Grassroots Racing – Cykel Women’s Cycling Grand Prix
I’ve ridden with many ambitious amateur and professional women and know firsthand what it’s like to get my butt kicked by them. Trust me, they’re extremely good. Most of them have risen to that point with no development path and driven on pure self-motivation. The passion that many of these cyclists display is far beyond that of anything I’ve seen in other sports. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these women and their goals, however they usually get the short end of the stick.
For Women’s cycling to get the recognition it deserves it needs people who invest in events, media, and its athletes. SBS has always invested in cycling I and can see that they are trying to raise the profile of the women’s side of the sport. Fortunately the GreenEDGE women’s team is giving us something to talk about. Good on them.
However, there are many other people at the grassroots level creating an impact too. Two passionate people putting their own time and money into the future of women’s cycling are Rowena Scott (who runs SheRides Cycling) and Rob Carson, the owner and director of Cykel Women’s Cycling Grand Prix. I also can’t go on without acknowledging Gaelene Snelling for creating an enormous women’s scene she’s built with SKCC .
Over the summer Cycel Events have done a terrific job at creating a standalone women’s series around Melbourne. Rowena Scott interviews Rob Carson on why this is important to him, how the series is going, and what it means for women’s grassroots cycling.
by Rowena Scott
It’s a never ending battle for women; to achieve the equality that they have earned and that they deserve. Not only in the board room are we fighting for positions but we’re now fighting for position in sports that have been dominated by men since the beginning of time. Cycling is no exception. One man making changes in cycling throughout Victoria is Rob Carson, Director and Owner of Cykel Events; he made the decision that woman in cycling matter and created the Women’s Grand Prix.
The final of the Women’s Grand Prix will end March 3rd, the perfect day to showcase what woman in Victoria have to offer in terms of racing. With the event coinciding with International Women’s Day it is an opportunity to introduce your daughters to an exciting sport that could take them around the world. It is the opportunity for women to visit a sport that they never considered trying and an opportunity to get more women riding.
It’s obviously a hot topic of late and the news I receive tells me that women’s cycling is to be supported at local level for its continual growth; Carson is giving Victoria an edge in cycling on a local scene.
Why women’s cycling? It’s obviously a women’s sport that’s having some trouble finding it’s sponsors and it’s place, why was it worthwhile to you to put together a local series specifically for women?
The series was instigated on an approach from some women who wanted something special, just for women. It took me a while to get on top of the reasons why. I had never faced the issues that women face every week in club races, where their women’s only events could be shortened because of weather conditions, just to see the men’s races be full length; Where women’s races would be so short that they would still have the energy left to do a second race on the day just to empty the tank; Where there were no women-only events at all.
I come from a corporate background, whereby I understand how to get the value out of the marketing dollar. It is as much about contributing cash, services and goods as it is about promoting your involvement. Unfortunately, some potential sponsors see an approach to sponsor more as a donation, than getting any value out of it. I have tried to encourage the sponsors to have an active involvement in the event. Be a part of social media conversations, attend the events and present the prizes – this way, they will see first hand how to get a return for their dollar. We saw it on the weekend with Coates Hire – the local Bendigo branch came to the event, helped set up, and free rein on how much signage they wanted to put up. They got great press coverage in the local and statewide papers and TV from their involvement on the day, and everyone at the event knew Coates were very supportive of their event.
What should we expect at the final round of the Women’s Grand Prix? Do you have an idea of which female riders will be racing?
I wish knew which riders were racing the final round. So far, we have about 20 entries, but it is always a last minute rush. We have had over 80 women enter the Women’s Grand Prix series, so I would like to see all of them return for the finale, and another 20 to make 100 riders on the course. I think everyone would consider that a success! The final round will be the last opportunity for riders to lock in a win. In 3 rounds, the prizes for the prologues and criteriums have been shared around. There are plenty of riders who are desperate for the win for themselves, and their team. It will continue to be aggressive. Many women have learned during the Series how to ride as a team. This will be a big factor in determining their last chance for the season.
How has the series progressed over each round? Have you seen an increase in participation from round 1 to round 3? Are you expecting the crit to be packed for round 4?
In short, yes! We have riders coming back from Perth, we have at least two new teams being entered in the final round, and we have racing straight after the regular Coburg crits, so hopefully we’ll have a massive crowd to cheer on the women!
International Women’s Day is as much about change as it is about a celebration. I like to think of the series as a contributor to both. Especially with the current debate and focus on women’s sport, it is very important to highlight just how strong the women’s cycling scene is, not just at professional level, but also at the grass roots.
You mention that it’s important for the Women’s Grand Prix to be stand alone, do you think you’re drawing a big enough crowd to the event?
