Peta Mullens: On her difficult season and contemplating the future
As I’ve traveled to races throughout the last season, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to pro cyclists. One thing that I’ve learned from my conversations is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a gnarly veteran or rookie racing your first Pro/1/2 race, just about everyone admires and respects Peta Mullens. Part of the reason is that Peta is an accomplished World Tour pro and a multi-time Australian National Champion (with her crowns spread between road, mountain bike, cyclocross, and the track), but it goes deeper than just that. Peta exhibits that rare mix of real talent and a gracious personality that boosts the sport in all the right ways. She’s a friend, competitor, and mentor to the women of the pro peloton. After interacting with her several times this summer, it was obvious that A Cyclist in a Strange Land needed to sit down with Peta for an in-depth conversation to pick her brain.
The 2018 season has been an unusual one for Peta. As expected, a win and podiums came at Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD) and Tulsa Tough, but other big results never materialized as Peta’s normal power boost wasn't always there. These woes were compounded when she was swept up in a crash at ToAD that resulted in a hairline fracture in her forearm (she shrugged it off and was racing again a few days later at the BC Superweek, but I think it’s still a big deal!).
Nathan (N): Hi Peta, thanks for sitting down with me. You’ve had an off and on season this summer. You’re either winning and getting top five, or you’re struggling. Have you been sick?
Peta Mullens (PM): I’m not really sure. I thought about having blood tests done, but I don’t think that they’d necessarily give me the answers that I need. I think that I’m just tired from racing 100 days a year for five years. This year, I’d take two weeks off and then I’d be fresh enough to do a couple of races. But then I’d have done too much and I’d be tired and need to take another two weeks off. But, the issue is that my fitness fades every time I take time off the bike. I’ve been able to keep a little bit of speed, but I’ve really struggled with the endurance. I’ve DNF’d a lot of road races that I podiumed at last year, which is pretty devastating and hard to deal with. I was ready for the season to be over.
N: We’ll still be seeing you racing over here next year, right? PM: Yeah, I think that I’ll be back here next year. I’m just deciding what I want to do. I’ve been here before as a privateer so that’s always an option. And then, I‘ve really enjoyed my time with Hagens Berman Supermint so I’d be interested in returning with them too. But I’m 30 now and I’m sort of looking to the future and wondering what I want to do next, maybe even run a team of my own. And, my life plans very much revolve around what my boyfriend, cyclist Jarrod Moroni, and I want to do together. So, some big decisions to make over the coming months.
N: I think that running a team is something that you’d excel at! It seems like a lot of the riders with your experience have been branching out into mentoring and developing the next generation of riders.
PM: I’m actually a cycling coach and have stepped deeper into that realm over the last two years. I really enjoy helping junior women. I had a really easy pathway as a junior because I had a lot of support from people just volunteering their time. This year, I’ve helped co-direct the Roxsolt Attaquer team whose riders consist of 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds all the way up to World Tour riders like Valentina Scandolara. I’ve really, really enjoyed that experience. But, it’s very taxing and a lot more draining than I thought it would be. I thought it would be easier to race and help direct a team than it has been. So, maybe that’s attributed to my up and down season too. But, since I really enjoy it, I’d like to try to incorporate the two.
N: Tell me about Roxsolt Attaquer, it’s an Australian team isn’t it?
PM: It is an Australian-registered team owned by Kelvin Rundle. He’s had the team for five years now. Its roster has traditionally been made up of Australians and New Zealanders. This year, they had a different outlook to the roster, we wanted it to focus on development overall, so we had riders from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Italy in addition to Australians and New Zealanders. And, not just development from the point of view of being young, but development such as first opportunities. We’ve had some riders such as Renata Bucher, who’s a Swiss XTERRA Off-road Triathlon racer, that had never done bike racing before join us for the Tour of the Gila. And, as tough as that race is, Ranata finished it! It’s all about giving people the opportunity to fulfill a life-long dream.
N: I’ve seen Roxsolt Attaquer at a lot of races this year, are they racing strictly in the US?
PM: Last year we had the same roster for the entire year and we did a stint in Europe and America. This is the first year that we’ve brought together a group of strangers and housed them together throughout the season. The riders have come in and out throughout the season, but some of the riders like Charlotte Culver were here for 11 weeks which is a lot of time for a 21-year-old to be away from home for the first time. I think what they’ve learned from the trip – racing aside – is just as important as what they’ve learned during races.
N: That’s a huge amount of maturity, I can’t imagine doing that when I was 21.
PM: They’re not completely alone, we have enough of a set up that it’s semi-professional, but we certainly don’t have a masseur or a full-time mechanic, so the girls have had to be somewhat independent. It’s cool, I like it.
N: Can you tell me about having Valentina Scandolara on the Roxsolt Attaquer squad this year?
