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Opinion: Stop excluding women’s race categories

What can we learn from Cycling BC's Tour de Concord reversal and from organizers setting a positive example in Vancouver

Photo by: Melanie Katcher @melaniekatcher

By Ramsey Glass

When Cycling BC announced the schedule for a new feature race, the Tour de Concord, one category was missing: Cat. 4 women. Online blowback, led by several local riders including Ramsey Glass, led to Cycling BC reversing course and agreeing to revisit the schedule. Glass writes about what can be learned from the situation, why the category should have been included in the first place, and how other Vancouver locals are setting a positive example in women’s cycling.

Women’s racing is alive and well in Vancouver. Only, people seem to need reminding of it.

Indeed, the women’s race scene is thriving. One local club grew from two female racers to 11 strong this year alone. One of those racers, Morgan Sherley, was determined to grow a team and she did; she spread the word about a team for new racers, ideal for women who had never raced before. She showed up consistently, ending every training or social ride with a simple question: “Have you ever thought about racing?”.

Turns out, many of us had. We just had never been asked and maybe being asked is all we needed, because soon enough one woman after another joined.

Meraloma Racing. Photo: Melanie Katcher (@melaniekatcher)

The general sentiment in my circle is that if you make space for women, women will show up. Many of us racers met at a Queen of the Mountain clinic run by Paul Moffat of Velosophy. It’s a women’s-only clinic that he’s run for years. Initially, it served only a few women, but each year those numbers grew. Now? It’s his best selling program three times over. Every Monday, over 40 of us can be seen around Vancouver tackling workouts in our various groups. And sometimes we ask each other: “Have you ever thought about racing?”.

Paul is not the only one offering opportunities for women looking to race. Jen Gerth runs an informal group ride for women each week. She’s a Cat 2 racer with Crit Nasty, a women’s only race team. Her teammate, Joanie Caron, an Olympic athlete, gave me tips after each of my road races this spring. As a first time racer, her advice was invaluable to me, and I know I am not the only one benefiting from her and Jen’s support. They are great examples of how women bring along other women: you blaze a trail and leave a path.

But supporting women’s racing isn’t just about recruiting more racers (although it is certainly a good place to start). We have learned that we have to advocate for ourselves. Our local Thursday night crit races are run by Todd Hansen of the Coastal Race Club. When we asked Todd to amend the schedule to make it easier for women to arrive for the earliest time slot (which we’d been given each week), he did one better: he alternated our time slot with the Cat 4 Men’s. Now, every few weeks we switch, and the men race first. The best part about the later time slot is that we too get to experience the thrill of racing with a full, cheering crowd.

Thursday Night Crit Series: Cat 4 Women’s race. Photo: Melanie Katcher (@melaniekatcher)

After receiving such a fantastic response from Todd, we were confident that Cycling BC would hear us when we asked for equal opportunity for Cat 4 women to race at the upcoming Tour De Concord. Only getting the change we wanted wasn’t simple. With a packed event schedule, limited resources post-pandemic and multiple stakeholders involved in the planning process, it took some time for Cycling BC to create a solution for us. With a strong backing from the community who called for equality with us, we were heard and change was promised. I am thrilled that the Cat 4 Women will get the same opportunity to race as Cat 4 Men at this exciting event. I just wish we hadn’t had to ask for it.

When there is inequality, it’s easy to blame logistics. Only the failure to plan for inclusion is not a minor issue and, quite frankly, is not the racers’ issue. It falls on the event organizers and Cycling BC to ensure that during the planning process (that begins months in advance, not two weeks before race day), our participation is neither forgotten about nor deemed less important than the men’s.

This is no new conversation, of course; women have always been advocating for inclusion in sport. Women have to make it a habit of raising issues because, if they don’t, no one will. They’re the squeaky wheels that help keep organizations like Cycling BCs on track and, honestly, it must be exhausting.

We learned this week that the cycling community is full of vocal allies. They shared that they won’t race if the women don’t get to. Let that guide us moving forward: if there is a men’s race, let there be a women’s race as well. If there aren’t enough women to fill the race, let’s start talking about the barriers women face in getting into cycling to begin with, rather than cutting the race entirely. If women’s races are the first to be run at the most inconvenient times and the first to be cut, there will always be less participation. Quite simply, we will never get our numbers up if women are treated as less than in racing.

Post-crit stoke with Meraloma Racing. Photo: Melanie Katcher (@melaniekatcher)

I am sure, for some, this feels like small potatoes but what happens at entry level cycling impacts all levels of our sport. Let’s say you only care about elite cycling, fair enough. Guess where our future elite cyclists come from? They gain skills and rise up the ranks in Cat 4.

However, I hope you don’t only care about elite cycling. I hope that you care about cyclists like me. I am a first year racer and I may never move beyond Cat 4. But I form a part of the cycling community. I volunteer at races, pay my Cycling BC dues, take part in events and attend group rides. I hope you’ll agree that I am just as important a part of this community as my male counterparts. I see men racing in Cat 4 year after year and that’s what I want to do, I want to race: this year and next, and hopefully for many years after that. All I ask is that I get the same opportunities that they do. It would be even better if I didn’t have to fight for them.

We succeeded in getting a spot to race at Tour De Concord and I celebrate that, but I don’t want us to stop there. Let’s show our commitment to diversity by offering a Women’s Only Learn to Race in 2023. Better yet, let’s offer three of them. Let’s build upon the action Escape Velocity has taken; they have just announced that women can attend their upcoming Learn to Race session for free. I know if we make space for women, women will show up, just like they did to our race team and to the Queen of the Mountain clinic. Give us the opportunity to race and tools to grow, and we’ll never have to hear again that our women’s fields aren’t big enough.

If you agree with me and want to encourage and grow the women’s racing scene, start at the grassroots level. Speak up when you see the women’s race being sidelined in favour of a men’s race, sponsor a women’s race team and the next time you ride with a woman ask her: “Have you ever thought about racing?”

Ramsey Glass is a cyclist and lawyer in Vancouver, B.C. riding with the Meraloma Racing team.