Wednesday 23 January 2008

Women and Road Racing

I get the impression that for many this subject is a real conundrum for them. When it comes to road racing most women are happy not to have any further involvement than to watch their other halves from the sidelines.

If they are going to get into cycling at all it would be for commuting purposes, or just the odd bike ride in warm weather.
If they are going to get into competitve cycling it'll be anything but road racing. It could be triathlon, time trialling, mountain biking, cyclosportives, maybe even cyclo cross or track cycling. But road racing is at the bottom of the pile. The last resort which is done by a very select (mad and/or gutsy) group. Call me one or the other or both, but I am glad to belong to this group.

Maybe it's the fear of the embarrassment associated with not keeping up with the bunch (being dropped) and riding around on your own that is a major reason why women don't indulge in this sharp-end aspect of cycling.

But the sharp-end is exactly what I like about it - the fast and furious pace, the buzz of being carried along at speed in the group, the nervous anticipation of what's going to happen next - will someone attack, or will there be another lull. In my case there's also the thrill of the chase when I've got to try and catch the group after (yet) another lapse in concentration - maybe that's not quite part of the game ! But anyway, in short I get off on the adrenaline of road racing.

To those who aren't sure about it, I'd say it's really not that bad once you get started. I suppose the problem for many is getting started.

But then, if more women took part there wouldn't be that problem, as having large numbers of riders would mean a larger spread of abilities and therefore a few bunches - even races within a race.

Also, more women on the scene would mean less of a conundrum for event organisers. There seems to be the never-ending dilemma - shall we put on a women's race, and if so where do we put them ? Will we get enough of a turn-out for this to be a viable option ?

Such has been the issue for us over time, that recently we learned that one of the key events for women in the London area has been wiped off the calendar.

The women's Hillingdon series started a few years ago, in 2003. There weren't that many riders taking part - especially as the event was being held on a Friday night. Still, there were riders who attended regularly, who have since become real powerhouses in British Cycling - Leda Cox, and Janet Birkmyre, to name a few.

The fortnightly series was then moved to a Wednesday evening. This proved to be a more popular option, with 20 or more starters not being out of the ordinary. The organisers, still feeling that this was not so economical decided to hold male vets racing concurrently on the circuit during these Wednesday races.

And that has led to logistical problems - saftey concerns when the vets' peloton was overtaking the women. Though no accident occurred, there were still arguments and altercations between the two sets of riders, or sometimes with the organiser.

So much so now, that the organiser has decided he doesn't want the hassle of trying to run two races concurrently. He has had to drop one of the races. Guess which one he's chosen ? Yes, so we are now in the process of scraping and scratching around to see if we can somehow find a place for women to race regularly when the season starts. Not an easy situation to be in. Furthermore, we will be compromised when trying to gain points to move up the categories. If we've suddenly lost the chance to gain at least 10 points for doing this fortnightly race we might as well kiss goodbye to the chance of moving up a category this year.

We therefore need to stand up and be counted, and do what we can to have regular road racing restored to our calendar. This would certainly be helped if there were more of us taking part in road racing. In time (hopefully) more women will get involved, and putting on a race for us will become as second nature for most organisers, as they find it for staging races for male competitors.

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