A lot of others wrote about La Course by Le Tour de France before the race took place on Sunday. Many wrote about it’s 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 recently read an interesting article about how cycling is great for your brain health. I find this area of study quite fascinating. It seems that only 10 or 15 years ago, the learned professionals in the study of the brain were saying that our brains are relatively unchangeable and simply deteriorate as we age. Now it seems there are lots of people saying that the brain is far more malleable than we originally thought and I think it’s great news. So I’ve plagiarised the article I read and provide a summary here. I also found that undertaking a simple Google search on this topic brought up some other really interesting material.
Several new studies have found that cycling improves the way your brain works by making several important structures bigger so you can think faster, remember more, and feel happier.
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.
Is this company really trying to sell to women?
There’s been quite a lot of discussion of late about how to make bike shops and cycling in general more attractive for women, and while I’ve not weighed in to the various discussions until now I thought I’d put in my views.I’m reasonably well qualified to do so. I work in a bike shop and although I’m relatively new to it (two years) it gives me a unique perspective because I can still remember back to when I was a customer of women’s cycling gear.
One of my own issues is actually about the use of the word ‘lady’ instead of my preference for the word ‘woman’. My blog isn’t called ‘Ladies Who Cycle’ and that’s a very deliberate decision on my part. To me the word ‘lady’ is verging on being derogatory because the way in which it is used, often infers that women are inferior when it comes to riding a bike.
Total Women’s Cycling which is a UK-based women’s cycling site recently wrote about a cycling brand that launched a new range of women’s bikes suggesting that women only like to amble along on mountain bikes. Read it for yourself if you want to know more but it’s quite extraordinary. Unsurprisingly the bike range is called ‘MBT Lady’.
I really love the concept of mindfulness but I often struggle to do it. Mindfulness to me is about focusing on the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or fixating on future events. It’s about being present, even if it’s not something that brings you pleasure.
Mindfulness and cycling go hand-in-hand and here’s why you should practice it while riding:
It will keep you safe
Being mindful while you’re riding a bike ensures that you are aware of potential hazards along the way. Depending on where you ride the hazards could be potholes, rubbish/glass on the road or bike-path, or even pedestrians. If you ride on the road like I do, then the hazards are often cars, so you need to be aware of what drivers are doing and expect them to be unpredictable, and at times erratic. If you’re daydreaming about other things then you’re not focusing on the present moment and keeping yourself safe.
You’ll enjoy the things around you
I love that saying ‘stop and smell the roses’, and it’s something that I try to do both literally and figuratively. When you ride a bike you get to experience things around you that you wouldn’t see, smell or hear in a car, or other mode of transport. If you are focused on the present then you’ll notice beautiful scenery, and also smaller everyday things like friendly people and changes in your neighbourhood.
I know that some of you are probably not into learning about history, but it was my favourite subject at school so you’ll have to indulge me.
Recently my boss John (Ashfield Cycles) mentioned to me that the first ever women’s bike race in Australia actually took place in Ashfield (in Sydney’s inner west). I must admit that I was a bit dubious at the time so I decided to delve into it a bit more and headed to the Ashfield Library where I found a local publication with a whole chapter dedicated to it. So I won’t bore you with the whole tale, but here’s a few highlights.
In February 1888 (that’s 127 years ago) a women’s cycling race was organised at the now defunct Ashfield Recreation Grounds. Ads were placed in The Sydney Morning Herald which listed a two-mile champion race; one, two and three mile handicaps; a half-mile handicap race; and a half-hour tournament all for ‘ladies’, run over three days.