A quote from a great movie: “If you build it, they will come”. 100 riders on the course at National Blvd is just the first part. Since the series had started, we have had approaches to hold the event in the twilight, down the main street of some suburbs, and requests to take the series interstate. Yes, we are drawing a big enough crowd – we start with the riders, and the crowd will come – it can only get bigger!
This is obviously a good opportunity for Women to put together their own teams of friends at a minimal cost; do you think this will encourage more sponsors to come on board?
Absolutely. We have heard of teams being put together for this series alone. It is important for these riders to consider the value of the sponsorship they have or could have. They need to continue their promotion of the sponsor and the team throughout the winter and track seasons. If they aren’t riding, they need to talk it up through social media, through blogs and ensure that their sponsors continue to be encouraged by their investment. Only this way will new sponsors see some return on their investment.
Have you received any bad feedback throughout the organisation of this event that shocked you?
I have received plenty of feedback, both positive and negative… though mostly positive. However the negative feedback is as much to do with the status quo than anything else. I like to challenge the way things have been done in the past. What we have created is something special and different, but it’s not “the way we have always done it”. You cannot please all of the people. I just want to please those who want to be a part of the growth of women’s cycling, and from that perspective, it has all been positive.
Tell me about the circuit at the National Boulevard, what should we expect on race day, which riders will excel?
It will be fast – guaranteed. SKCC/giant will be looking to lock in their win in the overall teams result – they have a big lead, but are threatened by Total Rush – so watch the teams racing there. Brunswick have been strong in division 2, and those riders will look to continue their dominance there. The individual title is a tough one now. Kate Finegan, Nic Whitburn and Kate Mullarkey are all within 4 points of each other battling for third place. While current leader, Carly Williams and teammate Amy Bradley will want to secure a 1-2 result for Total Rush. It’ll be a fast, tactical race. I think that riders will consider their team tactics that they have learned from the previous three rounds and put them to good use.
Why should we come out and watch? I know I’m a supporter of Women’s Cycling but there are heaps of people out there who don’t really know much about it, what would you say to get them out there for the final race?
The Women’s World Championships is a good example of why you should come and watch. The tactical elements of cycling are sometimes difficult to see on the TV, especially when the riders are unfamiliar. When you get to see riders close up, and in a criterium race, you appreciate the strength and abilities of these women. You see the sweat dripping from their chin, the grimace on their face, and the power in their legs from five metres away, and you see it unfold over the course of an hour as they share their pain with their teammates.
Be at National Blvd on Sat March 3rd to see some of the best women’s action in Australia.
What’s exciting about women’s cycling, there’s a lot of discussion about how women have less power and their races are slower, how can that be considered exciting?
It’s about opportunity. Women don’t often race a crit of this distance, and women don’t often race in teams. This is the future of women’s cycling. The theme of the Women’s Grand Prix is “Be Strong, Be Brave, Be Brilliant”. The series has represented all three of these elements – We want the riders to show strength beyond their abilities, to Be Brave during their races, and Be Brilliant in their tactics. To date, they have shown all three.
Will you run the event again and will you take any new steps to entice beginners into taking part, Bec Domange is a cyclist who has raced overseas and locally, would it be feasible to put on a beginners race in conjunction with division 1 and 2 where a rider like Domange explained and taught women to race effectively and safely?
Absolutely, although I envisage that the Women’s Grand Prix gives beginners the conduit to take their riding to the next level. Ideally, I think the clubs should be developing their beginners to a level where they feel the Women’s Grand Prix is the next step in their cycling development, where the racing will challenge the riders, but not intimidate them. We had one rider, in Teagan Westendorff who raced her first ever race in round 1, and came third. She has been a part of the Hawthorn Cycling Club’s women’s development program that taught her things like bunch riding, cornering and tactics in preparation for her first ever race. St Kilda cycling Club have a very strong program along these lines that encourage women’s development. The clubs are moving in the right direction.
You’re the father of a little girl. Are you concerned that if she were to grow up and want to be a professional sports person that there would be very little support for her? Is this something that propels you forward in supporting women’s cycling?
Absolutely. I caught her trying to pin a race number on her back at home a few days ago. She is desperate to race her bike, but she is only 4! Whether she wants to compete for fun, or professionally in this or any other sport, it does worry me. But it is not just in sport. I want her to grow up in an environment where women have the same opportunities to achieve.
We have tried to get an under 17 race up and running for this very reason. It may take another year to get that far, but we will persist. The race has not proceeded to date owing to lack of U17 entries, but those that have entered have “Been Brave” and ridden against the seniors.
You can find out the details of the Women’s Grand Prix’s final round here.