week we had a break. I was home for only three days and then I came back for ten days to train before the Tour of Qatar. We have had a good start for the season; a four day stage race, the first big race for the girls. The other girls came back here for another training camp for a week because they had planned for the Tour of South Africa, but they changed it. I think they moved it to April, so in February there was a camp here also.
Elke competing on the track back in ’06 for the German National team.
PEZ: You swap between road and track, is that difficult?
Elke: Yes, but this year the main focus is on the road, I still have the chance to do the track and I want to race well there. I did it last year so it’s not such a big jump for me and then I come directly back to one week of training preparing for the road and into the Classics. I will do the whole of March and April and hope I can support Charlotte (Becker) and Kirsten Wild) in the spring Classics and when I have the chance and I’m in a good group…you never know. But then, these races are the main focus and I will do my best to give them a good lead-out and all my support for them.
Elke & the Argos-Shimano girls had a great start to 2013 winning 3 stages and the overall at the Tour of Qatar with Kirsten Wild.
PEZ: You said you go home for an exam?
Elke: Yes I studied international management and also I am a soldier with the German army forces and before I went there I studied gym fitness management, so I’m a fitness business woman, so I work in that, I want to have something on top. Your education is important and I thought last year it would be a good time to start studying. In Germany we have a good programme at the national team, it’s a special study programme and I am at the University of Entrechat and you can study all the different kinds of sports. I started that last year and I will get my bachelor of international management and that’s what I do for exercise for my brain.
PEZ: So you are looking ahead to after cycling?
Elke: Yea for sure, I think the women have to because we don’t have the possibilities to earn so much money to have enough for later, so we have to think about having a good job and planning for a normal life after cycling, I’m 30 this year so I have to keep an eye on that and in the end cycling isn’t everything.
PEZ: The UCI have recently announced the same prize values for men and women.
Elke: Yea that’s one step, one little step and maybe now the young girls who are coming up now will have some good money. But for us it was always hard to ride and have some money, I was lucky that I had funding from the German army forces for 6 years and I have to say without that it would not have been possible, I would have had to work and then it would not have been possible to be a professional at a high quality. That’s been pretty good for me and I’ve been lucky to have that.
PEZ: Obviously you don’t get paid the same as the men, but you do get something?
Elke: Yea I get paid, for sure we all get paid, for me it’s better because of the army pay also.
PEZ: I interviewed Liz Hatch a few years ago and basically, on some teams, she didn’t get paid and many of the other girls were the same.
Elke: Liz is not a rider with international results, but she was good and a good eye catcher in the peloton I think, but she doesn’t have the results, but to be in cycling her way is quite good because it works well with the women and it looks good and she does it in a good way. But to earn good money you have to have more results and then you have to be one of the best and then its good, but how many can be the best? Maybe two leaders each team and as well you need the workers and good team spirit and a good environment and that’s the main thing in this team, the philosophy of the team is great and that’s one of the reasons I’m here. It great that we are here together with the men with all the support around us is a great base, it’s at a high level and the team will be one of the best teams on the scene.
PEZ: How does the Argos-Shimano team compare to previous teams you have been with?
Elke: From what I have seen in the first two months that I have been here; it’s the best organised team that I have ever been with, do a lot to give us a good atmosphere and everything really, it’s very good. Again to be together with the men helps the women’s team to receive more attention and for us we can use their knowledge and the equipment and also we can work things out together and maybe help them also, but the main thing is that we get all the support they have and a lot of knowledge and expertise.
PEZ: What could improve women’s cycling, apart from more money obviously?
Elke: Money, but the main thing would be to get more time on TV and then we would have more sponsors and then maybe have more money in the teams and then maybe more teams will come and then that would be the first step to everything being bigger and step by step there would be more races and then there would be more interest from the people and they would watch more women’s cycling. I think women’s racing is pretty good, it’s changed a lot in the last year and they are pretty good races and always the last K’s.
PEZ: Would a bigger calendar and some longer stage races help?
Elke: I think everything should grow step by step together. I think the calendar now is good, it could be a little bit more, but I think first we should get the attention from the press and the media and then more sponsors and then grow step by step, that could be the way I think. We will see how it goes over the next five to ten years, I will watch it even if I don’t ride anymore, and I think I would be in the sport anyway. I started when I was nine years old and I got a lot of support when I was young from friends and trainers in the little area where I lived and maybe I should give something back to the young girls and pass on the things that I learned over the years and maybe support them and help them come up.
PEZ: What do you think of Lucy Garner (double World junior road race champion)?
Elke: A really, really good girl, lovely girl and with good genes, give her some time and she will be there. At junior level you have to let them grow, she will go her own way and with support I think she can do it and have good results and be one of the best in the World I think. I try to help when I can, told her to come to me to ask any questions she has and I can help her for sure no worries.
Elke’s new teammate, Lucy Garner enjoying the spoils of the top step of the podium at the 2012 Worlds.
PEZ: Which is your favourite event, road or track?
Elke: I love both. When I started cycling at the age of nine, the first time I rode a track I was eleven, so I grew up with both and both I have at heart. This year my main focus is on the road and I will have the track in my mind at the side, I will have to see if there are changes in the qualifications for the World Cups, then we have to work it out and see how we can organise this, but my main thing is the road.
PEZ: So which road events are looking forward too?
Elke: The Giro d’Italia. Last year I had some good days there and what the same this year and some good results, hopeful a stage and we will see how it will work out; ten days is really long. The road Worlds and track Worlds that are now in February are my aim for this year. You know we go to race and we want to win and if I can support the other girls to win then I will do that, that’s the thing about the team spirit and that we work together as a team, so everyone will get their chance and I’m looking forward to that and I’m proud of being a part of it all.
Elke enjoying the 2012 Giro.
PEZ: How many more years will you race?
Elke: At the end of this year I will look at my results and see how much time I have and the opportunities for next year, I plan for one year and maybe I could be that I could go to Rio (2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero), I don’t know, but it could be. But I plan step by step, so I will see. You have to be healthy for everything, no pressures, the body has to work and not crash and the other thing is that you have to have fun with everything you are doing and have the heart in the right place to have fun and be successful.
PEZ: What would you say to the people who say that women’s racing was boring, particularly the 2011 World road race in Copenhagen?
Elke: Yea, but the course was boring, it couldn’t show a good race. The girls did that to keep the bunch together for a sprint, because it was a sprinters course. So if they want a different race they should have a different course, that’s what I think. The race was pretty fast but you can’t see it on the TV and when the speed is high it’s not easy to split the peloton and there were many points where the race could come back together if it split. I think the organisers have to think about how the course will look and there should be more control from the UCI when they choose the World championships and keep an eye on that. Maybe they supported it as well, so you can’t say it the problem of the women.
PEZ: The men’s race was also boring but for six hours.
Elke: I think I only saw the last hour, I was out training. But I think woman’s racing has changed a lot in the last years, there is a lot of action in the races with good riders and good possibilities, and it’s grown so much in the last years. When I started riding with the seniors in 2002, the progress in the last ten years is pretty amazing to see and the professionalism is something else.
PEZ: What do you think of Marianne Vos?
Elke: She is quite an amazing girl, I raced with her in 2009, she was also the team manager, I think she is from another planet, but she is always friendly and nice with her feet on the ground with her family who support her. Yea she is amazing, I like her and it’s always nice to see her, a good girl.
Elke might not be a Marianne Vos, but she knows what she wants and where women’s cycling should be going, let’s hope she is on the right track.