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.
4 hours ago