Have you ever been so adamantly against trying something, that in hind-sight, you were obviously destined to try the very thing you swore you’d never do? That must be a thing, because I’m still trying to figure out how, “I’ll never try road racing” somehow turned into “I’m going to start a women’s road racing group and give it a try.”
From the outside looking in, women’s road racing in Alberta was prohibitively intimidating. There were a few brave women who’d faced the intimidation of beginner road racing, often without the support of others also new to the sport. But the numbers don’t lie; women’s road racing in Alberta hadn’t seen more than 5-7 new racers a year for many years, in the whole province.
Until last year.
Discouraged by the lack of “newbies,” and petrified to try it on my own, I decided to bring my own posse to the start line. Women like to do things together, right? But how was I going to convince others to join me when very few had taken the leap in the past? By appealing to their hearts rather than their competitive nature, that’s how.
If they were like me, the intimidation of racing, coupled with the fear of failure, cast too large a shadow to try racing. The interest was there: I saw it within our club. That’s how the ERTC’s Women’s Learn to Race program was created, with the aim to touch women’s hearts, create meaningful relationships, and turn interest into action.
We started with the basics. Information seminars addressed a myriad of topics: what is a criterion, do I need a HR monitor, what should I expect on race day, what license/equipment do I need, will I get dropped, etc? No question was considered stupid. Over 60 women attended, sparking real conversations about fears and goals.
Then we took to the road. Practice races, skills sessions, and group rides put our knowledge into practice. Although our group varied in fitness and ability, we shared a strong determination to help each other reach our goals, both as a group and individually. No longer was this simply an idea, we had become a group of women ready to face the intimidation of racing together.
Finally, we took the leap. Our first race, the Velocity Stage Race, proved to be nothing short of epic. The forecast was atrocious, but we were determined. Armed with tents, camping stoves, food for an army, tarps, blankets, winter jackets, and literally every item of cycling clothing we owned, 11 women took the (very cold) leap. That’s 10 more women from our club than the previous year.
We continued our racing momentum throughout the 2017 road and cyclocross racing season. In the end, over 20 women rolled up to various start lines, sharing their ‘nervouscited’ butterflies with each other and creating a supportive and encouraging racing family - a family that extends past club lines to include other women racers we got to know along the way.
And just like any family, we are diverse. Women ranging from their 20’s into their 40’s, mothers, professionals, students, experienced cyclists, beginner cyclists, all with varying levels of fitness and technical skill have reached goals, experienced challenges, and faced fears together. We invariably all play different roles, sometimes being the one offering encouragement before a race, and then at other races being the one needing the encouragement. We’ve also traded physical roles, each taking a turn offering the physical encouragement and shelter in a race, and conversely being a wheel-suck and/or the back of the bus. Our individual diversity is our combined strength. This is especially important in the unique sport of road racing - a team sport won by individuals.
With the 2018 season on the horizon, we’re looking to continue to expand our racing family. Don’t know what a criterion is? Don’t think you’re fit/fast enough? Perfect, you’ll fit right in. Those of us with one race season under our belts can help to answer your questions, while at the same time share in your fears and concerns. We still have so much to learn, and while the ‘newbie jitters’ have calmed a little, they’re far from being a distant memory.
We’re creating a domino effect in women’s road racing in Alberta. By flooding the start lines with new racers, we’re piquing the interest of other women. If you’re one of them, come join us. We’re always looking for women who want to partner their own goals with our focus of ‘together’ (www.ertc.org/women)! Or find a club that supports new racer development, ensure that you have a good foundation of skills and knowledge, and bring your ‘nervouscited’ butterflies to a race and share them with us.
And if you’re like me with a response of “heck no, I’m not a racer”, be forewarned. That was my mantra for my first five road seasons. Last season, I somehow managed to step on a podium. And while it may be my legs that pedaled me there, it was our group of women that touched my heart and gave me reason to be on that start line. It’s for the laughter and friendship we share that I race and I encourage you to consider the same!
By Tiffany Baker
Photo Cred John Gaucher Photography