Friday, 26 February 2010

Poking the ants nest some more

So what do I do in my spare time? I sit and ponder the issue of why only 17 women entered the Ladies' Diamond Stakes this year.

After my post on Wednesday (which is stirring up some interesting and unexpected responses!), a friend sent me through this link from a pro female cyclist in The States, who has some very pointed observations on elite (as in pro, not licence category!!!) women's attitude to team racing.

I have seen versions of this locally in both men's and women's racing.  The racing pond for women is smaller, so such attitudes are more obvious. This is one issue the author doesn't address, and one I think is a major contributor to the prima donna syndrome. In men's racing, the numbers are obviously larger, meaning it's actually more difficult to win (well, there can only be one winner, and 2 other placegetters). There is a big difference between 3 medallists out of 40, 50 or 100 riders, compared to 3 medallists out of 3 (been there!!), 6, 12, 30. There is less room (literally) in women's racing for the workhorse ethic that is common in men's racing. Simply, there are more tempting opportunities for individual glory, at the cost of team results. And we all enjoy that winning feeling!

My friend who sent me the link offered this theory: locally, most competitive women train with mainly men (due to circumstance and again, the numbers game). As there will be a smaller subset of female cyclists who can keep up with  fit, competitive male cyclists, these women are "unique", even more so as there may only be one or two or three in the training group. As a consequence, they are "special" and considered/treated so within the group (also in part due to their "difference" ie 1) from other women, perhaps including non-cycling partners of their training buddies, and 2) well, most hetero males enjoy the company of bright, fit, energetic women. I'll leave # 2 at that!!). Take these women out of that environment, and place them in a group of other "uniquely special" women, and you have an interesting mix of individuals. Remember, it's just a theory, for consideration.

How one deals with this, as a Manager, coach etc, in a team environment I am leaving alone! From a development point of view ie getting women racing, and more importantly, keeping them racing, it adds another layer of complexity to an already multifaceted "problem". My immediate reaction is to ask why individuals race. Each answer will be unique and personal, and only one that the individual can provide.But these answers are key to encouraging and supporting women to remain within the sport as competitors. Sometimes I think it's too hard a question for people to answer. They simply race because they like it, and their friends do it (mind you, some of those friends may have come AFTER a person takes up racing, so the social support network becomes self-fulfilling). But to dig deeper than that may be too complex, too deep and unable to be clearly articulated.

Take for example that I race because it makes me feel special (there's that word again). Special because I wear specific clothing, ride a specific kind of bike; am capable of doing things other women don't dare or physically can't; special because I face challenges through racing that others find too difficult; special because I am part of a select group.  Feeling special is vague, amorphous. So what happens when I stop feeling special? Why do I stop feeling special? How do I deal with that? How do I respond to that? How do people around me respond to that? Even more vague and amorphous!

Cycling is an individual sport, with the winner taking first thanks to some kind of team (formal and structured, or informal and opportunistic) effort. It's full of colourful, flamboyant, unique individuals who are all special for what they do: race bikes. Take a bunch of those special, unique, colourful personalities and gather them together to do a job of getting a designated person to the finish first,and try to unite that group under the label of a team, and well.... it's an ask and a half.

So while I take Kerry Litka's blog post as a generalised statement, as well as a personal response, and agree with her sentiments and experiences, I also think it's not as simplistic as she writes. And that's why getting women racing, and keeping them racing season after season (ignoring life's little curlers it throws us), let alone in a team situation,  has no ready-made, easy answer.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's my licence and I'll race if I want to

This is a bit of a rambling rant. I have entered Melbourne Cup on Wheels, the heats and “support”events of which are held this Saturday afternoon. After checking out the final entry list, I had a minor conniption. There are two B/C grade women riders, and the other 11 (yes, there are only 13 of us entered in total) are A grade/national/international level. It’s going to be an interesting afternoon of racing.

