INTERVIEW: BRODIE CHAPMAN
We meet the Australian rider who has signed for FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine in 2020
She was brought up in the remote Brisbane rainforest, follows a vegan diet and entered cycling through mountain biking and downhill. But in just four years, Brodie Chapman has gone from road racing novice to WorldTour rider. Procycling meets the Australian who’s taking her rapid rise step by step
Brodie Chapman is an unconventional star in the making. Ahead of her third classics campaign, but first with a WorldTeam, Chapman has set a daily reminder on her phone that reads: ‘Tokyo gold’. “Not for me,” the Australian laughs. “But I think I can go in a good support role for Amanda Spratt and that’s pretty clear that’s what the plan would be.” She adds: “I’ve only been racing for three years.”
The spring classics double as Olympic qualifiers for Chapman, as she tells Procycling, and building towards them is also part of her integration with FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope. “For some people it’s a matter of whether you make the Olympics or not but for me, I look beyond that to, ‘If I make the Olympics, am I just going, or am I going to truly play a role and help Amanda win a medal? That’s what motivates me every day.”
Chapman in January is playing the team card well but there is no denying she is a born winner. On paper it appears the 28-year-old has just come across road cycling and with her raw talent deigned to experience it.
“I know it definitely appears that way. I started riding road bikes when I was working in a bike shop. I was about 20. But I was never really interested in racing, it was nothing I knew about. I was really into mountain biking and downhill, four-cross, hanging out at the dirt jumps, fixed gear riding. I actually
applied for a job there to buy a BMX, which I did in the end,” she says.
Chapman admits that she had reservations about road cycling before dabbling in Australia’s National Series (NRS) and then signing with UCI squad TibcoSilicon Valley Bank for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, competing across America and Europe.
“I didn’t really see professional women’s cycling as an option. I thought it’s such a niche that I didn’t dream about it,” she says.
In reality though, Chapman has done the work to reach the WorldTour – remarkably in four years. She reminds me of Mark Cavendish when speaking about how she approaches goals. Both break things down to stepping stones; you can’t start at zero and go straight to 100. You begin at one, then two, three and four. Chapman did that the hard way, not coming through any institutionalised programmes like a lot of her peers. “I remember writing down goals: ‘I want to get upgraded from B-Grade to A-Grade’. I think it’s still on my Instagram, the letter I got from Cycling Queensland saying you’ve made it to A-Grade. I was like, ‘This is it!’” she says.
“I made it to A-Grade and won some races in Queensland. I was like, okay, I want to go into the NRS, or the VRS [Victorian Road Series] even. So, I moved to Melbourne where there was going to be more racing, hoping to get into a VRS team. I bypassed that, and Holden Cycling took a bit of a chance on me and put me into the NRS team.
“I had written down in my diary, ‘I’m going to be a professional cyclist,’ but I often say yes to lots of things and follow where it takes me. I worked really hard to get where I am, it didn’t just appear. I didn’t get talent scouted from another sport. I’m not saying it was easy - it’s very hard to go into cycling.”
Chapman had mixed feelings until the 2018 Australian National Road Championships where she
“I had it written down in my diary: ‘ I’m going to be a professional cyclist.’ I’m not saying it was easy - it’s very hard to go into cycling”
finished sixth. She then placed 15th at the ensuing Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race before the Herald Sun Tour - the platform that changed her life. Chapman was called in as a substitute, for now FDJ team-mate Lauren Kitchen, to play a support role in the national squad. Instead she won the opening stage, finishing eight seconds clear of runner-up Annemiek van Vleuten, and went on to claim the race title.
“I was a bit naïve to exactly how it all operates. We didn’t have radios, so I took some opportunities, but I definitely didn’t go into the race trying to win,” she says.
A NAT U R A L INSTINCT
Chapman competed on instinct. “I know that’s obviously not how cycling works. If you get an instruction on the radio or you’ve got a very clear plan, then you do it. But I initially got away on a climb where I was trying to set it up to come back. It was very early in the race, so it wasn’t something you expect to win from,” she continues.
“I felt like I’d been itching. I knew I was quite good, but I had no point of comparison and neither did anyone else. I’d hardly done any racing in Australia or outside of Australia at all. It was just like my legs were ready to go and see what I could do. It was good to be in a field of really strong riders and [know] where I stood.”
Ironically, it was road captain Kitchen who helped recruit Chapman to FDJ this season.
