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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Kate Nichols - A chip off the old block?

By Karen Forman in Geelong

Kevin Nichols
© Tom Balks

Considering one's male and the other's female, it's probably a bit unfair to dub Kate Nichols the proverbial "chip off the old block".

It is true that Kevin Nichols has been one of the best cyclists Australia has ever produced, winning a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

And it is also true that his 18 year old daughter Kate appears to be shaping up to become part of the next generation of medal winners. She won a gold medal at the National Championships as an under 17 and finished 36th out of a 75-strong senior field as one of only two juniors in Sunday's first round of the 2003 Geelong Bellarine Tour in Victoria. With just five months' training under her belt.

So the talent is there, the love of cycling is there, but that, says the 47 year-old father from Gymea Bay in Sydney, is where the similarities end.

Kate Nichols
© Tom Balks

In charge of spares and vocal support on the circuit where Sunday's first stage of the inaugural Geelong Women's Tour was conducted, Kevin grinned when posed with the question.

"Well, at the moment, she is just interested in exploring her potential, whereas I was always results focussed," he ventured.


"Well, she's probably a little bit too nice in the bunch; has a strong sporting etiquette, whereas I was more ruthless."

And? (Bigger grin)

"I chose cycling because I didn't want to work. The whole poverty cycle of living in a small town with few jobs." (Grafton, New South Wales)

Anything else?

"She can climb hills. I can't."

Still, Kate must have gotten those genes from somewhere. As well as having cycling muscles and what Kevin calls a "cycling brain", she also has a science brain. In her High School Certificate, for which she took six months completely off the bike last year, she scored 99.1 and was 13th in the State in biology. As a result, and pending some more exams next week, she has won a scholarship to the tune of $40,000 to study science at university.

However, the sporty side of Kate's brain is telling her to explore her talents on the bike as well. Proud cycling-mad dad Kevin reckons "I'm not saying anything, but it's a lot to give up."

Kate is one of two juniors to contest the Geelong tour. The other is her close friend from Canberra, Jessie Maclean. The pair aren't old enough to race in next Sunday's World Cup, also being held at Geelong, but figure the experience of racing with 76 top international riders this week is good enough.

Of course, having had six months of no riding due to studying means Kate, riding with the FRF Couriers NSW Institute of Sport team managed by Gary Sutton, is nowhere near as fit as her peers. But she did managed to hang on and did finish in the second bunch. Now she wants to give her utmost to the selection process of the Junior Worlds this year.

For Kevin, her enthusiasm has been an inspiration to ride a bit more regularly and even lose some weight.

"She was dropping me," he said. "I couldn't have that."

Born in Grafton, home to the longest and toughest one-day stage race in the southern hemisphere, the 242km Grafton to Inverell, Kevin was living in Sydney and glittering with gold when his first daughter was born. He had stopped competing after the 1986 Commonwealth Bank Classic, but continued to enjoy the social side of cycling, which saw Kate taking part in the odd club event.

When she was 13, he started to take her to junior tours "just for fun", then decided to travel south to Bendigo for a weekend, "just the two of us" - during which she won the national under 15 road race.

"After that she started to do OK, winning everything," he says. "The next year she won the road title and the crit, then a couple of medals in her first year as an under 17, then the gold in the road race and time trial the following year."

"Last year she won a couple of State championships on road and track. But by the track nationals she was flat after her HSC and took five months out. At the time, I thought that she was doing too much study. But she got 99.1 and has been offered the top scholarship for science at Wollongong University."

He believes cycling and school benefited each other. "Kate went to a selective school, which had 38 girls out of the 150 kids, so cycling was an outlet for her, an opportunity to mix with others with similar interests," he says. "In the end I think cycling was one of the big factors in the way she went about her HSC - the discipline."

And what if her bid for Worlds selection succeeds?

"Then we go to the original plan, to defer uni for a year."

Still, it's a long hard road to the top and Kevin, who knows from personal experience, is realistic.

"The tough part is that she is looking at 18 months to start to feel her potential, even not allowing for the age difference, and three years to get to the elite level," he said. We are trying all that into six months to get selected."

Of course, having Kevin Nichols as a Dad helps. He has been back on the bike, keeping her company.

"I had only really been playing around a bit, occasionally having a go and winning a derby for the fun of it at home and enjoying the social thing. But Kate got going again and so have I. She was dropping me up hills so I lost a heap of weight. Then I raced in B grade in the Bay Crits Series. At that stage, she had only done four and a half weeks training so I entered to take the focus off her and had a ball. I ran fifth in the last crit at Geelong, after crashing in the first. And the second and the fourth crits had hills in them so... I elected not to bother.

"In the last one, though, I was feeling really good and I thought I'd see how good Nicholas Sanderson is; [laughs] he trashed me and totally cooked my legs."

Kevin credits his daughter has having a "pretty good bike brain". "She knows how to plan and structure a race and how to control a race," he says.

"Like I said, I think she is a little bit too nice in the bunch; well, that's what I keep telling her.

"Obviously she has a long way to go to step up in class to elite woman level but these days, unless you race against the professionals, you will never match their power output"

"Today she started up the back, but finished in the second bunch so she's looking pretty good. And unlike me, when I was racing, it isn't all about results for her. She doesn't have any expectations, but is just exploring her potential."

With the genes of one of Australia's greats - plus a scientific brain to boot - who could blame her?

A chip off the old block? The next two days should give us a fair idea...

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