My first reaction was feeling completely overwhelmed and totally out of my depth (and slightly freaked out). Why? Why did I feel like that? After some deep thought (stop laughing!!) I realised it was because of the low entry numbers, and the high quality of the very small field. So then I checked out the Sid Patterson women’s field, which has only 1-2 more women entered, but a “wider” range of ability. Sid Patterson is on Friday night, the evening before MCOW. Some women have entered both, all kudos and thank yous to them (more on this later).  This led me to ask another question: why are some women, including those masters who race under an elite licence, racing one and not the other.  I’m racing once because frankly I want my Friday night to myself, rather than giving yet another week night to cycling. I give enough week nights to cycling as it is. But for the others, I am curious, and have no answer myself for that question.

Back to my first question (I told you this was a ramble!). Why do I feel overwhelmed?  I know I would feel less so if the field was bigger, so I could “hide” (hide on the track?? yeah ok). More to the point, a larger field means a wider range of abilities, simply.  A wider range of abilities means that riders like me don’t stand out so much, as being obviously at a different level to the majority of the other women riding. People may say, the likes of myself shouldn’t be riding (why?? Because they wouldn’t/haven’t entered themselves!). I think that kind of response says more about who is saying it, than to whom it is directed.

The bottom line for me, particularly this season, is that women’s numbers have been woeful, very low. If one less person raced (ie if I didn’t enter because I felt overwhelmed, not up to standard, name your own reason…) there would be even less women racing. Bloody obvious I know. But when you have 13 women entered, one less is significant, no matter the standard.

The other point is why I ride. I train hard. I may not train as much as those A grade women racing, for a whole bunch of reasons, mainly to do with life, but I train as best as I can with the time resources I have. Why do I train? To race. Not because I enjoy training, because a lot of the time, I'd rather be relaxing with a glass of Sam Miranda after work and reading a book. I like to race. Who says I can’t race an open because I am slower than X/Y/Z or older or less fit or will come last? Big deal!!! I say, put your money where your mouth is and enter the bloody race, go race it and support women’s racing.

If you don’t, then there will come a day when there is no Ladies’ Diamond Stakes, no provision for good races for women (1 wheelrace as a feature event, to entertain the lunch time crowd. Don’t laugh, it used to be like that), no capacity for quality racing for women. I want to race other women at my level. Currently I can’t. Why not? Because they don’t enter open races. It’s a numbers game, and by entering, we legitimise promoters’ show of faith in providing racing for women.

So for me, racing MCOW on Saturday afternoon is about my right to race, my support of women’s racing, my thank you to the promoter for providing the racing, as well as to make those back markers do some work to do to win the race. And because I enjoy it!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The New Loony Bike


It's nearly here. As of yesterday afternoon, after wheeling and dealing on the last 50cm HoC 928 SL frame in the warehouse, the deal was locked in. Now I need to wait for the frame to be delivered to the bike shop, take Ms Loony over for a groupset transplant, and associated surgery (new cables, handlebar tape, saddle) and then it's done and I am back on the road, freewheeling.

The current state of play is that the 2010 928s are on their way to Ozland, but it could be a two to four month wait. I have a State Masters Crit to ride at the end of next month. I can't wait that long!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So fortunately for me, this frame is the last of last year's 928s and it happens to be my size. Lucky!!! Sometimes being short is a bonus, usually it's not when it comes to bikes and equipment.

So now, I am just waiting on a phone call from Salter Cycles to say they have the frame. Then it's all systems go and a matter of days before I have a new race machine. I'm kinda excited!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Ladies' Diamond Stakes 2010

I am tired and am over it.

I am over the racing season, over training, over having a full bore, head on, rushed life. And it’s all my own fault. I chose to do it, chose to take things on, chose to enter a race or two or three. So, I gotta bite the bullet and tough out the hard bits of being a competitive cyclist who works full time, studies, participates in the sport on other levels, and has some kind of domestic life with its attendant responsibilities.

So on Saturday morning, I really didn’t want to go to Ararat, with an empty fridge, a dirty house, an overgrown weed filled garden, a lonely dog, a horse that needed clean rugs. You get the idea.

I felt an obligation to go, because 1) I told people I was going 2) I entered and the women’s entries were down on last year, and the year before, and the year before that 3) I need racing practice! So I tweeted: “gotta start thinking happy thoughts. Otherwise may as well stay home and get drunk before lunch”. Now the thought of staying home and drinking martinis for breakfast did have some appeal, but I always feel guilty drinking before 4 pm. It would have been a long wait of being in a blerh mood. So it was into the car and onto the long road to Ararat, with Mr Flowerpants as driver and prodder (as in: Get in the bloody car! You’re going!!)

