The Veloroos, the first Australian, all female RAAM team are on their way to take part in RAI this August. Their two-rider squad of Julie-Anne Hazlett (originally from Tyrone) and Nicole Stanners are excited about the latest adventure for one of the world’s most committed endurance racing teams.

Here’s their story…

The Veloroos – Julie-Anne Hazlett (left) and Nicole Stanners (right)

Tell us how Veloroos came to be involved in Race Around Ireland? 

We met Alan and some of the Race Around Ireland organisers in 2015 as they were also doing Race Across America and that planted the original seed.  Since then we’ve chatted about it on and off but it wasn’t until Julie-Anne came back from visiting her parents last year that we decided it was something we were definitely going to do. 

Having done Race Across America in a 4 person team, the dilemma was whether to do Ireland in a 4 again or to make it more difficult and to try it as a pair.  As the distance is shorter than RAAM, we decided to opt for a pair and after chatting to the girls Nic decided she was up for the challenge.

We signed up at the start of this year.

Can you outline the team with a few short pen pictures and detail the various qualities they bring to the project?

The Veloroos in Race Across America 2015. They won and broke a 19 year record for the race. The crew were awarded the Lee Mitchell Prize for best crew.

The Veloroos were the first Australian, all female team, to take part in the Race Across America in 2015.  We won and broke a 19 year record for the race and our crew were awarded the Lee Mitchell Prize for best crew. 

For Race Around Ireland, two of the original team, Julie-Anne Hazlett and Nicole Stanners will be the riders.  Both Julie-Anne and Nicole are endurance specialists with backgrounds in triathlon and met about 5 years ago, competing against each other.  Since then we have also done a number of cycling races and were part of an all female team that won the first L’Étape Australia in December 2016.

Julie-Anne Hazlett, better known to her friends as JA, is a Workforce Optimisation consultant based in Sydney.   Originally from Ireland she has lived, travelled and worked her way around the world, before eventually settling in Sydney almost 17 years ago.  JA has always loved sport and used to ride horses, play hockey and snowboard.  It wasn’t until 2010 however that she decided to buy a road bike and give triathlons a go.  Since then she’s raced in 2 x ITU Olympic Distance Age Group World Championships (representing Ireland) and 3 x Ironman 70.3 World Championships.  This year she also qualified for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in France but will be doing Race Around Ireland instead.

Nicole Stanners, Marketing Director ANZ for an international alcohol company, has toured the world both personally and professionally and is now based in her native Sydney. Nicole’s passions have always been travelling and sport, so anything that combines the two is a big tick. Always a keen runner, netballer, touch player and water skier, Nicole took up triathlons when she was working in Singapore at which point she decided her running needed a bit more variety. Ever since then she has been hooked on triathlon, with the bike being her favourite leg, usually battling it out with Julie-Anne in Australian events. Nicole has raced for Australia at 2 x Ironman World Championships in Hawaii and 1 x Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas.   

I see that Julie Anne Hazlett is from Ireland originally. Can you tell us a little about her background?

Yes, Julie-Anne is from Northern Ireland originally.  She grew up on a farm in Killyman, County Tyrone, and transferred to Australia 17 years ago with her work.  Since then, she comes home every year but thinks it’s a wee bit easier to train in sunny Sydney.

What does RAI mean to you?

JA: RAI for me is a huge personal challenge.  I know what the weather can be like and that it’s going to be an incredibly tough race but at the same time there is a huge draw card because it’s my homeland and I can’t wait to race around my own country.  I know I’ll also have a lot of support there from my family and friends and I really hope that people will come out and cheer us on as we pass through.  I know the scenery will be spectacular and I can’t wait to see it from my saddle.

Nic: Of course the challenge is a big motivator, but I love adventure and experiencing new things, so this will definitely be one for the bucket list. I drove around Ireland as a backpacker in a January over 20 years ago, so I am sure it will look very different on a bike in August!

Race Around Ireland is a massive logistical undertaking. What did you learn from your experience competing in RAAM last year? Can you speak a bit about what’s involved in putting a team together and what the big challenges have been in getting this far and what your foresee as the issues for a smooth event in August.

