Michaela Drummond is back on the fast track

The Zaaf debacle helped the rising New Zealand pro become stronger.

Michaela Drummond felt fortunate to land with Farto-BTC, where she has lead rider opportunities. Photo © Fran Reyes courtesy Farto-BTC

“When you can’t race, you know how much you want to race,” says Michaela Drummond. We’re talking via Zoom from her home in Porto, Portugal where she lives with UAE Team Emirates and track rider Rui Oliveira, and she has a bright smile on her face when she talks about the lifeline thrown to her by the Farto-BTC team. 

Drummond was one of the riders on Zaaf Cycling, a team that didn’t pay their riders despite promises, nor provided spare equipment, nor adequate care and a safe working environment. 

After Zaaf folded in April, she managed to find a new home at the Spanish Farto team, but the debacle wasn’t quite over as she was denied to race La Vuelta Femenina by the Spanish federation. Once her contract was finally approved and she was allowed to race again, Drummond bounced back mentally and physically with the best road results of her career so far.

This weekend she races her last road race at the Tour des Pyrenées before focusing on track cycling again, the discipline where she started her career. With Team New Zealand, Drummond hopes to qualify for the Team Pursuit and Madison at the Paris Olympic Games next year.

“I am so happy to be back with a team; my first race with Farto-BTC was the Navarra Classic and that was only three weeks ago,” she said when we spoke last week. “I have enjoyed integrating into the team so much. They are actually based quite close to me in Pontevedra [across the border in Spain]. The girls are really nice and I got along with them really fast. So far, it’s been really good and the results show I am in a good and happy place.”

Drummond wanted to race La Vuelta Femenina with Farto but the Spanish federation didn’t approve her move from Zaaf in time. It was another blow in an already very difficult year, one that started on a happy note for the 25-year-old with a new team and a second place in the Schwalbe Classic. 

The riders held up their end of the deal: Drummond (center, in black) sprints to second place in the new Zaaf team’s very first race in January. Photo © Cor Vos

Drummond didn’t see right away there was trouble on the horizon with Zaaf, a team that came to the scene last-minute with the promise of a multi-million Euro budget and big ambitions.

“I think everyone can have a bit of leniency for a new team,” she explains. “Tour Down Under is already a logistical challenge for most teams, so I didn’t see too much of a problem [when we didn’t have all the equipment right away]. I had one of the best times with the team in Australia. From my point of view, it didn’t look too bad.”

Drummond left the team to focus on the track World Cup in Jakarta in February before travelling to Europe. By the time she came back, it was more and more clear that Zaaf was not all it had promised to be. 

“When I arrived in Europe, I started to see more problems. Flights were being booked really late and excess baggage wasn’t paid for. One of the athletes paid the excess baggage after Tour Down Under from her own pocket and it took months for her to get that back. It was one of the first signs where I wondered if the money would actually come. 

“Then we got the emails. They said that they will pay the salaries, and don’t worry. The money is stuck in Dubai, blah blah blah. It was believable and maybe it is true to this day, but after some weeks of not receiving anything, you have bills to pay and need to eat. We had to do something. It was becoming too difficult to hold on to hope and not seeing any funds come through.”

Drummond was one of a number of Zaaf riders who requested an early release from their contracts over the issues, and she found a new team in the Spanish outfit Farto-BTC. With a big block of races coming up in Spain including the World Tour races of La Vuelta and Burgos she was eager to put on the recognizable green outfit as soon as possible. But the Spanish federation blocked the move and Drummond was left out. 

“La Vuelta was the hardest part of the whole situation. I finally found a new home and hadn’t raced for nearly five weeks,” she says, looking back. “With the Olympics next year, I felt the pressure to be back racing. I felt that it was the tipping point that the Spanish federation said they couldn’t accept my license change for the Vuelta. It was the moment I thought: ‘Is this what I want to keep doing? Is this still worth doing because the struggles are so hard?’”

Drummond reached out to social media to share her frustration and got a lot of support from fellow riders, fans, and journalists.

“The support from the online community was so amazing,” she says with a smile. “I felt everyone had my back on the situation. Friends, family, and the cycling community kept me going. I started to look at it differently and knew that I would be racing again, maybe not this week but then the week after. The team was really supportive. They called the Spanish federation and made sure I could race soon.”

Drummond made her debut with the Farto-BTC team in the Navarra Classic on May 10 and continued in the Women’s WorldTour race of Vuelta a Burgos where she had a career-best 10th-place finish in a UCI race. In the Vuelta Ciclista Andalucía, she quickly bettered that with her first podium place on the opening stage, plus two more top-10s. It was a big moment not only for Drummond, but also for her new team.

