Around a decade ago, Liz Hatch arrived on the shores of Europe with her racing bike, suitcase and dreams. Comparatively late to racing, Liz oozed Crit-Racer's fight coupled with Centrefold looks, and the results, popularity and controversy that followed became a heady mix for the cycling media. For a while, they couldn't get enough of her, until Liz decided she was not being taken on that ride any longer. Smart enough to know how to work that system, Liz quit racing and the limelight.
I sit opposite Liz in a typically enchanting hidden Lucchese piazza. She may be out of racing and very happily settled into family life, but this powerhouse from Texas still effortlessly exudes an edgy chicness. She takes a deep breath, eyeing the voice recorder: "Well - I never thought I'd be sitting down to do one of these again...". The sharp features break into a smile and her laughter dances around Bar Baccanale's intimate interior. We decide it’s Aperol Spritz o’clock.
Always Riding: Liz, lets wind the story back to the moment when you quit racing and pick up from there.
Liz Hatch: I stopped racing at the end of 2013 and Andy (Fenn, Team Sky – Ed) & I decided that we would leave Belgium. He had one year left at Quick-Step and he decided he wanted to move somewhere that was a little bit more ‘hilly’. He was tired of training in the Leuven area, it's really beautiful there but it was too much stop and start and too many cars, you can't just go for a long ride were you really just see nobody. I happen to like riding in Belgium, but, since I was quit racing I had to do something that was good for him. I’d lived in the Lucca area in 2009, he’d been in the area with the GB Academy, so, we decided to come here. There are other English speaking cyclists around; it's hard to move somewhere that there is nobody to train with. So, we picked up and moved here end of 2013. In the following April, I had a call from Kask - they had been a sponsor of the last team I was on - and they asked me if I wanted to do something with them, more internally on the business side of cycling. So, I've been working with them since April 2014. Mostly in sponsorship and events and, now, trying to build our women's brand. I really like the company, they're great, they treat me really, really well and I enjoy it so much.
Then we had a baby! Fiona was born a little over a year ago - it's been pretty full gas with that! It's such a life change, took me a little while to get used to it, there are still days when I'm like “Oh man!” but she's so much fun, so that makes it easier.
AR: Did that little alteration to life stop you getting you getting out on the bike?
LH: In the beginning I didn't ride- actually, as soon as I found out I was pregnant Andy was all "You're not touching the bike, I'm taking the wheels off!". I was "I don't see the need for that!" but he was just worried in case something were to happen. I understood - it can be a little bit dodgy around here sometimes with the drivers, they can be a little crazy… I think that maybe, subconsciously, with the Catholicism, they believe they're already saved so ‘whatever happens, it's gonna happen!’. I ended up not riding for a year almost. Then, when Fiona was maybe 5 or 6 months old, I said "That's it, I'm losing my mind, I need to ride my bike, I miss it so much!" So, we finally found a lady who comes over a couple of times a week for a couple of hours so I can sneak off for a little while.
AR: You are no wall-flower when it comes to speaking your mind about issues in cycling; where, in your view, are we at right now?
LH: I am encouraged by what I've seen in the last 3 years since I stopped, with the women's World Tour coming in and it seeming to be becoming more of a legit professional sport but it's still got such a way to go. For women's cycling I kinda decided at the end of 2013 that I had done enough of it and I'd tried hard enough and that I wasn't getting out of it what I was putting into it: The sacrifices were outweighing the return in a monetary aspect. There comes a point in your life when you have to say “Ok, I'm an adult now, I have to earn a real living and this is not cutting it as far as giving me enough back”. I'm frustrated in as much as I see so many women - and know so many - that accept riding professionally for zero money. I think it's insulting to them. I mean, how can you call yourself a 'professional'? I'm in no way taking away from their talents, I'm saying to them "Why are you willing to write on your Twitter or your Facebook that you're a professional cyclist and you're not being paid!?" You're saying to everyone "I don't deserve money, this is enough for me, some kit and a bike" That doesn't help to push the cause forward. Unfortunately, I think it's gonna take a large group of these people to say "We aren't putting up with this anymore!”; but it's hard to say that because there is always another girl who is a little bit younger and a little bit more eager and just wants the experience. I did that for a couple of seasons and then realised that it wasn't going to result in anything that goes in my pocket so I started searching for things and demanding things…
I'm frustrated in as much as I see so many women - and know so many - that accept riding professionally for zero money. I think it's insulting to them.
