For the relatively short amount of time I have been involved with the cycling community, I’ve seen both the strengths and shortcomings of women’s cycling within the regional area. For the most part, I love the instant camaraderie women have when they meet on the bike. Sure, once we toe the starting line, no one is our friend until the race is over (well that’s my mentality), but outside of the race we come together knowing we are all jumping the same hurdles within the sport.
First of all, it is awesome to see women riding bikes at any age and skill level. I’ve seen some junior racers around here who have amazing skills in both cyclocross and road racing. There is a wide range of talent within Oklahoma’s women riders (from former national champions to leisure riders, killer time trial riders, dedicated amateur racers and group riders).
Adding to that, Tulsa and Oklahoma City now have women only race teams that are further developing women in the sport. The upcoming year looks promising for women’s cycling in Oklahoma as there are plans for women’s only rides and race clinics. Currently, Oklahoma has a relatively small pool of female racers, and I am hoping that organizing women’s only rides will encourage more women to get out and ride, become comfortable riding in a group, and ultimately organize race clinics to familiarize ladies with the tactics of racing and get them out there on the starting line!
For those of us who do consistently race, I see the inconsistencies between the men’s and women’s races. Let me mention just a few scenarios and offer up what I think could be solutions to the problems. Note: These opinions are my own, and do not reflect on anyone else.
1) Small Field Cancellations. It is upsetting when the local women’s races are on the chopping block for cancellation due to a small field. I think it is important to remember that we are already starting out with a relatively small pool of racers, and not every female will be able to make every race. Women are caretakers, dedicated workers, and simply have obligations some weekends that prohibit them from racing. For those women who are available to race, we don’t want our race to be canceled. For local races, I believe the women of Oklahoma almost expect small fields, but we still want to race. Maybe we could set a lower minimum field and plan to pay out to the top 3 finishers rather than the top 10 finishers.
2) Combined Pro 1/2/3 Races. I understand that race directors can combine race categories, and combining three race categories is done to have a larger women’s field in one race, but it has significant repercussions and discourages some women from entering the race. In no way, shape, or form are most category 3 racers even close to the fitness and skill level of a category 1 racer. I understand that this can be implemented at a local race where the field will be reasonably small or at training cries, but at larger races? Just no. Is it much to ask for the women’s 3/4 races to be separate from the women’s Pro 1/2 races? If the men’s category 3 racers had to race with the men’s category 1 racers, many would be upset too.
3) Paying From The Bottom Up. When I heard that some women’s races were being paid out from the bottom up this past cyclocross season, I was thoroughly confused and unsure I even heard that right. Come on, lets pay from the top down.
While these are just a few of the scenarios I dislike most, I believe that these problems will disappear in the future. I love seeing the leadership roles certain women take within our sport to fight the good fight, and ultimately, women deal with the punches because we simply love to race. Although the spectator fields have been smaller for many races when the women are racing, I fully see that support is growing and race promotion is clearly improving. If you really pay attention to the women cyclists, you will see that they can implement race tactics that are just as exciting as the men. At many races, the women’s average speed equals that of some of the men’s races! While I am not on a women’s only race team, I want to show that the women can train with and train just as hard as the men. Our training and racing efforts are equal, and we truly want equal recognition.
So, the next time you decide to come out to support a women’s race with your cowbells ringing, watch closely the facial expressions of the women racers – we are gritting our teeth just as hard as the men. Show the ladies some love! We are motived by hearing crowds cheer for us while we race, and we are loving the positive actions happening to help promote women in cycling!
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