It was great to see in the program, that Mr Handicapper Norris had managed to squeeze not two, but THREE grades of women out of the 17 entries. Usually, we get two, and I am just fodder for the A graders. So, despite my lack of keenness and motivation, I stood a chance of doing ok. Hmm well I also find when the ego is active, it’s asking for a caning. I got one.

I should have won the motorpace, with no disrespect to my competition. I didn’t. I was on the bike at 2.5 laps to go when it came off. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t feel up to hammering 2.5 laps. 2 laps maybe just, 1.5 yeah no worries. So I rode off at about 80% and got a small gap on the girls. I kept that gap until about 100m to go, when it was shut down, and I was taken 5m on the line for being complacent. Maybe the breakfast martinis weren’t a bad idea after all.

I redeemed myself by scoring a fairly easy berth into the 1000m handicap final, with a calculated move onto a target wheel as she came by. I latched on for the ride (and surprised myself that I actually had the legs to go with her); and was later nearly taken out by the same wheel (with some quiet swearing on my behalf that was diplomatically ignored by the commissaire on that bend). I finished midfield in that final, again with some good team work, and some strong opposition, so not displeased with that.

The heats of THE race, the big one: the Ladies’ Diamond Stakes. Again, we got our train going, and held off the backmarkers until the final lap. When they hit us, I got the fright of my life. I must have dozed off, because I literally jumped when they came past. I stopped pedalling and that was it. I was 5,6,7 m off the back into the home straight. I looked at the wall of butts in front of me, thought I can launch a big attack and bury myself in there somewhere and make it through, or I can sit here, not hurt myself, and have a rest before the scratch. No points for guessing what I did. My heart just wasn't in it.

The programming meant the final of the 1000m handicap was 3 races before the Diamonds heats, with a 3 race gap to the final, with a larger gap to the final race of the night. To be honest, I was glad to be watching and not racing the Diamonds final. It’s a goal of mine to make the final, but not this year. I just wasn’t hungry for it. It was a thriller race to watch, with Apryl Eppinger off scratch, having to make up 200m to limit. 2 laps to go, having picked up Emy Huntsman off 100m earlier, it looked like she wasn’t going to make it. 1 lap to go, along the back straight and she made her move, coming around the bunch into the home straight, Emy hard on her wheel, and Danielle Nyikos launching out of the bunch with her ticket on the Eppinger express. Final results: 1. Eppinger 2. Nyikos 3. Huntsman. It was a great ride and a hard earned win from Apryl, who is now proving a few punters wrong. Danielle was stoked with her second place, as she was celebrating her 21st from the night before. A very sweet 21st birthday present. Emy rode a very smart race, and for that scored some bling for posterity. There were some very happy campers back at the Endurogirl  Gazebo, between first and third and their support crews.

The final scratch race was shortened from 3000m to 2000m, mainly as all bar me had just raced the Diamonds final. We rolled around for a few laps, and as I took the lead, I upped the pace from leisurely stroll to solid tempo to see where the others were at. They were right with me, and we maintained that pace until the other Maskill, Claire Campbell upped the pace again with a few laps to go. Bell lap and I sat and waited. The girls took off in the second half of the back straight, and I managed to jump with them, but a little behind their timing. They got a small gap on me, which I was slowly closing into the home straight. Another 100m and I would have caught them. My lack of action, my passivity cost me a win, and Tess and Claire fully deserved their 1st and 2nd. Lesson learnt and no points for not backing myself.

Some days you are on, and some days you’re not. I’m glad I went and raced. I needed those schoolings to remind me of a few things. But! I did manage to get Sam Miranda on the podium for the second time in a week. One job done!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

My gear is bigger than your gear!

I’m having a bit of a chuckle at a pissing contest on the BV forums, between some boys regarding the size of the gear they rode at the weekend at the Club Teams and ABOC sprint series competitions. I call them boys because they are really comparing the size of their marbles (conkers mainly, so they are saying).

