Rider Chat: Claire Steels

For a rider new to the sport, 2019 has been a really good one for the very lovely Claire Steels of Brother UK/Fusion RT) who has just won the Ras na mBan overall, was third in the Tour of Reservoir, second in the South Coast Classic and then the winner of the Ryedale GP

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Rider Chat: Claire Steels

For a rider new to the sport, 2019 has been a really good one for the very lovely Claire Steels of Brother UK/Fusion RT) who has just won the Ras na mBan overall, was third in the Tour of Reservoir, second in the South Coast Classic and then the winner of the Ryedale GP

When asked has the season met her expectations she had at the start of the year, Claire replied “it has exceeded my expectations really. “I didn’t have a great start with a few mechanicals at Klondike which is a race I was really looking forward too, nice and challenging with lots of hills that I love.”

“So I was really disappointed. Then I was involved in an early crash at the CiCLE Classic and the team lost three riders in the crash; myself, Molly and Georgia, we were off to hospital together, not quite the team trip we anticipated!”

“I managed to come back for the Tour of Reservoir which I feel was a turning point for me in the season. It had probably the hardest course of the year, especially the new stage on the second day which was quite a challenge. It had a lot more climbing than before and was one that I feel suited me as I like the longer climbs. Some of the hillier races in the national series have shorter punchier climbs which don’t really suit me as I like a long draggy climb and that race result (3rd overall) gave me the confidence that I really needed.”

Talking before the Ryedale Grand Prix, after two podiums (Reservoir/South Coast Classic) and with the Yorkshire race the last National Series event, I asked Claire was she hungrier than ever for that top spot on the podium? “Obviously we all want to win but if I have learnt anything over the last two years it is that anything can happen in the race. So, I try and focus on the process of riding well and racing well rather than the outcome as anything can happen.”

That worked well for Claire as at the end of the Ryedale Grand Prix, she sprinted up the hill to a glorious victory. We just need to get her to work on the victory salute LoL!

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Both the Brother UK teams in 2019 have been at the forefront of the racing in Britain and when I asked Claire does it feel good to be part of a successful squad, she replied “definitely. It is so nice that Brother UK can support four teams in total, two teams on the women’s side and pretty much holding up women’s domestic racing. That is impressive and without them, neutral service would not be here, we wouldn’t be and what Phil has done for domestic cycling, and in particular the women’s side, is incredible”.

When asked what is the best thing about being in a team like Brother UK/Fusion RT which has been around a long time, Claire says “we are all such good friends so there is the banter and this bond we have. As an older rider, I don’t think I have a lot of friends who enjoy a sport at this level and show this level of commitment to their sport so it’s great to be surrounded by women who are passionate about their sport”.

When we got onto the subject of work, which most women do in our sport whether full or part time, I did get a surprise when Claire explained “I am a director of a fitness company. To some people running your own business means you can work whenever you like and have lots of free time but it also means if you are not working, you are not earning!”

“So it is a hard balance getting the hours in on the bike without sacrificing my work and business. I have a business partner and employees who are dependent on me putting in the hours in the office and if I am not doing my job, that isn’t fair on other people so it’s hard and I need to do my bit.”

Her work gets even more interesting when she says, “I live in Majorca!” That means not only does Claire run a business in Majorca, she also has to travel back and forth to do the British races and that makes her situation pretty unique! It also explains why she likes the long climbs LoL!

“I spend a lot of time at airports and travelling to races in the UK. I am fortunate the team understands the issues with travel etc and allows me to pick the races I want and there is no pressure for me to come back to races as the travelling takes a lot out of you.”

“There’s a day lost either side of the race so I tend to travel Wednesday/Thursday and then return on Mon or Tuesday. I am though lucky to live there. I had worked as a fitness instructor in gyms for ten years doing the same thing and was ready for a change so my boyfriend and I decided to up sticks and go there.”

“It is fantastic for cycling there and we had the team come over for the training camp and they came and stayed and ate all our food! It was really lovely.”

With so much travelling, and how that impacts on training in between races, Claire explained “training is more about recovery because I am flying every 12 days. I’ll be home for a few weeks before travelling to a race and then go back again and by the time I am over the flying, unpacked and settled into training, there is may be only two or three days of proper training before I start to head back here which is why the winter training is so important and Majorca is perfect for that”.

Claire has just ridden the Ras na mBan stage race in Ireland, one of the leading riders, and that is her season done and she is looking forward to the time off. “There are not a lot of women here who don’t at least have a part time job and it’s really hard juggling work, family , racing and so most of the riders are ready for a break after a long season.”

Looking back at the season and the most fun race, Claire says the Tour of Reservoir. “I love the long climbs and I backed myself and it paid off. It was a real turning point for me. The race in Eastbourne (South Coast Classic) was a really good race and as a team, we knew the area well as we’d done the Tour of Sussex a few times. The South Coast Classic was a fun course and one a few people underestimated, a very hard day out but fun …”

Living abroad and racing, I asked was 2019 a demanding year for Claire? “Yes. I am trying to push the business forward and build the business so that when I am not there in the summer, it can run itself hopefully with everyone’s help”.

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Another interesting fact about the team is they do not have a bike sponsor in 2019 so riders race their own bikes. Claire races a Liv Envy. “I have had it for years and years. I come from a duathlon background and that was the bike I used then and it works. My boyfriend was a mechanic for a pro team and has tinkered with the bike so it works for me. I have one here and one in Majorca so I don’t have to travel with one”.

“Last year I travelled with a bike and was constantly having to take it apart and rebuild it which was adding hours to the travel and the stress of everything. Last year I flew back to Majorca and my bike ended up in Ibiza so this year I treated myself and have a bike in each place.”

Finally, is Claire coming back in 2020? As she admits, there is a high turnover of riders in teams and her reply, after the success, was a little surprising. “Probably but not definitely. It takes a lot out of you and there are things to consider personally and professionally. We all take our racing seriously here but essentially, it’s a very expensive hobby but it is also like a family here, a team full of little sisters”.

“The social side is huge and it is really hard to not see the team but as I live in Majorca, I don’t think I will be short of house guests.”

Fingers crossed we see Claire back racing in the UK in 2020! Thank you Claire for the chat, really enjoyed talking to you …


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