Many bike racing leagues don’t have a separate competition for women. They don’t exclude women but it seems unlikely a woman will win the league due to the physiological differences between men and women. So the pull for women entering these leagues is not as great as it is for the men. If you’re the fastest of all the women in your local area but you’re listed as 58th in the league, it’s not as big of a buzz as seeing your name next to “1st”. If we want to get more women interested in racing, we need to give them the same motivation as we give the men.
Ask your local league to have a separate competition amongst the women. If they don’t have the time or don’t want to, set up your own women’s racing league in your local area.
Tanya Griffiths, 29 y.o. I started cycling when I was 25 having bought a road bike as the cheapest way to get to work. I was told about the local bike club and went along to one of their club rides. I was encouraged to have a go at racing by the club and took up racing at the age of 26. Having been brought up with 4 sisters, I’m naturally competitive and bike racing also made me realise my hunger to push myself and a real drive to succeed. I now race for Velosure Starley Primal Pro Cycling Team on the elite circuit.
What problem are you passionate about solving and why does it matter so much to you?
The deep-rooted problem I want to see solved is for a baby to be born with the same opportunities regardless of what anatomy they are born with. Obviously this is a problem that I cannot solve alone, but everyone has the opportunity to improve their small corner. I’ve chosen to focus on the sport I’m passionate about. The inequality in the sport is bigger than most people realise, almost everyone will admit it’s not equal and may even campaign for equality, but few people realise the true extent. You need to ask people like Helen Wyman, Nicole Cooke and Guy Elliot. It’s so deep-rooted and hidden that it’s difficult to understand. It needs improving from the top down (UCI, BC) but it also needs to be from the ground up.
I’m working at grass-roots because it’s where we all have some control. Most of the inequalities in the sport are based around supply and demand. If we improve the demand, we’ll improve the supply.
By helping to grow the sport at the bottom, we can improve things right the way through the ranks to the top level of the sport.
Why does it matter to me? I have no idea. It’s just something I feel passionate about. I grew up in a family with 4 sisters and I never really experienced or was aware of inequality until I started cycling at the age of 26. I guess it’s because I never expected it and hadn’t grown up with it that I can’t accept it. Inequality and discrimination are things that really wind me up.
What have you done to try to solve the problem?
In 2014 I got together a group of people interested in setting up a league for women’s cycle racing in the east region. There were already women’s leagues in other parts of the country, some stand-alone like the London Women’s Cycle Racing League and some which ran alongside men’s like the Surrey League.
At the beginning of last year, the Women’s Eastern Racing League was born and it’s aims were to improve women’s racing in the region by providing a support network for female cyclists, encouraging organisers to put on races and encouraging riders to enter these races.
What made you start? What were the triggers?
When I started racing a few years ago, there were two women’s races in the whole region. One was Ixworth Cycle Races; a town centre crit with a Belgium kermesse style festival, and the other was the Essex Giro – a national series race. I could see how successful the other leagues around the country were and how many more women were racing than in my region and knew it was mainly due to the lack of women’s races here.
In our region we have a successful men’s league that all of the men’s races in the region are a part of, as are all of the racing clubs in the region. My initial thought was to set up a women’s league to run alongside the men’s like the Surrey League has. This wasn’t to be. Without wanting to name and shame the committed volunteer that runs the league, I received such a reply to my initial enquiry, that any hope of this path was quashed in an instant, but it actually worked out perfectly for us. The reply I received still fires me up today and it gave me the motivation I needed to set up the league.
Did you have any doubts before you started your initiative?
I don’t remember having doubts. We had a good team of people on the committee, we had good ideas and we had good precedents to follow in other regions. I’d very easily got some race organisers to put on women’s races just by suggesting it, so knew we could get a number of races for the league. My only worry was getting the riders. I know there are hundreds of women in the region who could and would race if it occurred to them that they can. The problem was reaching them. How do you get the information to these women?
How did you get started and find out the stuff you needed to know to do it?
To have someone who’s done it before you is the biggest help. There are several resources I go to if I have a question. Rebecca Slack is another source, especially now that we run a time trial league.
I now have enquiries from other people asking for advice for their women’s races and leagues, so we’re all just one big community and resource pool now.
Who helped you and what did they help you with?
