Cycling | No comments yet.
By: Sean Lee
Bicycle racing and… why women’s cycling is fascinating!
It has been a long held belief in boxing that sex before a bout will leave a fighter with weak legs. Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser on the other hand was of the opinion that it enhanced athletic performance, for her anyway.
And while having sex before a pro-bike race may or may not enhance performance, the actual sex of the rider certainly makes a difference to how the race is reported. See what I’ve done there? I’ve tricked you into beginning an article that is about women’s cycling.
Now I know that some of you will have already navigated away from this page in disgust at my deception, but my hope is that some of you will simply shrug and seeing as you are here anyway, keep on reading until the end. I apologize for the slightly ambiguous headline but it illustrates perfectly the uphill battle that women’s cycling faces when it comes to promoting their side of the sport. Had the headline read something along the lines of ‘Women’s cycling deserves better’, how many of you would have clicked on it? Be honest.
One or two out of every ten perhaps? We know this to be the case by the number of hits our articles get. I can pump out a 600-word rant about Lance Armstrong and rack up several thousand hits in the blink of an eye. Replace that article with an in depth look at women’s cycling and I’d struggle to get 200 hits over an entire week. Why is it so?
The answer can be summed up in one word – familiarity. Among all but the most hard core of cycling fans, our pro-women cyclists are largely unknown. Ask a member of the general public who Marianne Vos is and watch them fumble for an answer. Ask them about Cadel Evans or Bradley Wiggins and watch them break into smiles of recognition. If you are trying to entice those same members of the public to a bike race, who would they choose to watch?
A woman they have never heard of? Or a couple of men that they can at least recognise, however vaguely? Cuddles and Wiggo would win every time. The same principal applies for the media.
They know that an expose on Lance Armstrong will sell more papers or get them more ratings than a profile on Marianne Vos, so we get Lance, and the women’s side of the sport remains largely anonymous. There is no growth in familiarity therefore interest remains low. Not only does this affect the number of athletes going into the sport, but also the level of current sponsorship and the viability of races. It is a no-win situation. And yet the characters involved in the women’s side of the sport are just as colourful as the men. The girls have some absolutely fascinating back stories and the struggles and sacrifices that many have faced just to be able to continue to ride would put many of today’s male pros to shame.
The racing isn’t half bad either! One negative observation though is the apparent lack of depth that seems exists in women’s racing.
At international level Vos continues to sweep all before her and not just on the road. As well as being world road race champion, she also holds or has held track and cyclo-cross titles. She is a destructive force and is nigh on unbeatable across any terrain. Her name is painted with metronomic regularity upon race honour boards the world over. No one wins on a more consistent basis than her. She is a female Eddy Merckx. But where are her challengers coming from?
With restricted pathways and limited opportunities for the girls to make enough money to survive, the flow of superior quality athletes to the women’s side of the sport is not as high as we would like it to be. Depth is also a problem at domestic level. The aggregate points table for Australia’s National Road Series was dominated by just two names from start to finish. Katrin Garfoot and Ruth Corset traded stage wins all year to finish first and second. Just 11 points separated them by season’s end (114 to 103). Third placed Felicity Wardlaw however, was over 60 points further back, having amassed just 40 points. That is a huge discrepancy.
Perhaps more concerning though is the fact that Corset and Garfoot are relatively new to cycling, both having taken up the sport within the past five years. They are also both well into their 30s, having come into the sport late. And yet, not only have they been able to slot into the sport smoothly, they have been able to dominated it!
How can this happen? True, they may be extremely gifted athletes, but what of the other girls? How is it that a couple of relative new comers can step straight onto the country’s podiums ahead of girls who have been training for years, some under specialist coaches? I mean no disrespect by that comment but it does raise some questions. Having said that, the dominance of Garfoot and Corset (they won six out of nine NRS races between them) took nothing away from the season.
The battle for aggregate honours between Garfoot and Corset was the highlight of the domestic series. It also provided the drama. The girls began the year on the same team. Garfoot’s original role was to be domestic for Corset who was the reigning NRS champion. When both riders began accumulating results it was clear that something had to give. Things can become unhealthy when two riders are battling for leadership of the same team so Garfoot made the decision to leave.
While many saw it as a falling out between the two, Garfoot refuses to delve too deeply into the split.
“It was just one of those things,” she said to The Roar during last month’s season ending Tour of the Goldfields. “It gave a better opportunity to both of us.” Bad blood or not, her departure set up an unforgettable showdown on the final ascent of stage two of the National Capital Tour. It showcased not only how great women’s cycling can be, but how great cycling is as a whole.
In their first race as rivals Corset attacked Garfoot time and again on the final climb. With four kilometres to go the elastic snapped and Corset took line honours. It was a glorious display of grit, determination, strong riding, smart tactics and panache! It had everything that a bike race should have. Many hold the misguided belief that women’s racing can be dull and let’s face it, sometimes it can. But let’s not forget that men’s racing can bore us to tears as well. Not every race is going to be shouted about from the rooftops. But when things click and we get a Corset versus Garfoot type moment such as occurred at the National Capital Tour, it is something we all need to applaud, whatever the sex of the riders involved.
So how do we raise awareness of women’s cycling? It begins with us. If we take the time to read the results and articles that do filter through, familiarity begins to grow. It starts slowly with the recognition of a name here, a recollection of a story there, before gradually, almost imperceptibly, a creeping curiosity demands that you find out more.
The media will follow – eventually – because they’re existence is dependent upon our patronage. And the stories are out there.
While researching the women’s scene for an article about the Tour of the Goldfields, I found the reports to be dominated by the names of Garfoot and Corset. But digging deeper other stories began to emerge.
Like former team pursuit world champion Sarah Kent returning to the sport with only six weeks training in her legs after an 18 month lay off. Or the excitement felt by Tayla Evans as she lined up for her first NRS race. Or the nervous jubilation of stage three winner Joanne Tralaggan, who after an unexpected sprint victory realised that she had to face the SBS cameras for the first time.
Not to mention the fact that the new NRS champion, Katrin Garfoot arrived in Australia from Germany only five years ago having never turned a pedal in anger.
Yes, the world of women’s cycling is just as fascinating as the men’s. Unfortunately only a dedicated few know about it.
Source: The Roar portal
Follow Zdenko’s Corner on Facebook !