Essay: On International Women’s Day
As it pertains to women’s cycling.
There have been brief moments in sport that put the scale of effort into focus. For those lucky to live in the northeast there is the chance to ride Whiteface’s Veteran’s Memorial Highway to gauge how a rider would do on Alpe d’Huez. There are local sprints that stay well under the professional sprinter speed to humble every self-proclaimed speedster. But one experience caused me to reevaluate professional cycling.
Several years ago, during the Philadelphia Cycling Classic, the men’s race and women’s race were slugging it out at different spots on the course. This was the first year the men’s race was not being televised globally. The men apparently protested this aspect by setting a sluggish pace. The women, trying to convince organizers to make their race viable, went full gas from the start. And therein lay the lesson: men could choose not to race and still live for another day. Women had to race for survival. Ultimately it was the women who put on a better show despite having a shorter race.
I was never the gifted athlete. I had to fight for the next step for much of my career, regardless of the sport. Because of this I find myself identifying with women’s cycling. Each day their efforts are about preservation instead of thinking of the next event. It is all the more enjoyable when they put on a proper show because they have to. If the women phoned in an effort in today’s climate, they risk losing the event citing low audience. Women’s cycling has everything to lose if they do not exceed expectations.
In the realm of women’s cycling races are unfairly compared to men’s events that regularly have been around for decades, sometimes a century. The women of cycling carry the burden of riding routes men have raced for scores of years, often at an abbreviated distance with an expectation to deliver more fireworks than the men. A smaller package with the requirement of a bigger explosion is highly unrealistic.
It is with pride that a UCI race down the hill from the offices of creakybottombracket.com has a men and women’s race with matching purses. The Bucks County Classic pays out the same amount of money for the women as it does for the men. This is momentum. This is what makes viewership of women’s races intriguing. It is raw. It is full gas. It is in the moment. This idea was on display just a few days ago when Nicole Hanselmann was stopped at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad because she caught the tale end of a ‘very slow men’s race.’ Clearly there is more work to be done regarding women’s cycling, particularly when they come upon the men’s peloton riding at JRA pace. The men’s race was unaffected by Hanselmann’s approach. She would finish 74th rightfully citing a loss of momentum after the stoppage.
On this International Women’s Day creakybottombracket.com chooses to honor all women of cycling for their devotion to drive their expectations forward. Each time a women’s Tour de France is recommended, the laughter becomes louder when the counteroffer is made. Men ride twenty-one stages; women ride one, the last day. Hopefully the gap closes to see women’s cycling with Grand Tour status sooner than later. Car manufacturers once stated seatbelts made motorists more susceptible to injury. The motorist should want to be thrown from the car, they said. Air bags were bad in case a driver was smoking and the bag deployed, setting alight the driver. These are hilarious, yet outdated perspectives of a bygone era. When will the cycling crowd decide our model is rooted in antiquity? I empathize with the women racers who focus on today’s finish line only because of the uncertainty of tomorrow’s stage.
Cover photo courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community with multiple KOMs to his name.