Over the last few years we’ve seen a good number of very strong Scottish women racing on the road, performing overseas & with the best British riders in the UK races. But there’s a gulf between these athletes & the new female athletes taking the first steps on the cycling ladder, it’s sometimes a daunting task, with a lot less riders competing in Scotland than in men’s racing.
The Event Paradox : Races for all means races for none
We have some top class female athletes, we have a huge potential number of novice racers, the difference in current ability between these two groups is quite massive, we have very few riders in between. The beginner & intermediate riders know that they can’t compete against the Breast Cancer Care Team riders, in fact they might not even be in the bunch in the first few km’s, which discourages them from even entering. If you consider the same in the men’s racing, with club riders upset with James McCallum & Evan Oliphant turning up, imagine a whole team of them plus other riders who are competing at an elite level, it’s much tougher for female 3rd or 4th category riders than it is for the men, especially when the fields are also smaller.
The problem is that we don’t have the required quantity of female riders in Scotland to hold two events, one for the riders wanting to compete at the top-level & one for the majority of the others, who just want to race & don’t have the time to train to that level. If you look at forums, twitter & Facebook around the time of a Scottish Women’s championship, or any other event where all categories of women are invited, you’ll see some irate organisers trying to just get a decent size field that makes it viable to run the race. I’d surmise that if the racing was split, we’d get a lot more new riders willing to enter, perhaps ones who tried racing once & got a pasting from our elite athletes, they would have a more competitive event for them to ride. But this leaves us with the top-level, potentially a sparse area with a few very talented athletes.
Women & Juniors
There used to be a flourishing junior race series in Scotland, predominantly men, shorter distances than the senior riders were competing over, but numbers dropped & it disappeared. We also have the same problem with elite level women’s racing in Scotland, we don’t have the riders to make a series viable, but if we combine a growing number of junior riders & our top women riders, could we provide a small race series & a combined Scottish championship event to kick-start both at the same time? Start it next year with 3 or 4 events, with two separate categories, then combine the women & junior road race championship too, making it more attractive for an organiser to hold, providing them with a potential 80 rider field rather than scraping about to find enough riders to just break even.
I’d suggest that elite female athletes are of similar ability to our top junior riders (but I’m aware we’ll see some outstanding male juniors who can win senior events). It seems a better solution to me than vets & women together, we can easily field full veteran events, there are loads racing, but we find it hard to field separate junior & women’s events, lets see this as an opportunity & put them together. If we can make this work, hopefully they’ll outgrow each other over the next few seasons & there will be separate events in the near future. Sorry for not coming up with anything radical here, but I think the solution is pretty simple.
Obviously the British calendar has to be looked at here, choosing dates for events away from both the British Junior series & the British Womens series, but these are published relatively early, so it shouldn’t be a problem. We could hopefully also encourage organisers to run more events in these UK series.
With the top-level women dealt with, leaving them to knock lumps out of our junior men, they’re then not knocking lumps out of out the lower category women & we can start looking at providing racing that meets the needs of the grass-roots & intermediate levels. This is the area where again, we’re hoping that Scottish Cycling can get involved. I think it will make a huge difference to new riders to not have to compete with the best women in Scotland in their first race, which up to now, has maybe been a bit of a turn-off to competing again, it’s not nice to get a pummeling in your first ever event.
There have been a few women’s specific coaching sessions about the country, we need more of these, to teach bunch skills & give the confidence to take part in an event. Then the initial races during the season could be APR’s (Australian Pursuit Races, riders off in handicapped groups, smaller less ‘scary’ groups for the beginner than 60 to 80 strong bunches. One idea could be to put at least one experienced lady in each APR group, to keep things in order & encourage groups to work correctly, part race, part basic racing course, I’m sure we’d get some volunteers for this. After that we can move onto bunch racing later in the season, once everybody is confident that they will be ok in a larger group. So I’d suggest the following…
- Early season (but not when it’s icy, March & April): Coached group riding sessions in each region, well publicised & hopefully with lots of info going to clubs to encourage riders to attend.
- Early to Mid-Season (May & June) : APR type events, with riders getting used to a competitive race situation, but one experienced rider in each group.
- Mid to Late Season (July onwards) : Bunch racing.
With a format like this, running each year we can likely progress a great number of women over the next few years, but it’s not going to be a quick fix, it will take time. Lots of these ideas have been tried before, there’s nothing new in this blog, but it needs to be joined up, to provide a structure to becoming a racer, to make it as easy as possible with the initial coached support & then helpful advice within the APR’s, before moving onto larger bunches. The key part is to have the top-level riders racing away from the newcomers, to encourage everybody else.
The main worry organisers have with women’s racing, is to get the ‘critical mass’ of riders to make an event viable, with a structure, organisers knowing how many riders are going through the coached sessions & onto APR’s, there’s a much better chance of events being promoted. So communication is key to this.
Future Information & Updates
If you want all the latest info, there’s a great blog/website called Filles a Velo, which has a list of all the events such as track schools, rider academy and other ladies events which are already is existence. Click the link & bookmark it, it will list any developments.
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For road race league & time trial ideas, see the ‘RACE DEVELOPMENT‘ link above. There is some inclusion of women’s racing in these leagues too.