Back in 1984, a women’s Tour de France ran alongside the men’s event and at the end of the race, the winner of the men and women’s races would stand on the same podium, side by side. Who would have thought that possible when you watch today’s Tour where stage winners are presented their jerseys by women usually sporting tight dresses and high heels?
It appears gender equality in cycling has actually gone backwards; and the sad reality is that the event only lasted five years due to a lack of funding for the women’s side of the sport, something which is a constant battle at the pro end of women’s cycling with teams regularly folding and leaving hugely talented riders without a team to train and race with.
But it’s not just in pro cycling. Across the sport in the UK, more needs to be done to help get women onto bikes and to enjoy the same opportunities as men. A 2018 study by Sustrans found that men were twice as likely to cycle across a city than women yet four out of five women supported more investment in cycling… something’s not quite right there.
I could go on listing lots of ways in which women seem under-represented in cycling but I think you’d all just stop reading! So instead, and to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, we’ve looked at women who have inspired us all over the past year in some way related to two wheels. These women are an inspiration to us all, men and women alike.
If you’ve not heard of Jenny by now then where have you been? When she broke the current women’s record by more than two weeks by cycling self-supported around the world in 124 days, she made it onto almost every mainstream and cycling news channel. Jenny set off in June last year and covered 18,000 miles across four continents. It was an extraordinary achievement, especially for someone who was relatively new to cycling. It’s fair to say she will have inspired thousands to get out and explore more using two wheels.
She set herself the rules of:
“I’ll do it all myself, under my own power – no drafting
I’ll carry all my own gear
I won’t accept any outside support (deliveries only to public addresses or open homes, no vehicles of any kind meeting me along the way to provide supplies or assistance).”
Jenny started bikepacking comparatively late in life and only did an endurance race for the first time in 2015, so she is proof that dedicating yourself to your passion can reap rewards very quickly.
Last week Victoria was competing at the World Track Championships in Poland, an achievement enough in itself. What was so special about this is that less than three years ago, while racing at the Rotterdam Six Day event, she had an crash so bad that she says her hospital discharge notes suggest she is lucky to even be alive. Just millimetres away from life changing paralysis from her neck down, she has spent the past two years fighting herself back to fitness again. It takes a strong woman, with an excellent support team of course, to not just overcome such a catastrophic injury but to come back stronger.
We salute you, Vicky, and we’ll be watching your journey eagerly as you start your journey to claim your place in team GB at Tokyo 2020.
One of the all time track cycling greats, having won two Olympic Gold Medals, countless World titles and many other National and European medals. But in 2018, everything changed for Kristina when she crashed while training, an accident that has left her paralysed from the waist down. Less than a year after this life changing accident, Kristina has fully embraced her new situation and is now proactively using her misfortune to inspire others. She has no regrets and is headstrong in her opinion that you should follow your dreams and not worry about the ‘what ifs’.
For the thousands of people out there who might be struggling with an injury or illness, no matter how big or small, she is fast becoming a fantastic role model to help people believe that they can do it, they just need to believe in themselves. There is no doubt, she is an incredible woman.
I’d never heard of Lael Wilcox until someone pointed her out to me and said she needed to be on this list. How right they were… this woman is hardcore and is constantly breaking boundaries that are not defined by gender. How had I not noticed her before?!
Lael is undoubtedly the best female ultra-endurance cyclist in the world, almost by accident. She now clocks up 20,000 miles each year on her bike! Her first race she entered on a borrowed bike which she entered a couple of days before, casually winning it.
The next year she entered the Tour Divide a 2,745 mile mountain bike race that follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. If that wasn’t enough, Lael decided to ride to the start from Anchorage to Alberta (adding 2,100 miles). She finished the race in a mind blowing 17 days, 1 hour, 15 mins, a new woman’s record. However, Lael was not content with this, and thought that she could do better so later that year, she cycled back and did it all over again 15 days 10 hours 59 minutes!
In 2016, she won the Trans Am bike race which runs from 4,400 miles from Oregon to Virginia. She was the overall winner – the bit I like the most is that she slyly over took the race leader on the last night, almost out of nowhere. That must have hurt!
