Sheroes on wheels

This year’s International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, was themed around gender parity which no doubt resonates with women from all walks of life.

As a woman who cycles and a huge fan of both men and women’s professional racing, I’d love to say that my favorite sport is a utopia of equality and parity isn’t an issue. Sadly, the truth is quite the opposite. In professional cycling, the pay-gap is more like a gaping chasm. For example, at last year’s World Championships team time trial in Ponferrada, Spain, the winning men earned £26,500 whilst the women’s prize fund was only £8,500.

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At Velothon Wales 2015 – how many women can you count?

The world of non-professional cyclists also seems to be a bit of a sausage-fest. It’s always pretty disheartening to take a look at the start-list for a sportive and discover that only 5-10% of participants are female. For women who want to get serious about cycling, options to buy decent clothes and bikes have been pretty limited until recently. Even in the larger branches of the major high-street bike shops you’re lucky to find more than a handful of women’s bikes and the models stocked are normally at the lower-end. Clothes are limited to a small selection of baggy commuter hi-vis jackets and poorly-fitting jerseys.

However, the times are finally changing. Progress might feel slow but there’s a shift towards a more gender-balanced future for cycling. For professional cycling, the Women’s Tour is leading the way in TV coverage and by making the prize money equal to that of the men’s Tour of Britain. Some of the biggest brands are starting to look seriously at their women’s design. Liv and Cervelo are now working closely with their professional teams on innovative female-specific design which should encourage the rest of the industry to follow. Giant‘s stores are a shining example with Liv taking up roughly half of the floor-space. Even if your local bike shop is stuck in the dark ages there’s an ever-expanding choice online. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the incredible selection of brands available through the award-winning women-specific retailer VeloVixen.

Yes this is an exciting time to be a female cyclist, made all the more exciting by the inspiring women driving change forward. There’s too many amazing ladies out there (just look at the list of Strongher ambassadors) but in a belated Women’s Day celebration I’d like to introduce you to some of my Sheroes who constantly inspire me to kit up, kick ass and ride awesome.

Lizzie Armitstead

http---coresites-cdn.factorymedia.com-rcuk-wp-content-uploads-2016-03-Lizzie-Armitstead-world-champion-Boels-Dolmans-Troffeo-Alfredo-Binda-Cittiglio-pic-Boels-Dolmans-1020x716Before I saw Lizzie battle Marianne Vos at the London 2012 Olympics (a battle which saw Lizzie take the silver and the first of many GB medals that year), I had absolutely no idea just how exciting women’s road cycling could be. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’d even seen any women’s racing. On that rainy day, Olympic gold came down to an exhilarating sprint which had the whole country on the edge of their seats. I’ve been hooked ever since. This formidable woman from Yorkshire recently became only the fourth British woman in history to win the World Champion stripes on the road and since then has been almost unbeatable, taking the win in three out of her first four races of the season. Luck has nothing to do with it. Preparation, tactics, hard work, nerves of steel. This is what makes Lizzie a world champion. I’ll never forget the time I saw her being interviewed at an event not long after she earned her stripes. Summarizing Lizzie’s ride, the interviewer described how it looked like was putting herself in danger by letting the breakaways go and asked how it felt to feel like she was loosing. At this point I’ve never seen somebody look so deadly serious when she replied with a simple ‘I was always in control.’

archieKatie Archibald

As an accident-prone cyclist with color-changing hair myself, I have a lot of love for this multi-talented young lady. Not only is she Scotland’s first female track cycling world champion and a triple-gold medalist at last year’s European Track Championships, she’s also a fashion maverick who can convincingly wear two different-colored pairs of tights at once (see her frankly brilliant Instagram feed) and a refreshingly entertaining columnist for the Herald Scotland. Her latest column features the only response for prying parents wondering when you’ll settle down: ‘I’ve been with the same gal for years now and my mum won’t like it: she’s 6.9kg, carbon fibre and totally incapable of supplying a grandchild.’ I love cycling as a sport but it’s far more engaging to watch people who actually have personalities and lives of their own.Keep up with her adventures on Twitter and watch out for her at Rio 2016!

Sarah Connolly

As I type this blog post, the third race of the inaugural UCI Women’s World Tour, the  Trofeo sconnollyAlfredo Binda, is playing out in the background. Unfortunately, there’s no coverage in English language so I have a rather confusing Italian stream on my television. Confusing because a) my grasp of Italian extends to ordering a beer and b)
the only live images are broadcast from the finish line of the short course in Cittiglio which the riders cross four times and c) the broadcast keeps cutting to images from earlier parts of the race. As always, I have Sarah Connolly to thank for helping me to understand what the hell is going on. Being a fan of women’s cycling (even men’s cycling at times) can often be hard work but Sarah’s blog Pro Women’s Cycling makes it that much easier. Embracing all forms of social media to share her passion for the sport, from live commentary on Mixlr to insightful and entertaining Twittering, her encyclopedic knowledge of womens’ cycling hasn’t gone unnoticed. She’ll be bringing her indomitable wisdom to the TV coverage of the Aviva Women’s Tour later this year.