“I knew her from there [Herald Sun Tour] and then having followed her and knowing her as a person from that time, I’ve seen how she is in the team and that’s quite a big thing for me. Her traits as a rider, and then her wanting to progress, suited what our team needs,” says Kitchen.
“Now we have Cecilie Ludwig for the finals and Brodie is working on attacking long and that’s why she’s been doing it in the last races, with the intention of when we get to Europe, for the big races, she can then do that with Ludwig behind.
“I’m working on that plan so then she’s confident to do that.”
Chapman opened her 2020 season competing in Australia’s ‘summer of cycling’. She placed ninth at the national road race behind winner Amanda Spratt, was 33rd at the Tour Down Under and won Race Torquay, which is a prelude to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race where she
finished 10th. We’re speaking, after the women’s Down Under, in the same hotel lobby where Chapman, during a spell as a writer and digital editor, once interviewed an emerging Caleb Ewan.
The 2019 Tour of the Gila champion thinks like a winner but has a broader perspective than someone who left school as a teenager and has lived in a cycling bubble ever since. That she has found a harmony between the bubble and the real world is rare.
“I remember seeing those AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] selection camps wishing I’d known about it. I came into professional cycling a lot later than everyone else. I feel like I’ve had a good bunch of experiences early in my life and dabbled in everything, so now
I know I’ve arrived purely because I’ve worked to be here and want to be here. It was an opportunity among many,” she says.
The 2019 Tour de Feminin stage winner has been a vegan for more than a decade and is well read on sports nutrition as a result, especially when it comes to a job that she used to have to take annual leave to do.
“I found out about how cruel the industry was to animals and decided that I don’t want to ever be a part of supporting that, and the way I can do that is just by changing what I eat,” she says.
“I work with a registered sports dietician and she helps me make sure I’m getting enough calories.
“You can get all your nutrients and calories from vegetable food. You just have to eat more than you think. People love to comment on that. ‘Are you going to eat all those oats?’ And I’m like, ‘Absolutely!’”
Chapman was raised in Mount Glorious, a rural area about 30km out of Brisbane, Queensland, in the middle of the rainforest with a population, according to a 2016 census, of 296 people.
“It’s up in a rainforest. My primary school was about 40 kids, give or take. We pretty much just ran wild in the rainforest and spent most of our time outdoors,” she says.
“It’s an alternative community in many ways; there is a reason people go live up there. But I’m most grateful for my respect for nature, animals and wildlife, [it’s] what I really learned up there the most. A lot of the values I was brought up on are now becoming a lot more mainstream but to me they were just the way I was brought up. We always had to sort our rubbish and recycle, you never disrespected nature. You had to learn to respect dangerous snakes and spiders that were in the house.”
PAV I N G H E R WAY
Chapman’s mother is a sign language interpreter and her father is a manager at a mental healthrelated not-for-profit. No one in her immediate family has an affinity with cycling but are all “super active people”. Chapman’s mum and sister accompanied her to the Grafton to Inverell Classic the first year organisers allowed women to contest the full 228km distance.
“I think about six of us entered, women, in men’s C-Grade,” she recalls. “[I] rolled turns, tried to apply all the things I’d learned on bunch rides. I rolled in, I think, eighth overall in that grade, so it was pretty affirming. It was a good challenge and paved the way for that event now to really include women’s participation a lot more and offer prize money and recognition.”
Kitchen believes Chapman, who describes herself as something between a climber and puncheur, will succeed at FDJ. “She has a different background having not come through juniors or been on a bike her whole life, so I think that makes it interesting as well. She wants to race her bike and that’s what we need. We need this spark,” she says.
“Brodie in a sense is a young rider in the sport. [I’m] trying to tap into what she can do, help her progress and get the most out of her in a way that will also benefit the team.”
While Chapman is just getting started, she’s also conscious of time.
“I’d love to win in the future. I would love to win Liège-BastogneLiège, Flèche Wallonne, an Olympic gold. But I’m looking realistically at my career, like, how long have I got? I’m 28 now, the next Olympics is in Paris, which is likely to be flat, so my goal at the moment is to build myself into a strong time trialist. I would love to aim for world championship and Olympic medals in that discipline.”
If there is one thing Chapman has proven she can do, it’s achieve a goal.
“My primary school was about 40 kids, give or take. We pretty much just ran wild in the rainforest and spent most of our time outdoors”