Trying to organise a race like RAI and RAAM when you live on the other side of the world is both a difficult and expensive undertaking, so sponsorship plays a big role in helping us to get there so we can concentrate on the training and fundraising solely for our charities (Tour De Cure and Amy Gillett Foundation).

We need to organise flights, accommodation for the start and finish for us and the crew, bikes, lights (the back light needs to be on at all times when we are riding), charging station, spare parts, wheels, nutrition, support cars, bike racks, kits, mattresses in the vans or somewhere for Nic and I to sleep, somewhere for crew to sleep, transport from Dublin to Trim for everyone, logistics in Ireland and of course the most important thing…!  We are lucky in that our multi-skilled crew are all volunteering their time as they are just as excited about an adventure as we are. Although bike mechanics and physios are a little harder to come by.

We have a strong track record in providing great exposure for sponsors during RAAM through PR, Social Media and a documentary that was well distributed to TV networks around the world. As yet we have not secured major sponsors, so if anyone is interested, let us know.

One of the advantages of a team is the opportunity for camaraderie and support through the long dreary days and months of pre-event training. Do you ride together often?

Yes.  Nicole and I ride together a lot at the weekends.  As we both have full time jobs, we do shorter 1-2 hour blocks during the week before work and then at the weekends try to do longer, endurance workouts.  Obviously with weather, work travel and other commitments that isn’t always possible but we talk regularly and try to make it work where we can so that we have at least one session a week together. 

How do you plan to organise your squad to get the best performance? Are there any secret tips for getting back to Meath as quickly as possible?

Mmm can we tell you that after the race?  – Having a plan but being felxible was key in RAAM so we’re guessing it’ll be pretty important in RAI too. Racing in a 2 person team is a whole new concept for us so no doubt there will be some trial and error in different tactics over the next few months as we train.

Can you tell us a little bit about the support crew? They are a vital component in any RAI bid.

We have some great crew coming along.  Sara Lynn, Ben Thomson, and Anthony Gordon (Gordo) were all part of our crew in America so they know what to expect although the Irish weather may be a bit of a shock.  Gordo filmed our RAAM documentary, RAAM Bam Thank you Mam, so we’re looking forward to a great documentary on this adventure too. We’re still looking for a bike mechanic and physio so if anyone is interested, please do get in contact.

New to the crew team are Emma Hayes, Alice Williams, Holly Stanton and Britt Puhlman.  We know Alice and Emma through triathlon in Sydney and Holly and Britt are friends of JA’s who can survive on minimal sleep and have experience crewing in ultra distance running events.

Crew are every bit as important as the riders. They need to do all the thinking for us while we are riding our bikes.  It’s really important that they have a sense of humour but at the same time take things seriously.   They are also volunteering their time to help us which is incredible.

What are your hopes for the event? Are there any specific performance goals or is it a case of simply getting to the finish?

We’re both very competitive so of course we’d like to win the 2 person, female team race.  This race will definitely test us more than RAAM as with only 2 cyclists, there is only one other person if something goes wrong and we’re going to be on the bikes much more.

We really hope that we get to see how beautiful the country is and that the team gets to experience some incredible Irish hospitality.  In RAAM people wrote our team name in random spots in chalk on the road so it would be great to have lots of local support as we make our way around the country. 

We are hoping the weather gods are nice to us, but if it is really brutal, we’ll be happy to make it to the pub after the finish line!

Finally, can you tell us about the charity you’re riding for?

 We are riding for 2 charities The Amy Gillett Foundation and Tour de Cure.

The Amy Gillett Foundation is about raising safety awareness to reduce the incidence of death and injury of bike riders.  The foundation was born out of tragedy, the death of Amy Gillett, an Australian professional cyclist who was hit by an out of control motorist whilst cycling with her National Team mates in Germany. Since the organisation’s inception they have been a catalyst for safe cycling helping to raise awareness in campaigns such as “a metre matters” and convincing State Government in Australia to bring in cycle safety laws for cars and cyclists.

Tour de Cure is about riding to raise awareness and funds to cure cancer. Everyone has friends and family who have died from some form of cancer and as cyclists who spend a lot of time in the sun in Australia, it’s a charity we feel very strongly about.