Alicia Bamford

QoM9156564_copy_reduced_height_75.originalLast year I was lucky enough to get a ballot place on the Ride London 100 sportive. Lacking enough knowledge of the area to confidently train alone, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a women-only training ride organised by a cycling shop in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Sadly, where I live in Southampton, I’m pretty short on female cycling buddies so off I went on the train by myself, anxious about being Nora-no-friends. What if they all knew each other? Londoners all have fancy bikes right? I bet they’re faster than me. Thankfully, my fears were entirely unfounded and as soon as I arrived at the meeting place I was chatting away like I was among old friends. This is when I met Alicia who initially stood out not only by being an Aussie but also by her ridiculously huge passion for cycling and infectious positivity. She convinced me that I was fast enough to ride in the front group and being able to keep up was a real confidence boost for the main event in August. It’s this encouraging, inclusive personality that she’s channeled into her Queen of the Mountains brand that will 100% make it a brand to watch. As well as creating a beautiful, well-thought range of coordinating pieces in stunning colors, Alicia has been nurturing a growing community of female cyclists in the London and Surrey area, facilitating rides for all abilities. Check out her website for details and maybe I’ll see you there sometime!

The Breeze Network

London to Brighton bikes 18.JPG.galleryBritish Cycling have pledged to change the culture of cycling and get one million more women on bikes by 2020. This isn’t something they can control centrally from within their organisation. They rely on hundreds of ordinary women from all backgrounds and cultures to share their own passion for cycling with other women. The Breeze network is facilitated by British Cycling who provide ride-leader training, kit and an online booking facility but it’s the hundreds of volunteers who run the show, organizing rides every day for all abilities. For women who are interested in cycling but nervous about where to ride, don’t have anyone to ride with, want some like-minded-buddies to share cycling wisdom, Breeze has been a triumph. Their volunteers have helped thousands of women to build their cycling confidence, with many participants going on to take the Ride Leader course themselves and spread the wheel love even further. The launch of the Breeze Challenge sportive series in 2015 has even given women who want to take their cycling up a level the opportunity in a friendly environment. Who knows, I might even see a few more ladies lining up with me at the start-line of the next sportive…

 


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The Revolution Is Now

As a leisure cyclist for 6 years and commuter for roughly three of those, I’m a relative newcomer to cycling as a

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

Never thought watching one woman ride round a track for an hour would be this engaging!

spectator sport. How exciting could it be? Of course, the success of Team GB at 2012 introduced cycling to a whole new audience and I was one of them. I was lucky enough to see the Olympic BMX finals, but it was the track that really got me hooked. During the BMX events spectators were allowed to use the bathrooms in the velodrome next door and this was the first time I’d actually seen a track in real life. It wasn’t the wall-of-death steep banking or the scale of the place that grabbed me. Walking in just days from so many Team GB golds it was the atmosphere and the memories of what I’d been following at every opportunity on the television (or sneaking glimpses at my desk). It was breathtaking and inspiring. The re-opening of the Lee Valley Velodrome in March 2013 means I am now only a short train-ride away from world-class events.

A regular event at the velodrome is the Revolution Series which features an elite championship for the men over the course of the series, sprint and endurance events for men and women and a ‘Hoy’s Future Stars’ competition for the junior hopefuls. There’s UCI Points up for grabs to add to the drama.

Lining up for the men's keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

Lining up for the men’s keirin. Max Levy (in the white) won both the race and best kit (I think anyway)

The series takes place over 6 events hosted in Manchester, Glasgow and London. The Revolution attracts some pretty big names – Ed Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Jack Bobridge to name a few although the girls have put on the most engaging performance lately. At stage one back in October I witnessed some incredible racing between two personal cycling heroines, Marianne Vos and Laura Trott. The most recent event was extra-extraordinary thanks to the awe-inspiring attempt at the hour record by Dame Sarah Storey. OK she didn’t quite get the overall record but she still came away with the Masters (senior) and UK records and I think we could all feel it when she finally got the opportunity to sit in a comfy chair and instead slumped lifeless to the ground. I haven’t witnessed such an electrifyingly enthusiastic crowd since I was at the Olympic Taekwondo when Jade Jones took gold.

Of course, I don’t go to the velodrome for the booze. Being a sports venue it’s got to please everyone but at least has a local pale and IPA from Meantime at £5 for a pint. Not badly priced in a venue but not a particularly flavorsome offering. I always look back to the first Revolution hosted there with fond memories, back when the beer was provided by Look Mum No Hands. Thankfully we’d made a stop at Bottle Dog for a few sneaky walking beers, one of which was Snakecharmer from local brewers One Mile End who, unlike Meantime, don’t seem to be afraid of chucking a few hops in. At a modest 5.7% ABV this was a flavor-packed juicy sweety with ultra fruity hops.

