When Felicity Wilson-Haffenden (BridgeLane) begins her pro career in January next year, she’ll be just 18. The Tasmanian recently signed a three-year deal (2024-2026) with Lidl-Trek after what was a breakout year – wins in the junior time trial and road race at Aussie Nationals, victory in the Oceania Championships ITT, and then, in October, a win in the Glasgow World Championships time trial.
After a quick trip to the US last week to meet her new teammates, Wilson-Haffenden is back home in Hobart. It was from there that she spoke with Escape, sharing her feelings about joining the pro ranks, what her expectations are, and what it was like meeting (and rooming with) some of the biggest names in the sport.
Matt de Neef: How was America? And what did you guys get up to?
Felicity Wilson-Haffenden: It was so cool. Yeah, it was crazy. We spent a bit of time at the Trek HQ factory thing, just looking at new equipment and that kind of stuff. And then we went to Chicago and then did some stuff with SRAM and then we went out to a Chicago Bulls game, which was pretty cool. And then we did some rowing thing – college sport in America is huge. It was cool.
Was there much focus on the upcoming season or was it mainly about team-building, and getting to meet your teammates for next year?
Mainly team-building. I mean, a bit about talking about what your goals are for next year, but just sort of team-building mainly.
What was your impression of your teammates for next year and the team in general?
Oh, it’s a really nice environment. Cycling can be like … it’s very competitive. So it can sometimes be a bit robotic, but it was actually very human with the team, which was really nice.
Was there anyone there that you were almost starstruck to meet?
I was travelling over and I was sitting in the Dallas airport and then I got the room list. And I saw I was rooming with Elisa Longo Borghini and I had a slight panic attack. And then I walked into my room, I think at 1am that night, so she’s sound asleep, so then I was stressing about how the morning would go. I was just gonna wake up and be like, “Hi, nice to meet you!”
And how was she? What’s she like?
Oh, she was so nice. Yeah, she’s so good.
You mentioned goals for next year – what’s the team hoping for from you?
I’m in a nice position where they’re not expecting too much from me really. Which is: get involved with everything, try everything. I mean, I have to progress; I have to show improvement from the start of the year to the end of the year, but that’s normal when you’re young and on a development pathway. But there’s no real pressure, which is nice.
Did they give you an idea of the sort of racing they want you to be doing?
For January, I’ll focus on the [U23] TT at Nationals. And then just try a bit of this, bit of that. I’ll do a lot of the .2, .1s – those lower sort of races. And then depending on how I go, maybe get the opportunity to step up here and there. And then looking forward, then I’ll start to hopefully get some bigger races.
What are you hoping for personally out of next year?
I just want to start to feel comfortable in those big, different sort of bunches. I think that’s going to be the main change coming from juniors. And then I really want to set a good foundation – sort out where I want to live and then develop a bit of a support network in Europe and all that kind of stuff. Next year is more about setting myself up and stuff, I think.
Do you have an idea of where you want to live?
I think I want to do the typical thing and go to Girona, where all the Aussies are, so if I run into trouble I’ve got some friends. I’ll do that for a year and see how I like that.
So how did this contract with Lidl-Trek come about? Was that after you won the Worlds time trial?
Yeah. Richie [Porte] ran a fundraising ride for us, I think it was the day before I left for Europe. And then he’d been in contact with them [Lidl-Trek]. And then after I won Worlds, I think it was that night, they were like “OK”. So it came about pretty quickly after that.
I mean, there were a few other teams but it’s funny – at the start of the year, I’d been like, “You know, if I ever got to choose the team, I’d go to Trek, but it’s gonna be too big for my first year.” But they were bringing in a whole heap of juniors so it was actually perfect.
Do you have a manager that was helping you with the contract stuff? Or were you doing it all yourself?
No, we had like one meeting I think after Worlds by ourselves and I was like “Nup, I need help.” So Andrew McQuaid’s doing the managing for me. [McQuaid is Porte’s former manager. Porte helped connect the two – ed.]
How are you feeling in general about becoming a pro racer? What’s the main feeling?
I think excitement’s the most; definitely at the front. And then it’s definitely a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve just been to America, and now I’ve come home and it’s like, “OK, now where do I go?” Organising all of it, actually moving overseas – that’s a big thing to do on my own. But yeah, I think excitement’s definitely the biggest emotion.
Have you got people that can help you with that transition?
Yeah, I do. Andrew Christie-Johnston from BridgeLane has been really good in helping me set things up. And then Lauretta Hanson [a fellow Aussie who’s also on Lidl-Trek – ed.] in Girona so I know I can just go knock on her door anytime I have a problem. So yeah, it’s a good little team I’ve got going.
What does the next few months look like for you? You mentioned Nationals. Have you got a plan between now and then? And when do you think you’ll head over to Europe?
Yeah, so I’ve also got a bit of track stuff going on at the moment. And then it’s really just preparing for Nationals, TDU – the Aussie summer. And then I’ll head over in March – I think there’s a bit of track stuff through February, early March. And then head over and pretty much get straight into racing I think.
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