Newly crowned Australian National Road Champ, Nicole Frain, isn’t yet a household name with many cycling fans, but that might soon change. Having entered elite cycling just three years ago, the Tasmanian sure made her mark with a late solo attack at this year’s Australian National Road Championships that snagged her the green and gold jersey for the season ahead.
Riding for Australia’s only UCI Women’s Continental team, Roxsolt-Liv-SRAM, Frain will soon be representing the Australian Champion’s jersey in a number of European UCI 1.1 and 1.2-level races, before heading over to race in the USA’s vibrant criterium scene.
Here we take a look at Frain’s freshly painted Liv Langma Pro race bike and get to know the relative newcomer a little better.
A meteoric rise to Roubaix
Nicole Frain isn’t shy about her pathway into cycling being different to the norm. Prior to cycling, Frain followed sports that aligned with her role as a product developer for Australian sports supplement company, Bulk Nutrition.
“I did a number of years of gym life, because my work is in the gym space, but I got sick of the aesthetic side of that. Work sponsored a triathlon and I loved how it felt to physically achieve something with my body, and so I chased triathlon for a year,” said Frain.
Within that year Frain suffered stress fractures in her foot and hip. “Running and I don’t agree. I stopped that and a friend encouraged me to go fully into the bike leg – this was in 2018/19. I don’t even run up stairs now,” laughed Frain.
Living in Hobart, Frain soon found herself on the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS) Women’s cycling team and with some big goals for both time trials and road races. The next year she was the Sydney University-Staminade National Road Series team, and then late last year she was a stagiaire ride with WorldTour outfit Tibco – SVB.
That internship with Tibco quickly led to Frain’s WorldTour debut at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix. “It was a bit surreal,” recalled Frain of lining up at the first women’s edition of the legendary race.
“I think that it was really different to other races, in that everyone was nervous. It wasn’t just like this was my first WorldTour race and I’m personally nervous because it’s my first in a big peloton over in Europe. Everyone was nervous because there was all this nervous energy, expectation, and hype for the women. Just in general, some of the seasoned professionals were feeling the pressure and what the race meant,” Frain explained. “It was a different energy to what other races felt like. The following races just felt more chilled and I felt more comfortable in my ability.”
Even prior to starting with Tibco, Frain had a confirmed ride with Roxsolt for 2022, a team that seems eager to develop riders for the next step up in the sport. After getting a taste as a stagiaire, Frain still has her sights set on a WorldTour ride.
First custom-painted bike
Last week the new Aussie champ received a custom-painted version of the team’s Liv Langma Advanced Pro. It’s Frain’s first ever custom-painted bike and the final design was kept a surprise until the day of delivery. “Peta (Mullens) dealt with Sun Graphics (Melbourne-based bicycle painter) and Liv,” Frain said. “The little personal touches were my input, but that’s about the only input I had.”
Those personal touches include a small Tassie emblem on the downtube, the quote “why not”, and “#FrainTrain” painted across the top of the seatstay bridge.
“The Tassie is where I’m from. Out of the travel I’ve done, it remains one of my favorite places to ride and train – which is awesome because it’s home.
“The ‘Why not’ is because I’m a big advocate of concepts and quotes like ‘you don’t know if you don’t ask’, ‘you don’t know if you don’t try’, and that sort of thing. A lot of those quotes were getting too long, and so “why not” just shortens it down.
“People often say you can’t do something, but I ask why not, what’s the worst that can happen if you try and fail? I’m a big advocate for that as it’s something I’ve come up against a bit coming into this sport later. In 2019 I told people I wanted to get on the national team for events like Tour Down Under and Cadel’s Ocean Road Race, and some people said I wouldn’t make those teams. Likewise, some people say I can’t jump up into WorldTour so quickly, and again, I ask why not? People are defined by these pathways and I feel like I’m making my own pathway so that quote is pretty personal to me.
“The #FrainTrain is just a bit of fun. (Matthew) Keenan seems to love saying it in the commentary, while Matt Gilmore (head cycling coach at TIS) who’s been with me from the start has always used it as a nickname.”
Frain had just arrived back in Hobart when we spoke and had just a couple of rides on the new race bike.
“It feels really cool, and I’ll ride along, and I’ll think, do people know what this bike is?” said Frain in response to what it feels like to ride on a bike covered in the National Champion colours. “The bike gives me the same feeling when I look down and see the gold sleeves of the jersey, and I just think, wow, that’s pretty cool.”
While the regular team bike is now the training and backup race bike, Frain was planning to show off the custom machine in a few of the local Hobart bunches. And days away was the Kunanyi (Mt Wellington) Challenge, a prized annual club race held on Frain’s doorstep.
“I want to give it a bit of a dig on the climb.” said the local of the mountain she already owned the QOM for. Frain mentioned she had her sights set on breaking the one hour mark, and therefore joining an illustrious club that includes names such as Nathan Earle and Richie Porte.
Looking over Frain’s rapid rise, it’s easy to see how many different bikes she’s raced in such a short time period. And the changes to new equipment don’t seem to bother the Tasmanian all that much. “I take a ‘get what you’re given’ attitude to my bikes. We’re provided with this stuff from our sponsors and we have an obligation. [Plus] it’s top-end stuff so it’s always going to be good.” The exception to this is where Frain believes minor percentage points matter most – “on my time trial bike I get more finicky.”
All sponsored riders typically speak positively of the equipment they’re on at that moment, but Frain appeared genuinely happy about the team’s only road race model, the Langma Advanced Pro Disc. “I started on a Liv back when I joined TIS, the women’s racing team. I actually have always loved Liv bikes, and that’s not even a sponsor thing, it’s just I like the geometry and they have always been one of my favorite bikes to ride.”
As the team name suggests, Frain’s race bike is built with a SRAM Red AXS groupset, a Quarq power meter, and Zipp wheels. The bike is pictured with a pair of new 454 NSW wheels, but Frain typically trains and races on 303 Firecrest wheels with tubeless tires. Bar tape is from the Tasmanian brand Burgh, and tires are Pirelli.
So how did Frain go in the annual Kunanyi Challenge on the brand new bike? Well, there’s now a new QOM time to beat, a time good enough for 4th overall on the day, but a frustratingly close 44 seconds away from slipping under the 1-hour mark. “So painfully close to an elite club – it was a headwind [for the] final 3 km. Next time,” laughed Frain.