Of course, if you didn’t plan ahead there’s always the Tap East, resident craft beer haven in the soulless temple of consumerism that is Westfield. On the 6 cask and 10 keg taps you’re likely to find a number of dull crowd-pleasers for the broken-down shopper to toss down their parched gullet in an attempt to forget the apocalypse is happening around them. However you’re also likely to find at least one or two little gems. On the day we were there the best thing on the bar was Drink Me – Pimiento & Rosemary from the Scouser Mad Hatter Brewing Company which was an incredibly well-executed wit enriched with aromatic rosemary. It made me want a Sunday roast to eat with it even though I don’t really even do roasts. Yummy!

We definitely saved the best till last and the beer of the weekend was on the way back to the train at The Craft. Having missed the Wild Beer tap takeover the previous night, we headed in and to our delight there was still plenty left including the beer I was most excited about. As the girl who can clear a chip-shop-sized jar of gherkins in less than 48 hours, I had high hopes when I found out that one of my favorite breweries were making a beery tribute to my favorite snack and they did not disappoint. Cool as a Gherkin, at 2.9% ABV, is a beer I could happily drink all day and beyond but I’d be just as happy with a bourbon chaser on the side. Tangy, sour, dill gherkin deliciousness –  what a way to end an amazing weekend.

 

 

Ride for your beer!

It’s a Saturday morning. It’s dark and the torrential rain is beating at my window. I see the clock hands creeping around to 6am and try to ignore it but the alarm goes and I know it’s time for action. I peer out the blinds at the rain bouncing off the pavements and cars, convince myself that the day will only get better and somehow get myself and my long-suffering boyfriend fed and out the door to make the 07:33 train to Brighton. If you follow my Instagram, you may have been slightly confused that rather than posing with my usual weekend morning train beer I was clutching a bottle of choco-milk but I had a mission to fulfill with a promise of beer at the end because this was the day of the Spin Up In A Brewery.

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

Casks lined up to mark out bike parking

In its third sell-out year, the Spin Up offers led rides from the heart of Brighton on or off the roads through the picturesque Sussex countryside to the Dark Star brewery in Partridge Green. Having looked at the weather reports I left my trusty mountain bike at home and headed to the Velo Cafe with my road bike. Getting an earlier train meant we somehow missed the ridiculously heavy downpour that started the moment we came through the door which meant we could enjoy a coffee and cake in dry clothes watching the apocalyptic weather, keeping everything crossed hoping it would clear up before the 11am start. Thankfully with about 15 minutes to spare the sun put in a welcome appearance which made for a very pleasant ride. The volunteers leading the rides were pretty awesome and didn’t leave anybody behind, stopping the group to make sure everyone had a chance to catch up at opportune moments like at the tops of climbs. The views were stunning once we got out of Brighton and the highlight was the most exhilarating descent I’ve ever encountered on the road over the whole one year I’ve actually been riding a road bike – it never seemed to end!

The leaders managed to get us all up to the brewery in just over 2 hours which gave everyone just enough time to park the bikes, grab a pint and get inside before the heavens opened again. Not so lucky were the mountain bikers who turned up covered in mud not very much later but with smiles on their faces having earned their complimentary pint!

Post-ride refreshment

Post-ride refreshment

The brewery itself had been transformed into a massive celebration of cycling and beer with disco lights twinkling off the shiny tanks and cheesy pop blaring out. The main event for me was the Roller Racing, courtesy of South Coast Sprints, which I suddenly decided was a good idea having declined the opportunity to compete every other time I’d encountered it. This time I was beer-fueled. It turns out maybe beer is performance-enhancing since, despite being surrounded by girls who looked like proper cyclists I somehow managed to hold onto 5th place (or at least that’s where I was at the time I left so there’s a chance somebody came along and bumped me further down the ranking). I’ve gotta say that rollers are totally addictive (seriously – they almost had to drag me off as I hadn’t realized when the race finished). If I’d had another chance, I kept telling myself, if I’d only done this thing differently, I could have finished higher but it wasn’t to be so I’ll be jumping on the bikes again at the next possible opportunity to chase that PB. As well as the roller racing, there was a dress-up photo booth, surprise giveaways from ultra-cool cycling label Morvelo and the LBS Rule 5, live music and so much amazing food from pit-master Andy Annat, Mr Bake and Pleb Pizza. Of course the 23 mile ride cancelled out any calories in the enormous rack of ribs and the white chocolate tiffin I devoured.

Getting ready to race!

Getting ready to race!

For £8 a ticket I can’t think of a better day out really. Dark Star has always been one of my favorite South Coast breweries and this was a great way to see where the magic happens in a non-standard-brewery-visit way. I was astonished by the generosity of the surprise goody-bag on exit containing a t-shirt, haribos, stickers and a delicious bottle of Belgian IPA which was greatfully consumed on the train home.I’ll definitely be back next year – I have a roller-racing record to break!