If you have ever attended a bike race, there is a noticeable difference between the amount of men racing in contrast to women. What you may not have realized is that women’s racing does not have the same amount of categories as men, creating a steeper learning curve. Women’s racing starts at category 4, not 5 like the men, and when they upgrade to a 3 they are often racing against pros or women with considerable experience. What happens next is predictable: the new rider struggles in the peloton and is left wondering if bike racing is for them.
According to USA Cycling statistics bicycle racing demographics shows eighty percent men to only twenty percent woman. Yet the amount of men and women who own a bike is split fifty-fifty. So why the great divide between the numbers of women racing versus men? That is the question that Nicole Johnson and Catherine James are trying to answer.
Nicole Johnson and Catherine James have charged themselves with the daunting task of re-energizing women racers and with the support of USA Cycling they are implementing an organized plan – the WE RACE Initiative.
“The more women that race, the better the racing will be,” says Catherine James.
“There’s also not a platform for women to ask questions. They learn from a boyfriend or friend and it is short lived. Our goal is to get these women to come out, have fun and succeed and work their way through the ranks,” continued Nicole.
A sobering statistic is that the amount of pro women racers is reduced every year, something these two determined ladies hope to turn around with the WE RACE Initiative.
“USA Cycling sees an opportunity [to increase the amount of women racers] and they came to us because we have been racing for quite awhile and seem to be a pretty good role model. We want to give back to the sport.”
Johnson isn’t just a bike racer picked at random by USA Cycling to coordinate this effort. She was the 2009 rider representative for South Carolina and was approached by USA Cycling to help understand why there is this lack of female participation in racing. One unfortunate fact is that while over the past five years there has been over 300 registered woman riders in North and South Carolina, last year there were only 83 active licensed woman riders.
So with the support of USA Cycling, Johnson and James launched the WE RACE Initiative. This initiative isn’t another women’s development program but a real push to retain women racers. One method to reduce the daunting aspect of being thrown in with a pack of experienced women is a series of skills clinics taught just prior to their race. There are three remaining clinics to attend – the Dilworth Criterium, French Broad and the South Carolina state road race championships. Each clinic will cover topics as cornering, safety, race etiquette and strategy. To further ensure that the women racers have the skills required to be successful in order to upgrade from category 4 to 3 attendance at one of the clinics is required. In addition there are points awarded in each of these races with an overall winner. The purpose is to encourage women to continue with the racing and not stop after one race.
James explains the other purpose of the training clinics. “These clinics are an opportunity to open the dialogue and to show them that the CCA (Carolinas Cycling Association) is interested in improving and growing women’s racing. They can ask questions and get to know other people that they can look to for help.”
While the WE RACE Initiative is a new project, there has already been an increase in the amount of women racers.
“The numbers are already up. At Rock Hill [the site of the first clinic] and some local races they are seeing a difference. Once we get a handle on the trend we will be able to measure it,” Johnson proudly states.
But the question remains; why is there a significant category 4 women’s field but as the categories increase, participation decreases? Again, this is where the WE RACE Initiative hopes to make steps to improve those numbers.
“We want to support the category 4s as much as possible to know how to develop and grow and start trying the bigger and more intimidating races.”
For the woman looking to make the leap from bike rider to bike racer, the WE RACE Initiative is the perfect opportunity. With skill clinics designed to make the transition from the lower categories to the more competitive ones easier and a support system in place to offer guidance, Nicole and Catherine are confident that participation and more importantly retention of racers will improve.
Carolina Cycling News highlights women’s racing in our Features section. Check it out to see the latest!