I was really interested to read over the weekend about a new women’s international cycling initiative called Strongher. I must admit that when I first saw the name I thought it was some sort of weird European spelling for the word ‘Stronger’, but on my second attempt I realised it was the combination of ‘Strong’ and ‘Her’ which is quite clever.
The founders of the movement, aiming to “give women a stage to show themselves”, are a large bunch of female professional cyclists. It was launched in London over the weekend by professional cyclists Marianne Vos, Hannah Barnes, Lauren Kitchen, Manon Carpenter, Marijn de Vries, Lucinda Brand, Juliet Elliott and Rebecca Charlton.
They describe it as a unique international movement with the impressive title of “Strongher, The Stage for Women Who Ride” with the goals of the continued development of women’s cycling, giving women a stage to show themselves and getting more women on bikes.
My partner and I have just finished our third trip to the Tour de France so I thought I would share a few tips for following the mighty race. I know it’s not strictly a women’s cycling topic but I know many female (and male) cyclists who would like to undertake a similar trip.
Choose your transport wisely
Lots of people follow the Tour in campervans but it can also be tackled by car and either camping of staying in hotels. We hired a campervan so I can’t really tell you about the other options and in my opinion a camper is the ideal way to see it. You can park at the side of the road in just about any location making it completely flexible.
If you go with the camper option make sure you book early. A lot of companies are booked out in October the year before because that’s when the full route for the following year is announced. Also make sure you check inclusions on the hire like bed linen/towels, kitchen equipment and outdoor furniture. A lot of hire companies charge extra for just about everything.
A lot of others wrote about La Course by Le Tour de France before the race took place on Sunday. Many wrote about its significance for women’s cycling and I definitely agree with them. I had the pleasure of watching La Course on French TV in the middle of a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in a bar appropriately named Cafe de Paris in the French Alps.
I was keen to watch it to see the women’s pro peloton race in front of such a huge audience but also for the pure enjoyment of seeing them race. Unfortunately for the riders it rained throughout the race which meant there were quite a few crashes and plenty of abandonments. I found it exciting to watch and really admire the women who made it to the finish line. It was predicted to conclude in a bunch sprint but a dutch rider, Anna Van Der Breggen from the Rabo team broke away right near the end and survived to cross the line first.
La Course is in its second year and as a standalone event it’s not really a big deal. Just one 89 km race around the city of Paris. The reason it’s so important is what it represents. It’s organised by the Tour de France to show their support of women’s racing which to me is really symbolic.
I’ve had a few women comment about their fear that cycling could make their thighs bigger so I thought I’d do a bit of research and clear this one up. In short, cycling will not make your thighs larger. In fact in my own case I’ve slimmed down in my thigh and bottom area since I took up cycling, even though I actually weigh more than I previously did.
Here’s a few reasons why your legs are not going to expand:
Muscle is leaner than fat
Muscle weighs a lot more than fat. Cycling will change the shape of your legs, but unless you’re doing a lot of squats, and maintaining the same levels of fat (by eating a lot), you’re not likely to get “bigger”.
I know this will probably not be a popular post with traditionalists, but I’m of the view that podium girls at men’s professional cycling races belong in another era and need to go. For me this topic is very top-of-mind because my partner Phillip and I are currently following the Tour de France in a campervan and I write this from the foothills of the great Pyrenees.
The use of pretty women on podiums is demeaning to all women. It says that women are there just to look good in photographs, and to compliment the athleticism of men. I know that women line up for the privilege of standing beside a man on the podium. Apparently 500 apply every year. Most are models who see it as an opportunity to get a break and perhaps to travel around France for three weeks. I’m not trying to say that these women are worthless, but they are putting themselves forward as trophies not human beings.
When Peter Sagan pinched one of them on the derriere a few years ago I actually thought it was pretty funny. To me he was pointing out how stupid the role of podium girl actually is to many people. Instead it was interpreted as rudeness and he was forced to apologise to her. Maybe we take it all a bit too seriously.
I caught up with Aussie pro cyclist Loren Rowney a couple of weeks ago via email. Loren is a member of the Velocio-SRAM women’s team. Some of you may know it by its former name Specialized-lululemon. Over to Loren.
