Friday 10 September 2021

Photo of the day - 10: Cycle race up Winnats Pass? Maybe!


Photo: Neil Theasby

This beautiful stretch of road is Winnats Pass, in the Peak District. It's in a very popular area just outside the village of Castleton, with Peveril Castle nearby as well as a number of show caverns to visit. And lets not forget the numerous walking trails that lead to Mam Tor, and the highest peak, Kinder Scout. But the most noteworthy thing here for cyclists is this excruciatingly steep hill over 1km, with 25% gradients, which breaks the moral of many. It's not uncommon to see people pushing their bikes up the hill. I rode up it last year while on a ride around the Peak District, and I had to stop for a breather. That was in part due to the stress of the numerous vehicles going up the hill too. It's quite hard to manage the ride up this climb. 

The good news is that this hill has been selected for the National Hill Climb Championships at the end of October, so riders will get to ride up the hill with no vehicles given that it will be on closed roads. The bad news is that many people who would like to ride up this climb won't get the opportunity.

Therein lies the subject of a heated debate that took place on the UK Hill Climbing Facebook group today. 

Last year, almost 500 riders, including 93 women, competed on Streatley Hill, the venue for National Hill Climb Championships. This year, the authorities have limited the numbers to 300 riders. The organisers have designated 150 places to men, and in the interests to equality, 150 places to women. One guy highlighted the issues around this. His claim is that 150 places for women is a lot given that there is never that number of women entrants in any hill climb. Last year's championships had a record number of entrants - around 120. And this was after a big communications campaign and an offer to pay the entry fees of 100 women. Normally, around 50 women enter. In a non-championship hill climb race there are usually fewer than 10 women entrants. 

So on that basis, it will be hard to fill the 150 places for women, and if they are filled there will be novice women taking part, who may even end up having to push their bike up the hill! (For many women, last year's national hill climb championships was their first ever hill climb race.) Meanwhile, the 150 places allocated to men will be easily oversubscribed as much as two-fold, with some very capable men being denied a place on the grounds of them not being ranked highly enough. The man questioned if this really is equality when you will have every woman who applies, including novices, being accepted into the race while some very experienced men who have been competing in hill climbs throughout the year will not get a place.

I think this is a valid point, though unfortunately because the man mentioned that some women will be pushing their bikes up the hill this rubbed people up the wrong way, and what could have been a more level-headed discussion, descended into a slanging match with women taking offence and talking about all those historical inequalities sport, male chauvinism, women being oppressed, misogyny etc.

While I believe in equality, I do think that it is not as basic as saying 50% of the world are women, therefore allocate 50% of the places to women. I think it is important to take into account the practical implications of implementation. I think that allocating 150 places to women when there has never been that level of participation from amateur women racers in any hill climb will engender problems and also a lack of equality in the actual fibre of the competition. We could have elite/top female racers up against other women who are wheeling their bikes up the hill. In the men's race it will elite male racers against other top male racers. That's how a National Championships should be. I think that women need to show equal engagement in sport, the same as men in order to have the same number of places allocated.

 Many women choose not to take part in competitive cycling, but they will be very quick to call out sexism if there is a nominal difference in allocations between men and women. For the balance to be redressed, it is up to women to get more involved. 

My views weren't popular when I expressed them on the forum, though I say this as someone who is positive about women's sports. I have done sport since as far back as I can remember, and I have been involved in initiatives to encourage more women to get involved in sport. Therefore my views are based on my observations and discussions. I hope that over time, more women can take up hill climbing. 

And for what it's worth, I don't feel offended when someone suggests that I may end up pushing my bike up Winnats Pass. That is not an impossibility. I have had to do that a few times in the past, and if the ground is wet and I get back-wheel spin on the day of the National Championships, I may well end up doing so again!

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