Meet the inspirational Aurelie Halbwachs from Mauritius, 2017 African Women's Road Race and ITT Champion
How did you get started in cycling and who inspired you?
"I started cycling in 2003, when I was 17, just so I had some sport in my life. My dad was riding three times a week with friends and he convinced me to join. My brother loaned me his shoes and helmet and I borrowed a bike from a friend. At the beginning I didn’t really enjoy riding and it was really hard! My dad helped me to keep going and after a couple of months I started to feel good on the bike and was enjoying going out. I finished school the next year and went to France for three years to study.
I joined a club and started to know more about cycling while I was there. I had my own bike and my own equipment (actually in my size!) to ride and I started to race around France with the club or regional selection.
In 2005 Bertrand Carabin became my coach (he was already training my boyfriend Yannick Lincoln). As I was achieving good results and making strong progress, I had full trust in him and never changed my coach.
In 2006 I took part in first race representing my country at the African Cycling Championships (ACC)… and I won gold in the ITT! This was an incredible experience and I was so proud to be on the top step for my first time at the Championships and standing under the national colours of Mauritius as the flags were raised and our anthem played. The South African women were not really happy as they were the only ones dominating road racing in Africa at the time!
For many years thereafter it has been very difficult for me at ACC as South Africa was always a very strong team but other countries were not really there with whom I could work in the race and I had to always fight on my own to earn a medal. It was then more a game of being on the podium for me and even if it was 3rd, I was very happy. I also focused a lot on the ITT as it is just you and your bike, you and your effort. You must be strong mentally and accept the challenge to fight until the end and stay focused.
To cut the story short I have won a lot of medals at the ACC but never gold again until this year… awesome 2017! I will come back to this later."
Aurelie on the top step for the Womens ITT, ACC 2017
Other racing highlights
Other highlights of Aurelie's road career are participation in the World Championships (2017), the Olympic Games (2008 and 2012), the Commonwealth Games (2010 and 2014); a win in the French Cup (2007), 3rd in a stage at the Tour de Free State (2012); silver and bronze at the All African Games in 2011. A bronze medal in the ITT at the 2015 ACC was also a great achievement for her as she was almost 3 months pregnant.
She started mountain biking in 2009 and got great results in that discipline also: silver at ACC XC in 2012 and 2013; 4th at the Transalps (with her good friend Yolandi Du Toit); won the Cape Epic with Yannick Lincoln in mixed category in 2014 and 14th at Marathon World championships that same year.
At home in Mauritius she has been elected sportswomen of the year four times since 2006.
So what happened at the 2017 African Championships?
"This year’s ACC will stay forever as the best I have ever done in terms of achievement. I would never have thought of getting two gold medals!
After having my baby in September 2015 I spent a difficult year in 2016 trying to feel good on the bike again to try and reach my optimum fitness. It was also the year of the Olympic Games for my husband in the Mountain Bike XCO category so we more focused on that and he was the priority and I wanted to support him 100%. With a baby at home it was not easy while he was away for preparation and then the Olympic Games themselves. But tragedy struck, as just two days before the XCO race when Yannick crashed while training.. It felt like all the year had been “useless”, everything fell apart and our hearts were broken with sadness. He came back to Mauritius on crutches.
I then focused my motivation on the MTB and decided to do two big MTB stage race in October and November with my good SA friend, Yolandi. I got back to a great level of fitness and felt super strong while racing in Mauritius. Unfortunately nothing went well for me, at the Cape Pioneer after 3 stages, while we were lying 2nd behind the OMX pro women's team, I had to withdraw due to a stomach illness. I came back in Mauritius before going again for Wines2Wales, but being weak I caught flu and was forced to stay home and rest for a week. Yolandi is a good friend and we decided to do the race for the fun and spend good time together on incredibly beautiful trails.
After a good rest I started my preparation for the ACC with training programs from my excellent coach. I had no races in which I could compete to progress, however I had a strong training partner (my husband) and a huge motivation. Sickness came again with another flu and gastro 10 days before the race day at ACC. I spent more time resting and was happy to feel good again on the bike when I arrived in Egypt.
Gold in the ITT was already a great reward for the hard work I had done and I was happy to have it so as to say big thanks to all the people around me who helped me achieve this performance. (A special thanks to Team Rwanda's chief mechanic Jamie Bissell who helpe me prep my bike before the race. The camaradie among the competing African nations at these events is a wonderful feeling!)
Then came the road race and it was more pressure as it is a team work with tactics involved and an error of judgment can cost you the race. Kim (Le Court) and I know how to race but as we were the only two women for Mauritius we couldn’t attack but took as many attacks as we could so as to be always at the front if ever a breakaway was going. At a point during the race we talked to each other and we were both very tired from taking part in several attacks, but our motivation didn’t fade. Everyone in the race then decided to rest for the last 8km so we knew it was going to be a sprint finish and we were ready. At the end the sprint turned out well as we proved to be the strongest at this exercise and did an historic 1 and 2 for Mauritius!
Aurelie and Kim win the sprint finish for a historic Mauritius 1-2!
In hindsight I can say that luck was finally on my side this time. However, I would never have won these 2 medals if motivation, hard work and discipline were not present. Despite some moments when I was struggling, my coach and my husband helped me to keep confidence in me. So I focused on my objective day after day."
So what challenges have you faced personally, as a woman and at home in Mauritius?
"While I kept on studying and now working full time, I never stopped cycling and had to find time to train regularly. This was, this is, just a passion, something that brings me freedom and fresh air, allows me to travel, meet friends and also spend time with my husband, my dad or some friends. My motivation doesn’t fade as long as I have a target I want to reach.
Of course it is very hard sometimes, so it is very important to have a good support around you (family, friends, coach, colleagues, sponsors and club). It is also very important to find the right balance. I am still fine tuning this part as I never have enough rest (pretty difficult with training + full time work + family and daughter of 17 months!) need to be good at work, good on the bike, I want to spend time with my family and also be a good mother and wife. So it’s never easy, I always have to adapt and cope with different situations and my body sometimes can not follow the pace and my health suffers.
In Mauritius there is unfortunately no structure yet to develop cycling properly as funds are lacking; I had to battle hard to find sponsors for my travel expenses many times and it’s unfortunate. But it is also sad to see that kids / girls are not coming into the sport, if so, there are too few. There is a big need of an academy with everything provided (bike, helmet etc.) so anyone can come give it a try with the support of a coach who can encourage those who are more gifted."
Many thanks for taking time to speak with us at African Womens Cycling, you are truly an inspiration for women on our continent. Do you have any final words?"
"I hope my story can inspire some women in Africa. Of course things are never easy, but we have to keep in mind what is our ultimate goal. This can vary for everyone, depending on one’s ability and personal target. To be on the bike must also be fun and bring something special to each one who is cycling (happiness, better health, freedom, confidence… etc.). I think that with hard work, good values and self motivation, every woman should reach their goal and make it a personal success!"