I am chuckling because I used to get asked a lot by some of my fellow competitors the same question: what gear are you riding? I learnt to reply with 104. But it doesn’t matter what gear I am riding, because I am a different rider to you, with a different physiology, temperament and riding style. And even if you and I ride the same gear, it doesn’t mean the outcome will be the same, because racing is more than gear size. It’s also about being strategic, thoughtful and opportunistic.  

A better question to ask is not what gear someone is riding, but how their legs, lungs, heart and brain are feeling. But maybe the gear size question is just code for that much more detailed question? If you know someone usually rides Y gear and today they are riding Z gear, something’s up. But don’t ask the gear size question to get a feel for what you should be riding. You should already know. And if you don’t, then you are experimenting to find out, which is nothing to be hung up about.

But there is more to the gear size story than just this, of course. Going fast  is about leg speed and strength (=power). Ideally gearing should match your “preferred” leg speed. And one of the best ways to get faster, is to improve your leg speed. I’ve learnt the hard way, speed doesn’t just come from “getting stronger” and being able to push out bigger and bigger gears. It's the common coach/athlete war chant: I/You need to get stronger! Sure pushing bigger and bigger gears will (eventually) make you stronger, but not necessarily faster. One of the quickest ways to kill speed is strength work: hill climbing, big gear efforts, squatting big weights. It’s a balancing act. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and over time, the cake comes out baked, iced and ready to eat. Focus too much  for too long on any one aspect, and you end up being good at that one thing, but not a balanced, complete bike racer.

So, what gear are you racing on today? But please, don't tell me, tell them. I'm not really innerested, unless we are teams sprinting/pursuiting in the same team ;-)

Monday, 8 February 2010


Or, Saturday Morning World Masters Championship Victorian Club Teams Championship Women Masters Team Sprint Championship Champions.

With a lot of help from my friend Ms K.

Unfortunately, we were the ONLY masters women entry, and we probably did start celebrating GOLD!!! a day or so early, but fortunately we didnt jinx ourselves in doing so. We made it! Our time would have seen us ride off for bronze in the Elite Women section, so we were no slouches either.

For Ms K and I, it was a Big Deal, as we don't train together, hadn't practiced at all, it has been many months since Ms K has been on the boards at DISC, and she is nursing a debilitated hip. In fact,  her FB status from yesterday morning was : "My butt is strapped ...So now I'm ready to race!!!!". Apparently the butt strapping was to support the hip, but I am inclined to think that the Skinny Arse was intimidated by the thought of hanging out with gluteally endowed sprinter types, and resorted to some kind of prosthetic enhancement to fit in! Anyway, it did the job, helped her get through a standing start that may have ended in tears if the dodgy hip decided not to work properly, and made her look like the real deal with more arse than usual ;-).

I have a soft spot for the Club Teams Track Champs, because my very first ever race was this event. I'd been on a track bike for six weeks, we'd cobbled together a team of four girls, of whom only one had any track experience (Monique Hanley). Two of the newbies have stayed with track racing, one of whom competed at Nationals only last week (Nicole Whitburn). It's a serious championship, but also has a function of acting as a developmental event, a social event (club teams) and brings clubs together as clubs, pitting themselves against other clubs in a unique enviroment for cycling. We won two silver, by the way, at that first Club Teams event.

So thanks to my good team buddy Ms K for letting me think this was a good idea, and for talking ourselves into it. It's also fun to share a bit of club pride, and to the club kit out there, being one of the mid-sized regional clubs. 

And finally, the other women Team Sprint medallists:


from left: Meg Marsh, Emy Huntsman, Thomay Michaltsis, Sue McCarthy, Daniell Niykos, Emma Waldron

Monday, 1 February 2010

No wonder women shouldn't race bikes

Self-confessed drug cheat Riccardo Ricco was recently quoted as saying "Cycling isn’t for women, it hurts too much" when commenting on his cyclocross wife's recent alleged postive test. Funny, cos she's recently had a baby, and I'd have thought that much worse than racing cyclocross.

But anyway, I now have photographic evidence that Ricco may actually be right:

After some flying efforts, the result was mental confusion, physical pain, exhaustion, and urgent searching for a puke bucket. Women shouldn't race bikes, it makes them look ugly, do ugly things and  act stupid.

Nice skinsuit though.