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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Nobody's Darlings

As a special treat we have a guest post from a good friend of DDCXHQ addressing a topic that is important us not only for our series but also for the sport of cycling.

Women’s Cyclocross


The buzz surrounding the Dirty Deeds 2011 season is intensifying. The number of people who came out on a cold winters night to either race or to spectate at the prologue is a clear sign the cyclocross bug has taken hold in Melbourne. And with good reason. Racing your friends through the mud, sand and soggy grass as the noise of the crowd gives way to the roaring pain in your over-worked lungs is quite the experience. The field of competitors for round one is set to be large with a range of skill levels, represented. There will be people in the ‘having a stab’ category who just wish to make it through the race without collapsing in a muddy quagmire, those in the ‘as long as I beat [insert name here]’ category who are out to test their skills and best last years result, and those in the ‘did you see that sweet line I took through the second puddle on the third lap’ folks who have been putting in some serious training to take out a podium spot. This is the beauty of cyclocross, everyone is welcome. Yet at this stage, the women’s category is underrepresented. While this may be indicative of the cycle racing scene in Australia in general, I have been thinking of ways to encourage more women to get out for Dirty Deeds CX race one. I understand that jumping over a barrier into a pit of mud is not for everyone but I have a hunch the only way to encourage more participation is for more women to be seen racing and having a ball.
It seems one of the major barriers is access to a suitable bike. To address this, Commuter Cycles have generously offered to help out anyone with setting up a cross bike as cheaply as possible. No one has taken them up on this offer yet. Which leads me to think there may be a bigger issue here. But rather than get bogged down in whether or not the predominately male racing field is a deterrent for some, I thought I would share with you some writing by women who race cyclocross in North America where women’s cyclocross is taking off. Elite cyclocross racer Maureen Bruno-Roy writes most of the growth in cyclocross for women is linked to the fun atmosphere and not just the tough athleticism of the competing”. She claims that cyclocross is a ‘gateway’ sport into competitive cycling for many women who might find road racing or mountain biking too intimidating to get into. You can read more about Maureen’s thoughts on women’s cycling here.
Heidi Swift is a freelance writer and photographer who also happens to race cyclocross. She manages to capture the essence of the short, often painful races (she crashes a lot) and why she keeps going back for more. “Cyclocross, at its core, is just a bunch of overgrown kids on adult-sized dirt bikes riding laps through puddles and grass as fast as their lactate threshold will take them. It's a field of peers ready to hammer themselves to death to pip you at the line but just as eager to pat you on the back and congratulate you when the race is over and you've stopped dry heaving long enough to form sentences. It is a spectacle, a challenge, a carnival of pain. But it's more than that. It's a community lashed securely together by our willingness to suffer and then celebrate afterward. It is a welcoming, open-armed throng of cyclists and spectators who are slightly off their respective rockers”. You can read more from Heidi Swift on her various pursuits here (and I highly recommend you do).
My hope? That we can encourage enough women to take part in the Dirty Deeds cyclocross season to warrant a separate category that fosters inclusion as well as a competitive scene. For any women who are perched precariously on the fence, I urge you to have a go and to see what all this fuss is about! If you fall into the ‘I have this bike but am not sure it is suitable’ category, take a look at this article by Commuter Cycles and give them a call. I acknowledge that this is a complex issue with many factors to consider and I welcome open, constructive conversation. If you have any questions, need advice or would like to get in some practice before any of the upcoming events, please email me at katelansell@gmail.com. Hope to see you out on the course!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this post and for the whole DDCX race season. I am definitely one of those in the "having a stab" category of women. I heard about cyclocross towards the end of last year from the gang at Commuter Cycles and was keen to give it a go. Huw helped me find a CX bike on ebay and the guys (Tristram, Scott & Jed) gave me lots of encouragement and did some great work to my bike to make it fit me better. I have been following the Dirty Deeds blog for months and was really excited about this year's season. I had also stumbled on Heidi Swift's blog and was totally enamoured by her attitude, great words and pictures and love of cyclocross. Everyone I have encountered on this journey into mud and mayhem has been fantastic. I have been to a couple of Karl's CX Socials and they have been lots of fun and a good opportunity to meet new people and learn some very useful skills. I met Kate and Emma at the Prologue and they were both welcoming and encouraging to this green-as-grass newbee. Brendan and Nikcee do a wonderful job of organising the Melbourne CX races and posting cool and informative stuff on this blog (hopefully I might get to say Hi to you guys at the next race). To all the people I met at the Prologue who made me feel part of something special, thank you. I even won a prize (see my last comment), which was totally unexpected, but gratefully received. So come on girls, have a crack. I can't wait to meet more women willing to get dirty, sweaty and happy. It really is the most fun you can have on two wheels.

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