When a budding road cyclist says their dream is to one day compete in the Tour de France – widely agreed to be the toughest cycling race in the world – you know they must have ambition.
But it’s an even loftier goal for female cyclists, as the prestigious race is still strictly for male competitors only.
Still, Hong Kong teen Lily Sheary is hopeful that a women’s Tour de France will exist one day. When that day comes, she plans to be among the cyclists at the starting line.
The 15-year-old is a newly minted member of the SHKP Supernova Cycling Team, which has nurtured some of the city’s top cycling stars.
As she tells Young Post, Lily saw an opportunity to join the winning team six months ago, when she was looking for a cycling crew near her new home in Sha Tin.
With the team’s training centre just one MTR stop away, Lily knew it was the perfect choice. She sailed through the selection trial and made the list.
“When I was searching for a new team, I was looking at race results, and SHKP Supernova has always been at the top in competitions,” she adds.
As one of the few non-local cyclists on the team, Lily says her teammates always go out of their way to make sure she feels included. They translate the motivational speeches given by the coaches so she can share in the team spirit.
“I love the training atmosphere here; everyone is very easy-going and motivated,” Lily enthuses. “I don’t need to speak Cantonese to feel my team’s motivation.”
The more time she spent with the team, the more Lily, who is also a triathlete, began to feel that cycling might be her stronger suit. But she wanted proof, and nothing speaks louder than competition results.
In May, one month after she joined the team, Lily was crowned champion in the women youth age 11-16 category at the Hong Kong Road Cycling Race: Series 6.
It was the proof she needed of her potential in cycling, and of the difference that training had made to her performance.
“Training with a team has taught me to read a cycling pack – the cyclists riding together in a group during a race. I have to identify the slow and fast ones, and decide which group I’m going with,” explains Lily.
In addition to an effective training strategy, Lily stays on top of her game thanks to a strict timetable.
The Island School student says that unlike some of her teammates, who might skip training to do schoolwork or prepare for exams, she makes sure she gets her work done outside her training hours.
“I’m lucky that my school has allowed me to do homework during PE lessons, or sometimes I stay up late to finish my work,” says Lily.
But her definition of “stay up late” may not be the same as that of her peers, as Lily never goes to bed later than 10pm.
“I’ve been going to bed at 8.30pm since I was a kid. I think sleeping so early does help me in sports, because recovery is really important.”
While the Year 10 student has gotten off to a flying start with her new team, she knows she’ll need to work hard if she wants to maintain her winning streak.
Right now, her weakest area is the final sprint, where cyclists ride as fast as possible for the last 300 to 400 metres of the race. The teen believes her lack of competition experience makes it difficult to know the right time to start sprinting.
“I remember I was leading in one race, but I was overtaken by others in the last bit and I came fourth,” she says.
To gain more experience, Lily spent part of her summer holiday training in Europe, where she was able to compete in local tournaments.
One unexpected discovery she made during her trip was that European cyclists tend to be quite aggressive, often yelling at each other during races, which Lily says made the competitions more intense and entertaining.
“They would say things like ‘Move out of my way!’, which is quite different from the way cyclists behave in Hong Kong; it is much calmer here,” she admits. “But overall, it was a really good experience, and I’m hoping to go back next year.”
But nothing could beat the thrill of watching the Tour de France live, which Lily was lucky enough to do while she was in Europe. She has since set a goal for herself: to take part in the women’s race in five years’ time, if possible.
“The race was so cool and fun to watch. If they do start a women’s race, I’ll definitely go and do that.”