On women’s racing: the combined field

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I talked a bit about racing with men. Today I want to talk about racing with women.

I understand that it’s not always feasible for a promoter to have a cat 4, cat 3 and cat 1/2 race for women.  I also greatly appreciate those promoters who do provide those races and those organizations like Bay Area Women’s Cycling that actively work with promoters to increase those opportunities. However, as a racer and an advocate for women’s racing, I strongly believe that combined-category fields are not good for anyone. Particularly when you are trying to develop riders in the lower categories, it’s incredibly important to provide opportunities for racers to race against their peers. It can be frustrating to race every race against a higher category, and uncomfortable to race every race with less-experienced riders.

Those are some reasons that combined-category fields aren’t ideal on a theoretical level. On the practical level, they have been less than ideal because many racers don’t like them and refuse to race them. The 1/2/3s talk a big game about the 4s not having the skills to be safe.* The 4s can be intimidated about racing with the “big girls.”**  It can get messy.

Saturday’s race was a combined 1/2/3 and 4 race, with the 1/2/3s and 4s picked for separate prize lists. Norcalcyclingnews has a great write-up of the ways that head official Paula Mara helped everyone feel like a unified group. Just acknowledging the elephant in the room was huge; it signaled that everyone on the line was there to race and had a place in the race. Kudos to Paula for that.

As for the racing, honestly I was blown away with how that race went.  By & large it was a safe race, only one crash that I didn’t know about until Sunday (I’m not clueless, I was off the front when it happened). Zero drama. Zero attitude. Everybody just raced their bikes – hard. There were 4s mixing it up in the breaks and on the front with the 1/2/3s, the 1/2/3s were supportive and treated the 4s like bike racers instead of safety hazards. I heard only positive things from both groups  after the race. Not to get too girly on you, but I am so, so proud of every single woman in that race.

We kick ass.

* Thanks to programs like the Winner Within mentoring program (not to toot my own horn, except maybe just a little) and the experienced cat 4 racers in the field, this isn’t true. The 4s get faster, smarter and more skilled every year. It is amazing to see.
** As we saw this weekend, the 4s are plenty capable of hanging with the 1/2/3s. Also, I’m not crazy about calling the 1/2/3s the “big girls”, but when in Rome…
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