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Women Bike Wednesday: The Push for Racing Equity
This year doesn’t just mark the 100th year of the Tour de France — it also heralds a strong call, on multiple fronts, for equity and participation for female racers. Inspired by all the activity on the international and local level, today’s Women Bike Wednesday post comes from Whitney Schultz, a racer for Colavita-Fine Cooking Pro Women’s Cycling in Fort Collins, who shares what’s going on internationally, in her community — and the challenges of organizing a women’s pro cycling event.
When I started college in fall of 2006, I was looking for something new after 12 years of soccer and an itch to push myself. I settled on triathlon… or so I thought.
A few weeks into college, I went on a ride with the collegiate Texas Cycling team (UT, baby!), finding that the tri-team at UT was defunct. I was dropped immediately, but one of the guys held back, encouraged me, and convinced me that bike racing was way more fun. The dudes took the time to share their sport with me and introduce me to some solid ladies who really taught me the ropes with open arms. That spring I started racing and was hooked! I enjoyed the competitiveness and endurance that bike racing required with, as I call it, passive aggressiveness through attacking and strategy, instead of the true physical aggressiveness that soccer required.
I currently race for Colavita-Fine Cooking Pro Women’s Cycling, where I am a domestique, and, inspired by the friendly, encouraging environment of collegiate cycling, I recently started a local effort in Fort Collins to get more women out riding.
The Fort Follies began in Fall 2012, when I started asking people in the community, “If a women’s program were to exist, would you join?” With no other women-focused programs in existence, I found a resounding “YES!” from many women. About the same time, my friend Christi Leong, a veteran triathlete emailed me and said “Let’s do it.” Just one brainstorming session later, the Fort Follies were born. At this point, in less than one year, the Fort Follies already boasts more than 40 due-paying members and another 100 or so women who follow along with the group’s happenings — potential future members, we hope!
Our group has been adjusting to our communities’ needs, but this year was focused on reducing the barriers for women to ride more — and even start racing. Our tactics:
- Regular, welcoming group rides
- A popular Monday recovery ride (skinny or fat tires welcome!)
- Skills clinics with local pro ladies
- And even a mechanical clinic with a professional female mechanic
Our philosophy is simple: By giving women other women to ride with, the confidence to take care of their basic bike needs, and necessary bike skills, more women will have the confidence to ride or race alone or with teammates and friends.
And we’re certainly not alone. It’s an incredibly exciting time for women in racing. The “Half the Road” documentary — about the current dismal state of women’s pro cycling — was able to raise enough funds to go into production. The Women’s Cycling Association was just established, starting off their work with a salary survey being analyzed by an economist to evaluate the true state of women’s cycling compared to the men. And also the women’s Tour de France petition, largely spearheaded by Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos, has garnered more than 20,000 signatures for equity and inclusion of female athletes.
We’re trying to add momentum to that push at the local level, too.
Next month, the USA Pro Challenge Stage 6, a grueling 7-day stage race in Colorado, will start and finish in Fort Collins, Colorado. While it’s an exciting community event, for sure, and a great event for Colorado as a whole, it still feels like a little bit of a punch to the gut knowing that Medalist has expressed no intention of adding a pro women’s event. The Fort Collins Follies are trying to change that by hosting a professional women’s criterium on the men’s finishing circuit.
With sponsorship restrictions due to the USA Pro Challenge, we’ve found it’s an uphill battle to get the support necessary to put on the event. Since the criterium is on the same course as the men’s finishing circuit, competing sponsors can’t be used or mentioned, including but not limited to bike companies, wheel companies, beer companies, food companies, anything medical related, tourism related, beverage related, or news related. Even then sponsors have to go through an approval process.
But we have a vision: A morning “Ride with the Stars” with some high-profile women professionals in attendance, the women’s criterium, and an after-party that creates a true celebration of women’s cycling for all levels in the midst of the men’s event.
We’re pushing hard with community outreach to raise the funds necessary for the event. We need to raise $6,000 by July 26th, 2013, to secure the event and have a goal of $15,000 by the event date, Saturday, August 24th, 2013. (Donate at http://www.gofundme.com/FortFolliesGrandPrix) Learn more about the Fort Follies and the Fort Follies Grand Prix at www.fortfollies.com.
Photos from Fort Follies