Q: How did you get started in cycling?
When I was 13, I went to watch my brother race a local club race on the Easter weekend. I spotted a girl from my neighborhood, whom I was competitive with, racing the men. And thought to myself, “hey, if she can race a bunch of men, so can I”. I wanted to beat her. The funny thing is I am still best friends with that girl today.
Q: You’re probably sick of being asking about your famous crash so I won’t dwell on the details, but can you tell me how you recovered both physically and mentally from such a high profile incident? How hard was it to get back on the bike?
The first two weeks were really painful and frustrating because I didn’t have any answers as to why or who even, caused this crash. I’m a hyperactive person, so being confined to a small apartment wasn’t fun. It was the spring too, and I had big ambitions for all the races I was now going to miss. I’ll admit, I got depressed and it was very challenging mentally to come back. I’m still struggling a bit now.
Marianne Vos on the 2014 Giro Rosa podium
I know I’ve whinged about this before but it’s very disappointing that the only Grand Tour of the women’s pro cycling calendar, the Giro Rosa is run at the same time as the Tour de France. It actually starts with a prologue on Friday, 3 July, the day before the TdF begins but it’s not surprising that it receives very little media attention.
As a fan of women’s pro cycling it’s pretty disappointing to line it up against the biggest race on the men’s calendar.
Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv Women) won last year’s edition in commanding style, winning four of the race’s ten stages and holding the race lead from the second day. Her teammates Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Anna van der Breggen joined her on the podium.
I was lucky enough to catch up with dual Australian road champion Gracie Elvin via email. Gracie is currently racing the European season and is a member of Orica-AIS. I enjoyed watching her win her second national road title in January last year. Enjoy.
Q: How did you get started in cycling?
A: I always rode my bike a lot when I was younger around my suburb, to school and even to visit my horse who was kept nearby. I loved the MTB days that my high school had, and when my dad set up and old road bike for me when I was 12 I was hooked straight away. I went to a junior skills course and did lots of the local bunch rides and club races until I was ready to race interstate.
Q: In 2014 I watched you win the National road race in Victoria and stand proudly on the podium, how did it feel to win that race and the other national title in 2013?
A: Both my national title wins mean a lot to me. The first time I was just so shocked that I had done it! It wasn’t really the plan for me to win that year, even though it was possible. I was grinning for days after. The next year (2014) the win meant a lot more to me. It felt like I had really proven myself and shown that I am one of Australia’s best.
It was great to see some ABC coverage for a women’s cycling training/selection camp last week in Canberra. It’s interesting to note that after reading this story you would assume that Cycling Australia is behind this great initiative, but I believe it’s actually Rochelle Gilmore who made a commitment to take six female cyclists to Europe this year. Rochelle who owns and manages Wiggle Honda in the UK committed to this idea after Cycling Australia suspended its funding of the women’s elite program in Europe. Well done Rochelle.
Here’s the story as it ran on the ABC online:
A group of Australia’s most promising female cyclists have been put to the test in Canberra this week for the opportunity to join the Australian cycling team on tour in Europe.
The riders will remain under the close watch of selectors at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) where they are in the final days of the gruelling knock-out style selection camp, that will conclude on Sunday.
Eight hopeful cyclists have made it through to the final days of the camp, from an initial group of 18, with further cuts to be made in the coming days.
Kaarle receives her recent World Champs bronze medal with team mate Anna Meares
I caught up with track cyclist Kaarle McCulloch last week to hear about her challenging last few years and her future plans to be in the team for the Rio Olympic Games next year.Like many female cyclists Kaarle didn’t take up cycling until fairly late in her sporting life. Up until the age of 15 she was firmly focused on running but realised that she was pretty good, but not quite good enough to go the Olympics, a dream she had harboured since she was 12 years old.
She had no interest in cycling but was persuaded by her step father Ken Bates who had a keen interest in the sport to give it a go. It only took a few laps on the track and she was hooked. That was at her local track in Sydney’s south, and within a few short period of time she was holding her first junior world medal.
By 2008 she was riding alongside Anna Meares and her sister Kerry in the senior world champs and World Cup events. She attributes her early success to the work ethic she had developed in her running.