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.
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.
Before 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.’
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!
As I type this blog post, the third race of the inaugural UCI Women’s World Tour, the Trofeo Alfredo 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.
Last 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
British 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…