Being one of the managers of the all women’s cycling team the Rose Bandits leads to many discussions about the state of women’s cycling. Women make up 60% in cycling industry purchasing power and 60% of cyclists on the road, yet it is completely disproportionate to the amount of women who show up to the starting line at races. Because of the disproportionate number showing up to race, there are completely unequal payouts for women to race and unequal salaries (or none at all) for women who choose to race and unequal R&D into women’s gear, equipment, etc (although great strides have been made in recent years).
Personally, I think part of the problem stems from the “to race or not to race the girls with the men” debate on the local race level. Many girls want races WITH the men because they know that they can hang on to the pace that the men set and the weaker girls will naturally get weeded out. And, lets face it, the men do USUALLY race faster than an all women’s field (locally) and fast is fun. But, this scares new racers away. They hear about crashes in the men’s fields, and have no interest in being part of that. So, a potentially talented racer gets turned away from the sport.
Part of this desire to stay with the boys I also think in part has largely to do with the fact that when you ask a female cyclist who their favorite cyclist is or who they aspire to ride or race like someday, 99% of the time they will answer a male cyclist’s name like “Fabian Cancellara” or “Jens Voigt” or “Tom Boonen” or “Lance Armstrong” or “Dave Wiens” and “Ned Overend.” It is a rare case that you get a girl to answer “Evelyn Stevens” or “Kristen Armstrong” or “Laura Van Gilder” or “Catharine Pendrel.” And cycling is not alone in this area of women holding men in the sport to a higher level than the women in their sport. In hockey, I admit, I wanted to have a 105 mph slapshot like Al Iafrate, to play with the finesse of Ray Bourque, and be able to deke defenseman like Adam Oates. It wasn’t until much later in my career as a hockey player that I wanted to beat the odds like Mannon Rheaume or be feisty like Cammi Granato on the ice.
I wonder, is part of this “be a man and do it” mentality what is holding us back? The same one that helped lead to women’s independence? Are we stopping our own growth in sport by still wanting to hang and play with the boys and holding them to a higher pedestal than the top women in our sport?
Why is it that we compare top female athletes to men? Why can’t women just be compared to….I don’t know, maybe other great women?
So, as we try to get more women to the starting line to race and bring attention to the sport of women’s cycling, every woman needs to ask themselves “what great female do I want to be like” and instead of looking to just “hang” with the boys, instead switch your mentality to going all out to make the women’s field more dynamic, exciting, challenging, and fast in your local races. Especially since when we do finally get out of our own backyard, women’s racing is fast and furious (and, according to one of my teammates, much harder than any local pro men’s race here in Miami). So, get out and race on the road AND on the dirt–and encourage new racers to as well.