2018 saw some major changes to the women's cycling scene, with the roll out of the first ever Junior Women's National Road Series, the implementation of a women's strategy group at British Cycling for road cycling, and 2019 is set to continue on the same path, with the Women's Cycling section of British Cycling's website having an overhaul in conjunction with their #OneInAMillion campaign.
Events for 2019
So how does the 2019 season stack up so far? As at today's date (17 February 2019), there are 267 women's races registered as events on the British Cycling website (remember to search for "Women's Only" on the filters), of which 62 are road races.
One of the issues we encountered last season was a reduction in numbers at certain events due to overcrowding (for want of a better word) on the calendar, with certain areas seeing three or four events aimed at women of a similar level on the same day. This year, we are trying to reduce that, with the events team at British Cycling, through the Women's Strategy Group, liaising with the Regional Event Officers to ensure that such clashes are minimized. We are also hoping to see the roll out of a better points classification next year, but we need the numbers in the races to support this, so please don't be put off if you can't see who has entered the event!
We are trying to move away from catch-all E/1/2/3/4 women's races - this is in an attempt to provide better quality racing at the right levels and is a positive step forward. At present, the category system for women is quite restrictive as women's races (outside of National Series level events and above) offer limited opportunities for finishers to obtain licence points (top 15 in an E/1/2/3 event, top 10 in everything else). As mentioned above, there is a move to change this however we are where we are at the moment and in order to effect change, we need to be able to demonstrate that we have the numbers to support it.
What does that mean to you as a rider? Supporting the races aimed at lower category riders, if you are a second or third category rider, will help numbers. Road races in particular are becoming more expensive to promote, especially with accredited marshals and motorbike marshals being involved - rider safety ultimately comes at a cost! This does however mean that riders need to support the races that are being promoted - whilst we all accept that there is an inequality of opportunity at present, we also cannot expect organisers to promote events that are loss-making, so it is fundamental to the future success of our sport that we support organisers who are making an effort to support us!
But I'm not good enough to ride with [insert category here] riders
There is a myth that surrounds cycling that suggests that because a rider is in a higher category than you, that therefore means that they are better than you. Not necessarily true, I'm afraid! It all depends on a rider's fitness, skill, experience and ability to ride on different terrains.
Don't tell yourself that you are not good enough to race with second category riders if you are a fourth category rider - it's harder to get to second category from third category (you need 40 points meaning that you either have to win a lot or you have to be able to enter and score points in a lot of races) than it is to retain that second category licence (you only need 25 to maintain it - a massive difference).
Don't believe me? Here's some evidence for you then: at least year's Cold Dark North event (an E/1/2/3/4 women's race), there were two elite riders (one, Nikki Juniper, rode off the front on her own to win it). The other elite rider came 9th, one place behind the highest fourth category rider. There were also two first category riders in the race - both finished outside of the top 15 for the points (one was 20th, one was 27th). A third category rider came 5th. In the same event in 2017 (albeit on a different course), with the same category of riders, the top three were all second category riders, with two third category riders in the points (top 15).
Bike racing is about challenging yourself, stretching your limits to find what you are actually capable of. It gives you the opportunity to think on your feet, to implement a strategy and revisit it whilst your heart rate is through the roof. It gives you confidence as you achieve things which you didn't think you would ever achieve. And, above all, it's fun - it may not feel like it at the time, but the sense of achievement you get afterwards is amazing. Surely that's something to aim for in 2019, if nothing else?
Until next time...