Equal and Equitable: Growing Pains of Women’s Cycling in Alberta

I was recently out for a walk on my local trails in Jasper Alberta trying to give my bruised brain some fresh air, along with some quality time dedicated to thinking about my experiences at the Tour de Bloom. While ascending a pitch in the trial, I came across three young teenagers out on mountain bikes, to which I can only assume they were just starting their evening ride. Upon reaching the top of the trail, they were trying to decide which direction to go from there. The group of three consisted of two young guys, and to my absolute joy and excitement, a girl. While the two boys were arguing about who gets to choose where the group goes next, the girl was hanging back, patiently waiting for someone to make a decision. I couldn’t help but feel proud and hopeful for this young girl; she was out, active, and riding a bike, and all I wanted to do was tell her to just cut lose from the guys, go on her own ride and stop waiting around for them to make up their minds. I also wanted to tell her the importance of having your own ride. How going off and exploring on your own is a great way to see who you really are; to challenge yourself in your own terms, and to not get distracted by what other people’s expectations of what a “girl who rides” should look and act like, let alone do. Another thought came across my mind as I passed the group continuing along my way; what if this girls continues in the sport of cycling, and what would the provincial state of our sport look like if she does advance in cycling? What will the future of cycling in Alberta, let alone the international stage, look like and be like for her when she gets there? Will exposing her to the same opportunity as the young guys she was with fulfill the needs she has a young girl, growing into a woman, in sports?

You hear a lot about the importance of equal opportunity for women in cycling, and there’s a good reason for it; we think that by giving women an opportunity to participate in the system that has been in place, benefitting the men, is what will procure equal success for us as well. It’s important to note that we’re slowly learning that having equal opportunity in some aspects is what we are fighting for: equal prize purses, equal distances, equal formalities in race the format altogether. On the international stage it would look like equal pay first and foremost, along with other levels of standards that the men benefit from the system, which we require as athletes as well.

What’s also interesting is we’re slowly learning specific aspects of the current system that may work to benefit the male athlete’s needs, don’t necessarily work to benefit female athletes as well. Which is why, when searching for solutions to women’s needs in our sport, it’s best to think of solutions in terms of being equitable for women. We’re already seeing this on a local level in that there’s a surge in women’s development programs throughout various clubs and teams in Alberta, which is fantastic news! Realizing that there’s a gap for new women when they are introduced to cycling, most want to have some sort of system set-up where they can learn about the inner workings of cycling through group organizations and communal support. It’s a great way for women to become more familiar with new communities, and  to demonstrate how specific groups can provide support for novice women looking to expand their experiences. Having development programs is an equitable solution, and we need more solutions to grow and flourish if we want to expand women’s cycling.

Women’s cycling is going through growing pains right now; major parts of the industry are experiencing this learning curve in figuring out what works for women, and making sure these changes occur at the right moment for the needs of women as our involvement grows too. For example, Watt Riot Cycling is excited to hear of the news that the RMCC Stage Race, which takes place Jul 8th weekend, is now giving the W1/2/3 their own start line for the criterium. One of the most disheartening race experiences I’ve had in the past year was racing alongside the men in the criterium for last year’s RMCC Stage Race. I love crits more than any other race format; it’s fast, exciting, and it’s risky. Racing alongside the men though, that was a different experience altogether. The pace was much faster than I’d ever experienced, and I was dropped almost immediately due to the overwhelming nature of the main group. Men in cat 3 typically have a power (FT) to weight ratio of 3.55-4.18. Women in 1/2/3 can range from 2.98-4.18 in power (FT) to weight; but, I specifically want to draw attention to the cat 3 women, and that they are typically in the range of 2.98-3.55. Let those numbers sink in. Women going from a cat 4/5 who are just entering the 1/2/3 group are under the power to weight ratio of the cat 3 men, and to have them race alongside those men, trying to keep up with the speed of the pack, it’s almost cruel. That’s why a lot of women in the past experienced getting blown off of the back, and in the end, just hating the race format altogether. Giving the women of 1/2/3 their own start line will ensure the entire group will have an equal opportunity to finish the race because it will suit the demands of the group itself.

This equitable change couldn’t have happened without the numbers of women entering the race scene, and we’re so happy to see these changes occurring to meet the demands of women who want to have a great race experience. These may be small changes, but they make a huge difference in how women race in our Alberta cycling community.

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