Joanne Kiesanowski is a three-time Olympian from New Zealand who now directs our women’s roster in races around the globe, from Australia to Colorado, and everywhere in between. She has seen the ebb and flow of bike racing in her twenty-year career, but her enthusiasm for the job still burns just as bright.
I came to the US by myself. Track cycling is what brought me here and I started off at the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, a world-famous center for track cycling. During my career, I raced three Olympics. I competed on the road in 2004 and 2008, and on the track in 2012.
I almost went back to New Zealand. But then at the start of my third year, I got some good results and managed to turn pro with a series of American teams. I did a few years on European teams too but finished my career back in the US at Team Tibco Silicon Valley Bank. In a way, my time with them was much like the current Rally Cycling women’s program. We were a US team but we did trips over to Europe to race as well. I knew that if I wanted to be at Worlds or the Olympics, I had to race in Europe.
I grew up as a track sprinter. I started off doing really short races. They announced a few years out from London that there would be an omnium and it would contain a flying lap, an elimination event, a points race – that was basically my dream event. I came seventh and that was my best placing at an Olympics.
The London Olympics cast a long shadow. Both Zach Bell and I were at London 2012 and we both did the omnium. He rode for Canada and that’s when we first met. He got in touch with me a few years into my retirement at the end of 2018, to ask if I wanted to do some directing. Now he and I share the women’s director role.
Leaving racing behind was a great opportunity. I didn’t go straight into directing. I had a couple of years where I was able to pursue things I hadn’t been able to before. I took some junior USA track riders over to Worlds, as well as helping out at some talent ID camps here in Colorado Springs. I also worked at the Tour of California driving a VIP car.
It was an eye-opener to be on the other side of a race. To go from being a rider to seeing it from the organizer’s side gave me even more confidence. I got to understand that there are so many safety measures put in place. It’s great to be able to tell my riders that their safety has been meticulously considered.
My perspective changed when I started directing. When you race, you get everything taken care of for you. Now it’s my job to do that for our riders. One part of you wishes you could go back to being on the other side, but I also feel as though ‘I had that time’. Now it’s all about taking care of others, asking ‘how can I make that as easy as possible for them?’ Making sure they have a good positive environment to perform in.
You can’t always please everyone. As a director, you have to make decisions sometimes that somebody is not gonna like. But the most important thing is to make the decision, to go with it – that’s really all you can do.
There’s always the push for more equality. I think we’ve seen some really positive things in the last couple of years, particularly the Women’s WorldTour. I want to see that continue with the inclusion and the addition of exciting races for women. They just announced Women’s Paris-Roubaix and that’s really exciting for us.
Racing the first Paris-Roubaix would be huge. That’s what sponsors want to see, that’s what the fans want to watch. They want to see us racing in the highest-level races. That’s why we have to keep proving that we can get those results and that we can challenge for wins. Our invite to La Course shows we’re on the right track.
We had a fantastic start to 2020. We went to the Tour Down Under and we won the first race of the first day of the year. It was such a great way to begin the season. It really fired up the riders’ confidence. We were able to say ‘we really belong here, we can be a factor’.
I’m excited about post-pandemic racing. To have three months of racing just bang, bang, bang. The spring classics in the fall is definitely something to get used to but props to the UCI for putting it all together and giving the teams something to aim for this year. It’s cool that things don’t have to be set in stone.
It’s not necessarily about getting the victory for me, it’s seeing the process. Seeing everybody do their jobs as they were asked, or even stepping up and doing more. Seeing that unfold within the race, that’s incredibly exciting. Seeing people perform to their potential and making sure we get the most out of our racers. Whether they’re going to win the race or they’re going to come back and get bottles. Any way that they feel as though they’ve contributed. What I saw in Australia was a team racing beyond what they as individuals thought they could do.
It’s not a question of whether women can or can’t do it. We can do whatever we want to do – we can push ourselves as hard as the guys, for sure. I think back to ’05, ’06, ’07, those years we had so many amazing longer races. We have the Giro now, but before we had the Tour de L’Aude. Hard hilly stages over ten days. I hope we can get some more races like that on the schedule. I don’t think it necessarily has to be a Tour de France facsimile, the same days, same stages – I think we can have our own races.