PM: Vale has ridden for many World Tour teams [Ed. WM3 Pro Cycling, Orica-AIS, Cyclance Pro Cycling]. She’s famous on the World Tour. Vale decided to take a step away from racing at that level this year and Kelvin reached out to her and asked if she wanted to come to America. In a way, she’s sort of a mentor to the squad, especially on the road. She won on Cry Baby Hill at Tulsa Tough and won five of the ten days at Intelligentsia Cup in addition to winning the overall series. [Read more about Vale’s incredible 2018 season here]
N: What is it about these top-level pros and rising stars coming over to America to race bikes? You’re a former World Tour rider like Vale, what was the draw?
PM: I came over to the United States a couple years ago. At the time, I had been trying to qualify for the Olympics to race my mountain bike but was having a terrible season over in Europe. I said that was it, I’m done, and my boyfriend and I booked a flight a week later to come down to do the Oklahoma City Pro Am Classic and Tulsa Tough, and then we never left. Bike racing at the World Tour is obviously at a ridiculous level, and for riders like Valentina and me, it could feel like we were banging our heads against a brick wall. Sometimes, it feels like you need to step away from that and remember why you fell in love with bike racing, how to race a bike, and how to win a bike race. Then, when you go back to the World Tour, you seem to have a different approach to everything. There is just as much of a career racing in the United States as in Europe, it’s just a different style of racing.
N: I was just talking to Daphne Karagianis about how you guys coming over here almost makes it a mini-World Tour. More criteriums than long road races, but with many of the same nationalities represented. [Read more of Daphen’s thoughts here]
PM: Yeah, and I think that it’s a lot easier to bridge the gap between Australia and America than from Australia to Europe. Here, we can come race criteriums which are, logistically, a lot easier for us. Plus, the whole country speaks English, and everything operates 24 hours a day. In Europe, things are much more difficult. When you drive from country to country, even things as simple as crossing a border and needing a new SIM card if you want your phone to operate becomes a challenge, especially when you’re young. They seem like such little things, but, in the end, they add up and they make life in Europe really difficult. So, unless you’re on a team there, it’s almost impossible to come over to race. Meanwhile, with races like Intelligentsia Cup, you can come over to the States as a freelance rider and catch the train to and from the races.
N: Right! It’s like New Zealander Luke Mudgway coming over here and getting taxis during the Tour of America’s Dairyland to take him to races. [We had a chance to talk to Luke about his untraditional week at ToAD and its amazing results here]
PM: Yeah! What we like about the program that we have with Roxsolt Attaquer is that we can accommodate five or six riders that aren’t old enough to rent a car and make the logistics easier. And, obviously, Jarrod and I have done it all before.
N: Is Jarrod also the co-director of Roxsolt Attaquer?
PM: Yeah, well, he’s the director and he’s also the mechanic, plus he races. He’s phenomenal. And he’s a savvy, tactical bike rider; he’s taught me everything I know. A couple years ago, when I first came to America, it was just Lauretta Hanson and me. Then, I left the Tour of America’s Dairyland with $16,000 in prize money and – boom – everybody wanted to be in America. I think that’s one of the big draws, there is a lot of prize money to be won. Even though some people might have a perception that the World Tour is more glamorous, America has a home in the hearts of Australians and New Zealanders.
N: Very nice! Well, we all certainly love you guys coming over here; the racing just keeps getting better! Having said that, what do you think needs to change in the cycling scene? Things seem to be moving in a positive direction, especially in women’s cycling. I know that there is a lot of organizations like the Homestretch Foundation that are helping, but what’s needed to take things to the next level? [Read about the Homestretch Foundation’s ground-breaking work here]
PM: I think that the biggest difference between Australians and Americans is the expectations that Americans have when they race their bikes. They expect a team to sign them, give them a bike, and pay for their flights and entries; that doesn’t happen in Australia. In Australia, you buy everything, and you just enjoy the experience of going to a bike race with your team. When I go to our road national championships in Australia, we have 80 girls there – that’s basically the same size as the women’s pro nationals in the United States and our population is that of New Jersey! I can’t understand how Australia, such a small country, has such a passion for cycling. I think that, in a way, Americans are quite spoiled. There is a lot of racing, people don’t like to travel too far for races because there’s so much of it. And, because there is big prize money at many races, people aren’t going to races where there is a small amount of prize money. I don’t know, I think that the American scene is kicking goals. If you think about it, there’s more money in the Intelligentsia Cup than the Giro d’Italia. I think things are pretty cool here. I walk down the back straight of theses races and there are 20 house parties going on. I think that some communities have really got it. The only thing we can do better is to support bike racing, and that’s on the athletes as much as anyone else.
N: I know that we’ll do our best at A Cyclist in a Strange Land; there are some great stories and races that need more attention for sure. Well Peta, thank you so much for your time. I’ll look forward to seeing you at the races next year!