Ride Like A Girl / Race Series

Amy Cuthbertson (pictured right) and Elle Haigh are both fairly new to the sport but have big ambitions for where their cycling journey is taking them. Responding to the current provision available to women wanting to give racing a go, these passionate individuals sat down to discuss the reasons they ride, why they’re both tired of ‘mansplaining’ and how this in part led to the launch of @ridelikeagirlrs

Amy

Until just shy of two years ago I hadn’t done any cycling since my paper round when I was 10. I got the hump because my other half signed up for a Leeds to Manchester charity ride and didn’t even bother asking if I wanted to do it [smiles]. My first ride after deciding to buy a bike was a whole 3 miles before I stopped for coffee and cake and then went home. But since then I’m joined some clubs, worked at getting stronger and started to enter time trials and hill climbs; discovering in the process that I’m actually quite competitive.

Elle

For me it was all on a bit of a whim. I was looking for a way of fundraising for a charity and everyone knew I didn’t particularly feel comfortable riding a bike so I decided to sign up for a mountain bike ride across Kenya. It initially didn’t go that well – I went down a couple of days early and managed to break my hand – but I still had the best time before realising when I got home that I didn’t really know how to cycle on the road. So in April this year I bought a bike and went out on my first ride. I’d already decided to join a club so that I’d be motivated to keep riding and within the space of a couple of weeks I had an effective fitness regime and a whole new group of friends; especially important as I’d just moved back to the UK.

Amy

And then you decided to ride from London to Paris just a few months after getting your first road bike [laughs].

Amy climbing Holme Moss

Elle

Rather a baptism of fire as I kind of threw myself in at the deep end but I’d already decided to be a cycling ‘yes’ person and then find solutions to the rides or events I’ve chosen to do.

Amy

For me, riding my bike is all about the exhilaration of exertion. I’m a project manager and I’ve worked from home for the last six, seven years; doing absolutely nothing with my day beyond getting up and walking to my desk. I snowboard and cycling takes what I enjoy about that – being outside with my friends – but on a day-to-day, year-round basis and without the need to fly out of the UK in search of some snow. When you’ve been sedentary for so long, the physicality is a really addictive feeling. That sense of tiredness; of pushing on and making your body do what it’s meant to be capable of doing.

Elle

In some ways it’s been a little overwhelming. My life has changed quite dramatically since I’ve started cycling. I’ve made new friends like Amy and I’ve discovered a place where I can be myself. I climb onto my bike, I clip in and even if I’ve had a particularly rubbish day my mind clears. I sleep better and generally feel uplifted.

Amy

We’re both members of the Rapha Cycling Club and I very much appreciate the opportunity to go out on women’s rides that are a little stronger and faster than what I’ve previously experienced. A lot of female-specific cycling is focusing on getting more women on bikes and I wouldn’t be here today chatting about my riding if it wasn’t for those initiatives. The RCC also offers this same provision of introductory sessions but with the progression of more challenging rides.

Elle

The discipline within the RCC is good as well. Everybody rides how you should ride on the road; everything is kept really tight which is nice because it gives you that security blanket that comes with working together. If someone’s new to road cycling there’s plenty of friendly advice and support to overcome any initial worries or concerns. And because I spend so much time travelling through my work as transatlantic flight crew, I find I have this instant friendship group at whatever clubhouse I visit across the world. I can easily rent a great bike so I don’t have to lug my own along with me and I know I’ll be riding with a like minded group of people. There may be different languages and cultures but they all share the same connection of wanting to ride their bikes.

Amy

And there’s coffee at the clubhouse before we roll out [laughs].

Holme Moss

Elle

Getting to know Amy, pretty much one of the first things she mentioned was her determination to race before explaining that she couldn’t find the right platform to achieve this goal. As a friend I found this really frustrating as I knew she was a strong rider and had been competing in local time trials and hill climbs. But in terms of road or circuit racing, she couldn’t find a 4th category only event. There are 4th category fields entered in races alongside the elite 1st, 2nd and 3rd categories but our gut instinct is we’d just get in the way and it would be massively intimidating. And even if you have the self-confidence to enter a mixed category race you need to finish in the top ten to score points and that’s potentially against elite riders assuming enough sign on and the race isn’t cancelled.

