As per title its International women’s day. This reminded me of an email I sent the other week when asked about my thoughts on women’s cycling, here it is.
I’m not that experienced in racing on the road (I’m largely a mountain biker and cross rider) and never been part of a club or team either. Also, I cannot comment on the business side of things such as financial sponsorship, Team management etc, I just get on with it myself and with the help of my local bike shop Brotherton Cycles. Perhaps that’s why I don’t ride on the road, as roadies are a slave to the system. So within that context here are my thoughts on some issues within women’s cycling, my observations of the subtle cultural and organisational issues.
I’m not always a fan of worrying about political correctness but it does serve a purpose when change is needed. For example the connotations associated with “Lady” are not helpful to the sporting female. We should try to keep the terminology consistent across the categories, if there is a lady category I would expect to see a gentlemen category too. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, “Men and Women”, “Male and Female” etc…
Naturally there aren’t so many numbers of women racing at present making organisers’ jobs difficult. But sometimes women’s races are referred to to as the “support” race for the men’s “main race” of the day. I hear this many times, even if the race hasn’t been marketed as such, some of this appears to be a deep ingrained cultural mindset. The Tour of Yorkshire for example is putting on a race for women too – apparently aimed at getting more women on their bikes – why can’t we just have a bloody race for the sake of racing each other, thrashing the hell out of the next woman? Do the men racing think about encouraging others to ride while they race? Probably not.
Often shorter races than the men’s, ideally it should be based roughly on comparable men’s times – as per mountain bike racing. Naturally men will go further in a given time period, therefore the same relative difficulty. We want hard as shit races, stage racing, cobble racing, all racing! Not a dummed down version of a race. I’m quite sure we will manage.
In our local Cyclocross league the women are started about 2-3 minutes after the Veteran 50 men. Fine, but due to the standardised timing from the start of the vet men, these few minutes are not reflected in the overall times given in the results. When this time difference is accounted for, you find the leading women come within the top 10, sometimes top 5 of the vet men and that they have had to overtake over 50 men to get there! You cannot see this on results and does little to demonstrate just how good some of these women are, reflecting and reinforcing a cultural tendency. It does little to encourage other women to race or attract external interest for sponsorship.
The numbers in women’s cycling are small, as such the same women are racing most of the same races, its best for organisers to try not to clash events, there’s only a limited supply women who can race them at present! On that note too, the depth of strength in women’s racing is still developing. Occasionally you will see quite inexperienced female cyclists in high level events, this doesn’t help the profile of the sport and can be dangerous. You don’t get cat 4 men racing against Elite/Cat 1 men, nor should this happen in women’s events. Encouragingly, there does appear to be a huge number of talented junior women coming through now, so this should allow the sport to evolve well.
Finally, in case one hadn’t noticed, women and men are DIFFERENT, it really isn’t helpful to compare male and female performance in cycling. There is a reason that testosterone is a banned performance enhancing substance in sport.