‘I really levelled up’: U23 Holly Lubcke reflects on European adventure


It’s a cyclist’s dream, isn’t it? Three weeks in Europe, racing every Saturday, riding alongside your friends and Australian support crew: a taste of the pro lifestyle.

That’s what 20-year-old Holly Lubcke enjoyed on AusCycling’s European XCO camp last year – an initiative that’s about to return for 2023.

The Queenslander was one of 10 riders selected for the trip, which included cross-country racing in Germany, Austria and Czechia.

“We raced in three different countries; we did a race every week. Two of them were World Cups, which was really exciting. I’d never raced one before then,” Lubcke explained in an interview with AusCycling.

“It’s a whole other world they have in Europe compared to Australia: the field – 80 to 100 riders – and the weather’s challenging.”

Australian mountain bike cross-country XCO rider Holly Lubcke

Lubcke, who has twice medalled in the under-23 national championships, said the level of competition forced her to upskill quickly. She had to improve her start, for example.

“Being Australians, we usually start at the back of the field, not having as many UCI points as Europeans who have access to these events all the time,” Lubcke said.

“The starts can really be everything if you’re looking to finish and get a result. When you’re towards the back of the field there are bottlenecks, there’s lots of running involved. You get caught up in traffic and it’s a lot harder to finish.

“I learnt they’re really important, way more important than say, at Nationals in Australia, where if you have a bad start it’s not the end of the world – you can recover and slowly pass people, and even win from the back.

“It’s really hectic: 80 girls on the start line, going from zero to a hundred. There’s lots of crashing involved; there’s always a crash on the start line. I learnt how to navigate that and go hard, but without crashing.”

She also dealt with European cold and mud, something rarely seen on her home trails in the Glass House Mountains.

“I’ve never changed tyres so much throughout a trip,” Lubcke recalled.

“I definitely learnt more about my bike. I learnt the different compounds on the tyres, what suits different conditions, how to get the most out of my race and how you’re not just stuck with one kind of tyre.”

The XCO camp will be one of nine overseas development projects run by AusCycling this year. The projects are designed to give up-and-coming athletes a taste of international racing in a safe, supportive environment.

“Mountain bikers are just good people in general, we’re all like-minded and got along,” Lubcke said about the team. “When you travel with a group of people for a month, you feel a bit like family. I had a hard time when I got home, I missed everyone.

“I knew of everyone there from racing, but it was nice to get to know everyone properly. We’d play cards, go for ice baths, ride to the bakery as a team.

“It was a really good environment. I didn’t feel like there were sub-groups. The coaches were approachable, relaxed and trusted us.”

Australian mountain bike cross-country XCO rider Holly Lubcke

Off the bike, the trip was a rich learning experience, too.

“Even outside of racing, adult skills like travelling, being in a different country, travelling with your bike, problem solving, getting places,” Lubcke recalled.

“I had to travel from Czech Republic to Belgium on my own; that was a big learning curve for me. Things went wrong, I missed trains, I had to stay at a place on my own. I just really levelled up and learnt lots of life skills.”

Indeed, 2022 was a time of growth in every respect. After the AusCycling camp, Lubcke raced on skinny tyres in Belgium with her National Road Series team before returning to Europe for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships later in the season.

She also started working part-time as an environmental consultant, a job that’s already taken her to the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

Australian mountain bike cross-country XCO rider Holly Lubcke

“I spent in total five months overseas last year racing and working, which is great but not sustainable,” she reflected.

“My goal is to continue my development over the years while balancing. I’ve got two years left at uni and I’m really passionate about my new job I picked up last year, so I want to continue excelling at that and keep ticking away.”

This year’s AusCycling European XCO camp will take place in May for under-19 riders and will feature three weekends of racing, including a UCI World Cup round at Nove Mesto.

“It’s really awesome to have the opportunity to have four races over there, instead of going for one big prestigious race where anything can happen,” Lubcke said, comparing her trip to the World Championships.

“Not being quite at that world level yet, it was really good for me to have lots of racing to grow, see different tracks, and get that experience while you’re there. And also make a trip out of it, see all these amazing parts of the world.”

Expressions of interest for AusCycling’s 2023 European XCO camp close on March 5.

Photos: Matt Rousu

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