Amy

Every time a race day arrived and I asked why there was a men’s 4th category race but the women were all lumped in together, I pretty much got the same response: there’s not enough interest and women don’t want to race.

Elle

And we both know incredibly strong riders that compete in triathlons – mastering three disciplines – and have the mental toughness to enter these gruelling events but baulk at the thought of racing on a circuit. So we decided to launch @ridelikeagirlrs and explore ways that women can give racing a go.

Amy

It can be a question of confidence. I had something similar myself a couple of weeks ago when I said I was going to enter my first crit race and people – actually they were all men –  suggested that maybe I should work on my skills first; that it was too dangerous. And I honestly don’t think a man would have had the same response. It would have been, ‘Cool, go for it.’

Elle

Elle

There is this problem of ‘mansplaining’ to women. Very patronising and something we’ve both come up against throughout our lives. Especially when you’re young and you hear comments that you run like a girl, throw like a girl. This derogatory term for a girl being worse at something than a boy and it’s usually a boy that’s saying it. So we’re turning that back round by saying that if I ride like Tiffany Cromwell, Hannah or Alice Barnes, Marianne Vos; then, hell yeah, I ride like a girl. And a lot of people have responded really positively to this idea because they understand where we’re coming from.

Amy

It’s all snowballed really quickly with a Q&A session planned for the end of September providing an opportunity for women to ask anything and everything about bike racing. Off the back of that, once everyone’s hopefully had their questions answered, we’ll be organising coaching sessions before we run our inaugural race that’s pencilled in for November 3rd. This will involve a 60 minute coaching session followed by a 20 minute Go Race around the Brownlee Centre’s cycle circuit. And because it’s a Go Race event with no points available there’s also no need for a race licence but we do have a friendly commissaire who’s volunteered to run it in the same format as a 4th category race so riders can understand how everything’s organised. Time trials and hill climbs are all well and good but it’s that first across the line feeling that we want to address.

Elle

That’s the whole point. It’s for anyone who’s ever considered competitive racing whether that’s for her own fitness or to satisfy an urge to test herself against other women.

Amy

In the same way that you have a social ride run by your cycling club, it’s not always about being the fastest but taking part in something a little different. An opportunity to learn a new set of skills and have some fun alongside a great bunch of women.

IoS

Elle

As individuals, we sometimes talk ourselves out of stuff but as a group we’re really good at building ourselves back up. So I think our message with this @ridelikeagirlrs campaign is to just give it a go.

Amy

To be honest the response has been a little overwhelming. You can expect a degree of interest from friends and fellow club members but within the first few hours of launching our Facebook page we had hundreds of requests from people we didn’t know. Responses from coaches; even from British Cycling themselves saying they want to get involved. And what’s also exciting is the messages we’ve had from race organisers to tell us what they’ve done, that it’s not worked before asking whether we have any ideas of what they can change. We’re not setting ourselves up as experts but there isn’t a massive number of women fighting for women’s racing and we both want to be part of that journey.

Elle

We’re building this network of women that want to race, can support each other in doing that and if race organisers want to tap into that interest and work with us that would be perfect.

Amy

Currently there’s a huge focus on getting women on bikes which is just brilliant and there’s fantastic things happening in professional women’s racing with the Tour of Britain and other high profile events. But it’s the gap between the two that we’re looking at. What do you do once you’ve got all these women on bikes? So in one sense it’s me being selfish. I wanted to race but couldn’t find a suitable event to race in so we’re creating our own.

Elle

And this isn’t our job. We’re not doing it to make money. It’s born out of a passion and in some ways it’s kind of an experiment but with the knowledge that if we go out to achieve something together we’ll be totally fine.

 

For more information on the Ride Like A Girl // Race Series

@ridelikeagirlrs

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