AR: Did that put people's noses out of joint at all?
LH: No, not really. Actually people respect you more when you say "I will give you this - but you need to give me this", business people are used to that. When you demand a price or something monetary or tangible from a sponsor they actually give more respect to you; they give back to you more because you are costing them something. I mean, it's a little scary at first! You say "I will do these things but you need to put this money in my bank account". It's maybe not the most natural feeling in the world to a lot of people - well, it wasn't for me! – but I needed to find a way to continue racing. I hope that the women's World Tour does what it's supposed to do in making the sport more accessible, understandable and viewable. Viewable is really important. You need to be able to follow races to be a fan of something. Cycling is entertainment: If you can't follow the stories and the actions, how are you going to be a fan?
AR: And men’s cycling?
LH: Cycling in general: I’m encouraged but it still has a way to go. You see what a crisis it's in right now in some respects. It happens every couple of years: Teams come in, they go out again, everyone panics - it's a bit of a mess. There needs to be reform and there needs to be input from the actual riders. At the moment nobody listens to the riders, they're just puppets.
AR: Does working on the other side of the industry, ‘out of the saddle’ if you like, allow you to try and contribute to positive change?
LH: So when I decided to start working for Kask I started thinking even more about that. Kask were also recognising there was a gap in that respect - a shortage on our part of putting into the women’s side of things. A lot of the big brands are associated with the big men's teams and that makes them seem quite masculine. The thing I like about Kask is that they're really open to new ideas, like the Red Hook Crits and mountain biking. We have a lot of ambassadors who are women who don't necessarily race but just love bikes: They may be a fashion blogger or they may be a business woman who rides a bike in her off-time. I think for women, riding bikes can be quite intimidating to start with, it's not really seen as a feminine thing - but I think that's really changing. Women like Lizzie Armitstead, Laura Trott and Emma Pooley who are making women's cycling seem attractive to the average woman as even just a leisure time thing. It's helping a lot but it has a way to go.
When I stopped I realised I needed to do something that was gonna be a real career and Kask was a great starting point. I was lucky to be able to take something that I really love - cycling - and then turn it so I had a slightly different way to look at it, the business side of it. I still stay in the industry ‘cos I love, love, cycling. I'll never not-ride a bike: it's a great sport, it's a great way to spend you free-time. You don't have to race, just ride a bike. It feels great, it's great for your head, great for your body!
There needs to be reform and there needs to be input from the actual riders. At the moment nobody listens to the riders, they're just puppets.
AR: Ok. It would not be a Liz Hatch interview if I didn’t turn the conversation to ‘That Photo Shoot’ and its polarising of opinion around the cycling world! The Maxim photo shoot - what were your feelings at that time and now looking back on that time?
LH: Well I still don't have a problem with it. I mean there are people in every walk of life: Some like Maxim sort of stuff, some don't agree with it. So why should it be any different in a smaller microcosm like cycling? There's always going to people who don't like something. I did it because A, I thought it'd be great to look hot for a day - sorry, most women enjoy getting nice pictures taken of them when they know they’re going to look good! – and, B, I thought "Ok, maybe this'll lead to something else". I was attempting to think more like the ‘Business Person’: This is an opportunity to be seen by a broader audience and if I want to support my racing, which in itself meant being on a team that was not paying me enough to live on, then I needed to find other ways to do it. I wasn't necessarily thinking "Oh, this is gonna be great for women's cycling", it was an opportunity. I'm not an apologist: I do what I need to do for me and you do what you need to do for you and if we don't agree - and as long as we're not hurting each other - I don't see what the problem is. I didn't think it was that big of a problem but I know a lot of people didn't like it. I think that everybody that is doing a sport or involved in an activity like that… there tends to be this over-indulgence of importance of what they're doing and maybe it's forgotten that you're just riding a bike. It's supposed to be an escape for people when they come home from their job and who want to flick on the computer or TV and see something they have an outside interest in beyond work. I just didn't think it was that controversial!
