Most cycling events are held as opens, usually dominated by men with a few women in the mix. Making the experience of an event completely different between genders. As a man competing when you cross the start line its full speed from the word go and often the first part of the event will be the most intense as you want to catch a group that is going to be pedaling at your level- if you miss the good groups there is a good chance that you wont be able to catch them. Once you have found your group everything settles down a bit and spreads out. The group will then work together taking it in turns to lead and work there way around the course and finishing with a sprint for the line.
For Women the start is similar you also need to find your group, but once you have you can relax. Often, once you have got in to a group you are looked after by the men you can sit and draft on the flats and aren’t often expected to have your turn up front in the wind. What often separates the level of ladies is the climbs, you have to climb yourself and keep up with the group in order to not be dropped. Don’t get me wrong events for women are still hard, you are still exhausted when you cross the finish but to an extent you feel looked after.
So what happens when there are no men ….
2 weeks ago at Vercors myself and about 150 other women lined up ready to take on the challenge Vercors, 120km rolling route with one main climb. The start felt quite mellow compared with the larger mixed events but I think this was more to do with a smaller number of participants. We were lead out by a team of motorbikes through the town after about 3km they sped off ahead and we were off. I had pre race nerves on the start line and was now full of adrenalin an ready to give it my all. But nothing happened no one sped up, no one attacked, everyone maintained their pace and started up the first climb. I was completely thrown off having never done an all female event before, tactically I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t make a move and stayed with the front group waiting to see what would happen. For me I found the pace frustrating which meant a few times I started to pedal but that meant leading. I was then worried that I was going to be tiring my self out whilst everyone else sat behind so i tried to pull out to the right to let someone else come through, it didn’t happen no one came through.
So for the first 30km I was on and off the front, tossing a coin in my head trying to decide whether to stay where I was and wait for someone to take control of the race or whether that should be me?
We then headed into a small village down a decent, the course was weaving through the national park so the roads were quite narrow and a bit rough. we all started rolling over a series of speed bumps and grates closely packed together. That was it I felt something touch my back wheel, i jolted forward over my bars, wobbled, tried to get my balance back, didn’t…. I had 2 seconds where I remember thinking Sh*t here I go. Smash down to the left then bounced over onto the right and skidded down the road.
I crawled to the side of the road and up onto the pavement to get out of the way of the cyclists coming through. I laid on the pavement absolutely gutted- not getting to find out how the rest of the event would go, worried that part if not all of my bike would be written off and becoming more and more conscious that I was missing quite a bit of skin.
The medical team came did there initial checks making sure nothing was broken and that my head was ok. Then they picked me up put me inside the ambulance and began cleaning my wounds. Anyone who had ever had road rash will no how much this STINGS, they have to make sure that the area is disinfected and all the gravel is removed before they can get it covered up.
Thankfully one of my friends who was supporting his wife in the event was in the town and saw me come off. Once I was out of the ambulance they gave me a lift back to the campsite. I wanted to show my support despite not finishing to the other ladies in the events so with the help of Ben I slowly limped down to the finish line to watch everyone come in. The first lady came in at 4hours 07 Minuits. Fast. Around 30kmh. That means the pace must have shot up, most likely someone attacking up the climb and pulling off forming a fast group. Most of the ladies were coming over the line either in small groups, pairs of quite often alone.
Each lady was presented with a rose a glass of fizz for finishing. The atmosphere in the village was buzzing, it was an awesome event to be part of the sense of achievement amount the women was huge. I think events like this are really important in the development of women’s cycling and hope to get the change to take part in something similar again in the future.
I can’t wait for the next one to show what I’ve got.