There is a lot of dialogue thrown around about ‘Women’s Cycling’. We all know that women’s racing simply does not have the numbers that men’s does, and there are myriad reasons for this. I think one feedback loop that affects women’s cycling is the structure of the event itself.
We cyclists are a competitive bunch; it is, after all, why we race. Yes, there are other reasons often quoted. ‘Fun’ is usually one of the most popular, but I think that this is because we find the competition, whether it is internal or external, to be the fun part. More likely, it some combination of the two that drives us. We love to compete against ourselves almost as much as we love to compete against others.
When an event is structured well, or at those times where no one knows anyone else – the field is level and racing can be awesome. Attacks, counterattacks, breaks: all the things that make cycling fun and interesting are present. As the season opener – Durand is a prime example. How is her form? How is mine? Can I hang on the hills? Can I attack on the hills? The uncertainty, coupled with the urgency to find out, drives us towards the finish. We race towards our own victories – however they may be defined.
There are times when an event is structured poorly and this, combined with low turnout, stifles competition. I believe that more often than not this is exactly what a Women’s Open race will do. Cat 4’s generally do not want to race against Cat 1’s, and vice versa. I understand the cost-benefit analysis that each promoter much weigh, but sometimes there is more at stake. Cat 4’s should be scored separately. This would not only give newer racers the opportunity to measure themselves against their peers, but also give them a chance to upgrade and to improve and compete in higher level races. It is easy to get discouraged when race after race you are forced to go up against someone who has been racing for years. They are light years beyond you in both experience and fitness.
We had 11 women turn out for Durand, a pretty decent turnout for a local women’s race. For perspective, the largest local (single day, non-NRC) women’s road race I have attended had about 35 starters. Cycling is not a forgiving sport – if you are not up to par in a road race, it may mean a long, lonely 30-60 miles off the back. I often wonder if more women would show up if there was a wider spread of ability, if they had more of a chance to actually compete against someone else, not just to be on the same course as them. Racing is not as fun without, as Megan Kelly so accurately put it in last week’s article 22 Glorious Minutes, “The buffer effect of sheer volume…” And we do see this phenomenon occur in the OPUS crits there is usually a relatively high turnout.
We ladies are always forced to compete at our best, because there is no buffer of volume to shelter us from the truth of measuring up to the top racers around. While the Cat 5 men are not forced to race the Cat 1’s, Cat 4 women must compete against Cat 1’s. This can be a tremendous demonstration of talent: as my group at Durand caught our breath past the finish line, one woman looked up and asked, “Are any of you cat 4’s?” We were not, and there she was: a racer who has done the work, has the talent and is someone we will probably see a lot of this summer.
We all deserve the chance to compete to the best of our ability. Against the best of our peers and sometimes better. In a perfect world, we would race against our betters less often, and our peers more so. Better structuring can help racing itself be better. At the end of the day – that will improve everyone’s experience , ability to compete, and make things more fun.