“It’s a cool situation to be in a lead role now. I have always been someone working for other riders like Silvia Zanardi at BePink. Taking on that responsibility at Farto-BTC was really cool. The girls tried their best to help with bottles and trying to get me to the front. We might not be a big team but everyone is eager to learn and improve. They are happy to race for you. Everyone is behind me and that’s why I love this team. I hope to help them improve and create opportunities for them as well.”

There will be a lot of track racing coming up in the next 14 months, but road racing has slowly but steadily won Drummond’s heart. It also helps her get better on the track, especially in the mass-start events like Madison racing.

“A road program is everything for me,” she says. “It’s all about confidence. I was a pure track rider for three years. I didn’t see the results and couldn’t finish a Madison. For the past years I combined track with road and now I do finish Madisons and get better every time. Road racing is practice you can’t get in training. I am competitive. I want to race people. The team aspect of the road scene is also great. One day it might be a good stage for me and the next day I am helping others on a climbing stage. It’s more than just focusing on one thing. There is much more variety.”

Drummond started sports at a very early age at her primary school in Te Awamutu on New Zealand’s North Island. She was always competitive, she says. “The drive to be successful was always there. I did every sport there was like rugby, field hockey, swimming, and dancing. Hockey was the main one but the thing with a team is that not everyone has the same motivation to be the best hockey player like I wanted to be. I like the individual aspect of cycling and its unique combination with the team aspect.”

After Drummond’s last road race this weekend, she’ll turn her focus to the Madison and Team Pursuit events on the track in hopes of qualifying for Paris as part of Team New Zealand. Photo © Cor Vos

Like many young New Zealand riders Drummond ended up in the junior track program with coach Ross Machejefski. She credits this program as the foundation of the current Team Pursuit squad that will be competing for a medal in Paris under current women’s endurance coach Paul Manning (Machejefski stepped down in January 2022 to pursue an MBA, although he continues part-time as a national development coach).

“There is a lot of track racing coming this year,” she says. “After the Tour des Pyrenées I am going into a full track block with the super world championships in Glasgow as our main focus. We will race the Six Days at Fiorenzuola [ Italy] and then a team camp before worlds. It’s a big priority for us. We won gold in the Team Pursuit at the World Cup in Jakarta. We were so surprised at our time (4:08). It blew our minds and it shows how we are such a good team. We all get along. We are all still young and came through the New Zealand junior program together. Jakarta was one of these times where it all clicked and hopefully, we can continue to keep it clicked.”

In the Team Pursuit there are many gifted road riders and Drummond is one of them. The teams from Australia, Great Britain, Italy, and reigning champions Germany will be the biggest rivals but Drummond believes they can go for that Olympic medal.

“I feel we have always been the underdog around fourth place. With Paul Manning, the former Great Britain coach, we have really made that step up, hopefully towards the podium at the Olympics. We have high goals for the World Championships in Glasgow but also personally I want to do well. Next to the Team Pursuit I would love to race Madison as well. It’s one of the reasons I love road racing. It has improved my Madison so much. Of course, I need to be selected for both events but I feel good at the moment. A few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that.”

After another full year of focusing on that all important goal in Paris, Drummond feels like a career switch is coming. 

“I was first reserve for Tokyo in 2021 so these Olympics are big for me but if I am honest, it will probably be my only Olympics [on the track]. I will take it year by year but after Paris I would love to be in a supportive environment to improve as a road rider. I am only figuring out myself what kind of rider I am, to be honest. I wouldn’t say I am not a climber. Being a ‘trackie’ I always thought I would be a pure sprinter but I noticed I have been climbing really well lately and can keep up. On a rolling course and a sprint of a small group I can do well but it’s still a discovery process who I am. I do think it will be along the sprinting line.”

One thing is for sure is that Drummond feels liberated after a tough time. She has been able to use the negative experience at Zaaf to become better, both mentally and physically.

“At Farto-BTC team with Brais Dacal as a great sports director it now all clicks. I am in a good environment and I am happy. The past months were a changing point. I have been through the hardest times I have ever been through this year and it has made me grow a lot and [become] really strong. It made me realize I can do it. I really want to do it and want to be there. I want to make every race we have – and we don’t have a lot with our team – count. That’s a mindset that has changed. I realized what I didn’t have when it was taken away from me. You see that in every former Zaaf rider in Andalucía. They finish in the top 10 on multiple occasions. It shows how much we have been through and how strong it has made us. In the end the whole Zaaf debacle looks to have been a blessing in disguise.”

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