She continues her success and now champions the use of a bicycle as a means to move and stay alive. She is still racing but now spends a lot of her time dedicated to getting more women onto bikes. She currently organises a bicycle adventure program for girls in Anchorage and runs scholarships for women to give them a helping hand to achieve great things on two wheels.
At just 4 years old, Rhoda Jones became the youngest girl to ride Lands End to John O’Groats with her parents and older brother, Thomas. Rhoda’s never really know any different – she went on her first bicycle tour aged just 4 months in a trailer behind her parent’s bikes. However, this young lady seems to have fully embraced a love for life on two wheels and we think she and her family deserve a shout out for being so awesome!
Oh, and you may remember this lovely little girl when a video of her went viral when she gave thumbs up to a lorry for giving them space on the road (skip forward to around 2 minutes to watch).
Donnons des elles au vélo
These women are just awesome. Hell bent on showing the world that the women would be more than capable of riding the full Tour de France route, this French cycling club, mainly made up of pretty speedy amateur female cyclists, ride the full course just before the men take it on each year to try to demand a revival of the women’s Tour de France.
In 2018, the group of 11 women who took it on were a mixture of scientists, teachers, journalists and full time mums. They rode the 3,351km successfully (again!) raising valuable awareness of the continued sexism that surround this event. Aside from campaigning for equality at le Tour and other major races, the group spends its time trying to promote women’s cycling at every level.
Helen’s just announced her retirement from professional cycling after 14 incredible years racing Cyclocross. She’s not only been racing and podium placing on a regular basis at the very highest level but has also been actively involved with the UCI Cyclocross Commission which is making significant progress for championing equality in this sector of the sport, including equal prize funds for male and female racers and the introduction of a women’s junior world title.
Well this is it last pro race of my career. It’s been an epic journey. I’ve loved having every single one of you along with me. I will never be able to say thank you enough for your support. I just want you all to know it’s truely been a blast!
Drinks,team bus,post race🍾🍺 pic.twitter.com/QOX9sH6u7T
— Helen Wyman (@CXHelen) 24 February 2019
We reckon this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Helen; with more time on her hands now, the sport is sure to benefit from her as a mentor as well as a lobbyist.
I was pretty sure Lucy announced she was retiring from life as a pro triathlete at the end of 2017 to focus more on her career as an Oncologist. Yep, that’s right, she’s been juggling oncology and being a pro triathlete for years now.
So when I kept hearing that she had been winning races one after the other, I was clearly impressed but also a little surprised. It turns out that Lucy had just dropped the amount of training she was doing due to increased work load and in fact it was benefiting her performance. So, on her ‘off year’, this incredible woman won 3 Ironmans, 2 half Ironmans, Long Course Weekend in Mallorca as well as the inaugural Patagonian Man. That’s insane!
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Alongside all of this, Lucy founded an initiative called “5k Your Way” which takes place at regular Park Run locations each month. It’s a community based initiative to encourage and support people living with cancer – family, friends, those working in cancer services – to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local Your Way Park Run. She is a true role model for making the most of each day, whatever it may hold.
A snippet from her blog states:
“Every day at work, I’m astounded by the resilience of people. For the last 5 months I’ve been treating a lot of younger people with cancer. It’s what I want to do longer term – I love it. Most people would struggle to understand why a job like this is enjoyable and I find it hard to explain. But some of it, I’m sure, is seeing people at their strongest… But every time, pretty much every single time, patients and families cope. Lives are turned upside down in an instant. Dreams are threatened. Futures uncertain. But people deal with it and work around what they have. The resilience of humans is incredible.
“I guess in many ways, Ironman is also about resilience. Everyone who crosses that finish line will have suffered setbacks. Dealing with those, in training and on race-day is what makes finishing such an achievement. And I guess that’s partly why, in my book, Ironman is in some ways a metaphor for life. It teaches you so much more about yourself than just swim, bike and run.”
I could go on forever with this list but it’s fair to say that there are some pretty amazing women out there, from all walks of life, at all levels of the sport who are leading the way to inspire and encourage more women into this sport.
And maybe, just maybe, one day a women will wear that prestigious maillot jaune…