AR: Umm - Some people seemed too!
LH: Well, yeah - It's like when Cav says "Who the hell are these internet trolls?" It's like, "Come tell me to my face!" I just maybe don't understand these people who have so much of an interest in other people's lives that they feel they need to spend hours on an internet forum talking about it. What is it gaining you? Do you feel better when you stand up off the computer?
There's been so many times since I’ve stopped racing that I’ve read an article or a race report - I mean, nowadays probably about Andy because I’m personally invested in him and how he does - and I see comments and I think "You just have no idea what you're talking about!" I wanna get on there and say "Hey! Listen! From somebody who's stood right next to that person…" but that’s not going to gain anything but attacks. I do understand Michelle Froome feeling the need to do what she does, because she loves her husband and it's very hard to listen to people to say things that are so 'off-base' or not true without saying something back. But, then, you have to remember that they ain't sitting in your living room and they are not your family! Actually, when you develop a thick enough skin it is kinda funny to read all the brouhaha that goes on in the comments section… I just picture these angry, white, middle-aged men! Strange…
AR: What would the Liz Hatch of today tell Liz Hatch that arrived with her suitcase on the shores of Europe all those years ago?
LH: I would say, to all of these young girls, actually, that your career is very short and it is very valuable so, first and foremost, ‘Know Your Worth!’. You only get to do it once and, if you really put in what a professional athlete needs to put in to be successful results-wise, you can lose ten to fifteen years of freedom, in a sense: You don't get to go out drinking and dancing – ok, maybe once or twice in the winter! So know your worth in choosing to make these sacrifices. I think I'd tell myself to not be so nervous - I didn't feel natural racing. I really love riding my bike, I found it late, I found that I was pretty strong but I didn't have those years of history and of learning how to really race a bike and really 'live the life'. I got thrown in really fast because I was like "Why don't we just go with this and see what happens?" I don't want to say it got out of control but suddenly I was in Europe and full-time. I was "Um - I don't belong here! What am I doing here?!". I'd just tell myself not to be so nervous, not everybody has a great race every day and that does not mean you're not a good rider.
I would say, to all of these young girls, actually, that your career is very short and it is very valuable so, first and foremost, ‘Know Your Worth!’.
I think that every time I had a bad race I didn't have the fortitude to say "Ok, it's done, tomorrow is tomorrow". I really felt uncomfortable and a 'fraud' maybe, in a way. I remember the first and only Giro I ever did, the first stage race I'd ever done and I'd never even been on a time-trial bike: That level of "What am I doing here?"! But I finished it with not-great training for it. I'd come from the U.S Crits: It was 9 days of stage race and I'd never ridden more than 4 days of criteriums in a row! It was a wake-up call but when I finished it I realised "Physically I can do this". I think it was more mentally that I didn't have it. I wasn't tough enough mentally, didn't know how to handle things. A lot of stuff happened when I didn't speak up because I didn't wanna lose my spot. I'd tell girls now that if you stick with it and you're good enough to make it, you'll make it - as long as you have grit: Grit is a big thing.
AR: The Good things – what has cycling given you?
LH: Oh man - It's given me so much! I think it's the whole tapestry of training and racing and travelling and getting to meet people & big personalities - and all the strange people! I've seen so much of the world, I got to ride my bike all the time, I was in great shape; I look back at the pictures and think “Wow! Those legs!". It gave me a really big perspective on the world that I probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise. I learned a lot. You learn how much you can go through and still be OK on the other side. And I lost a lot of skin on the way!