Cycling champ Bridie O'Donnell opens up about commentating the Tour

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SBS cycling commentator Bridie O'Donnell will be joining the broadcast team in Sydney for this year's Tour de France which kicks off on June 26.

O'Donnell is a world champion road cyclist, a former rower, and triathlete.

She is also a medical doctor, graduating valedictorian from the University of Queensland, and now focuses on helping cancer patients with behavioural changes to help improve their overall wellbeing. She is the inaugural director of Victoria's Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, and in May she was appointed to the board of Collingwood Football Club.

bridie o'donnell cyclist doctor sbs tour de france

How was working on last year's Tour de France coverage?

I found it to be quite a wonderful experience. I was working in Victoria as a doctor in a secondment role in COVID recovery and was working with companies and industries that were very frustrated and angry. So being part of the coverage team was like a holiday. I felt like I was in France.

Commenting is a challenge - you have to give the right balance of what the audience wants to hear, not just how smart you are and how much information you know, but how you make it as interesting as possible. I had ridden many parts of France as a guest on cycling tours so I'm quite familiar with the countryside.

How did you get into cycling?

I came to cycling late. I had been a rower and triathlete and came into road cycling in 2007.

It took me until my fourth or fifth year in medical school to race triathlons and realise I had capability. I discovered a friend in med school was doing triathlon and I wasn't good at it but just loved it and realised that endurance sport is about persistence and not falling down or giving up which is a metaphor for life.

You're going to fail at things all along the way but you figure out what went wrong and keep going. I was 33 years old when I started. It's not a recommended pathway to start late. I rode in the Australian national team and was a professional cyclist for six years. I then rode and managed a team here in Australia and helped develop domestic riders.

I moved back to track racing and set a new record for women in 2016 (the Women's Hour road race) and kept racing in the individual pursuit and team pursuit in Victoria.

What was your first job?

Cleaning the leaves out of the gutters for my grandfather for $5 for three hours work on a Saturday. I then started offering my service to the neighbours.

I was around six years old and I probably shouldn't have been on the roof, but that was the 80s.

It felt like a job because I'd approached my grandfather and said, "How about you pay me $5 and I can do this for you?" It was a real negotiation.

My first job after that was working in Donut King in the Myer centre food court in Brisbane - I was 14.

What's the best money advice you've received?

From my mum: "All women should have a running away account."

It's important and sound to have your own bank account. We're seeing more examples of coercive control in abusive relationships. If you can have independence, it gives security that you can get into a car and leave a dangerous relationship, so that is advice I'd pass onto every woman I know.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

To put solar panels on my roof - but not sure it's working out to be as remunerative as I hoped. I might need to buy a battery. It's saved an enormous amount on electricity bills.

I've also bought a hybrid car and I feel lucky I have a stable job to make those purchases and know they will pay off in the future.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Other than getting married and divorced, I would say I don't make too many poor choices!

I'm pretty risk-averse. I've never had a lot of money so I'm pretty careful - I don't gamble or have investments other than property.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Food and wine and experiences.

One of the upsides of finishing each cycling season in Europe is the opportunity to take a couple of weeks holiday there - I went to Lucca in Italy and Berlin with my mum.

There was one experience where we were staying in Antibes near Cannes and went to an incredible restaurant - Bacon - and the owners picked us up on Vespas and rode us around on the way to the restaurant. It was an incredible meal and an amazing vista.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I'd buy some Aboriginal art. There are some incredible artists I saw in the Northern Territory last year; I think it's important to invest in artists but also important to make sure Aboriginal artists are making money from their art from reputable galleries.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I think I'd go to DOC Pizza in Carlton [in Victoria], have a nice bottle of wine, and then celebrate my financial demise.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Yes, I have two nieces and a goddaughter, and they're recipients of my super, and I will leave my property to my two nieces.

What's been your best money-making career move?

Completing a vocational degree in university which provides stability that I never realised. When I retired from pro-cycling, I could go back to being a doctor and have money go into my bank account every fortnight.

It was a privilege not many other riders have. I didn't do it for the money. Since I was a child, I've only ever wanted to be a doctor. I saw it as an interesting and cool way to solve problems for people. It's a great job and I still use those skills even when I'm not working clinically, because it's about understanding human behaviour and bringing it all together to find an answer.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... the hard things less difficult.

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine and is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.