Cycling: Undaunted by 'scary' first race, Chelsie Tan earns one-year contract extension with pro outfit

Chelsie Tan became the first Singaporean woman to secure a professional contract with a team in Europe when she joined Team BikeExchange. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Fear, and the smell of burning rubber, were what national cyclist Chelsie Tan remembered from her first European outing at the Omloop van het Hageland event in Belgium.

So blistering was the pace of the 130-rider peloton that Tan was dropped just 25km into the 128.2km race in her highly anticipated professional debut with Australian outfit Team BikeExchange-Jayco in February. 

Having never ridden in such a large pack before, Tan – the first Singaporean to secure a professional contract in Europe – said: “The speed makes it scary and it was my first time and I was also riding with so many riders, it was just overwhelming.

"My mind is just empty... Everyone is so close to each other... This was the first time I could smell so much of the tyre rubber burn on the road in the peloton because of the hard braking.

“It is normal but it wasn’t normal for me the first time, I’d never come across things like that.”

Her dream of racing professionally in the International Cycling Union (UCI) Women’s World Tour continued to hit speed bumps, as Tan did not finish in 12 of her 13 races.

Her only result was a 61st-placed finish in the Vargarda WestSweden road race in August. 

At the SEA Games in Hanoi in May, she hit a new low after an underwhelming performance that saw her finish 24th out of 29 riders in the women’s individual mass start and seventh out of 19 in the criterium.

Hit by overwhelming disappointment, Tan, who moved to Girona, Spain, last November, considered quitting the sport. 

She said: “I didn’t do well in the SEA Games and I was super depressed. That really hit me and made me question if I should stop cycling, like if I cannot race properly in the South-east Asian level, what am I doing here (World Tour)? I should just pack everything and stop cycling.”

But a stint in the United States while visiting her fiance in Tennessee helped her refocus and change her mind. She took part in eight races there and was not outclassed, reaffirming her belief that she has a future in the sport.

The encouragement of those at Singapore Cycling Federation, including high performance director Shayne Bannan, friends, family and team, also helped her tide through this rough period. 

She said: “In the World Tour peloton, I’m surviving. But in the US, I am racingand I used what I learnt in the pro peloton. 

“It made me understand myself as a rider and my capabilities. It pushed me into racing for another year, knowing what I could do and to do it better next year. I feel like I have more room to improve.”

Singapore's Chelsie Tan representing Team BikeExchange-Jayco during the Vargarda West Sweden road race in August. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Having secured a contract extension with Team BikeExchange-Jayco for the 2023 season, she planned to stick it out in Europe.

Team BikeExchange-Jayco general manager Brent Copeland is excited to see what Tan can achieve in her second season and believes she still has a lot of untapped potential. 

He said: “Chelsie is clearly talented and this year she has overcome so many different challenges. She has been racing out of her comfort zone all season and with this, shown great resilience and incredible motivation.”

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