Our original committee consisted of Erica Auger, Louise Marsden, Owen Marsden, Beth Coley and Jen Smart. We also had input from BC Regional Events Officer Sara Flatt. There were others who have dipped in and out too. Everyone on the committee raced (Owen obviously with the men), so had a vested interest. By having a committee, it was a sounding board and prevented some mistakes being made, but also we could encourage and lean on each other. Our new committee members include Francesca Rust and Mandy Bunn. Both pretty new to racing. Who ever is on the committee, it’s always a fun group
Did you start out with any money or did you seek funding? How did you go about getting funding?
We started out with no funding and could have run the league in one format without any funding what-so-ever, but we found out about a little bit of funding that we could apply for from a local cycle racing league: Lotus Cycle Racing. Sara Flatt, the British Cycle Regional Events Officer helped us to apply. We were successful and received £500 which went towards printing flyers, paying for website hosting, printing registration forms, postage and end of year trophies. These items either wouldn’t have been purchased, or we would have clubbed together to buy them from our own pockets.
We decided we wouldn’t charge for the league in the first year whilst we were setting up, we just weren’t sure how it would all work out. We also realised early on, that it would be good to register the league with British Cycling so that we can have a link to our league on all the affiliated races. You do this by registering the league as if it were a club through BC. We still haven’t got this quite right, as the organisers still can’t get the link onto the race homepages, but this is more our error than BC’s. Registration costs in the region of £95 and we were able to cover this through some more support that we received from the Suffolk Cycle Racing Series. We have been encouraged to go back should we require further funding, but as yet, have not found this necessary.
This year, we’ve been lucky enough to have some awesome sponsors, and it’s great that they are based locally too. PerformanceCoaching.me is sponsoring our road league and VO2 Sports our TT league. Although this hasn’t reduced our costs, it means that we have amazing prizes and more categories to offer, which is great for our riders and helps us to promote the league. We’ve even got leader’s jerseys!
We’ve also had prize donations for spot prizes and an anoymous cash donation. This has helped us provide enough prizes so that everyone has a chance at winning something.
This year we are charging for the league. This means that we are able to top-up our prizes where necessary, cover our outgoings and ensure that we have money set aside to ensure the continuation of the league next year. By paying for the league, it also encourages riders to take part in events, as they want to get their moneys worth!
Handling money was a bit of a step and we needed to make sure that we followed the correct procedure. We keep records of all of our income and outgoings and we have put together a constitution to explain the intentions of the league and ensure that money is put to the appropriate use. This constitution will be agreed at our AGM (tba) at the end of the year.
Hows it going? What have you achieved so far?
Things can be a bit up-and-down with the league. Sometimes it’s making huge strides and other times seems to be going backwards. That’s the nature of women’s cycling, but on the whole, it’s an upward trend. We are now in the league’s 2nd year. During the development of the league, we have seen the number of women’s races in the region grow from 8 to about 25. This is due to a number of different reasons, not just the league.
We have seen our member numbers rise from 19 at the end of last year, to nearly 50 so far this year. Most of these riders are new to the sport, but a lot of the members from last year, haven’t joined again this year. It seems to be a problem with women’s racing in general, there is a massive increase in the uptake of the sport, but the numbers of those that stay in the sport are still pitifully low. I’m not too worried though; depending on how seriously you want to take it, it’s a tough sport and it isn’t going to suit everyone. You have to really want to do it. The more riders that give it a go, the more will decide that it is for them. I don’t have the figures for the men’s side of the sport, we may find similar drop-out rates there, but because there are so many more of them, it’s not noticeable. You still have enough to fill fields in races.
That’s the other measure of our success – field sizes. When I first started racing only a few years ago, a field size of over 20 was considered a success, now we are regularly seeing fields of over 40 in local road races, and sometimes 70 or 80. We still have races struggling to get enough entries, but fingers crossed, we’ve not had one cancel yet, last year we lost 3 races due to lack of entries. This is of course not all down to the league, as there are many initiatives intent on increasing the number of women cycling. There have also been races which got good fields last year, but have struggled this year, this can be down to pure luck as to whether it clashes with other events or not. If there was only one thing that a rider will do to help their sport, please enter events early. We’re talking at least a month in advance. When you have small fields anyway, it doesn’t take a lot of riders deciding to enter at the last minute, for it to look as though the event isn’t required early on and to be cancelled. Entering early means you know what you are doing and have something to work towards anyway, so it’s beneficial both ways. I also want to tell organisers not to give up. If it’s not a success one year, try again the next. The sport is growing fast.
The worst part of the league is seeing a few riders who have taken part in one event and not returned. This is sad, as every event is so different. They may have had a bad experience in one race, but might catch the bug from the next race and never look back! I’d always encourage riders to try several races before making their mind up.
There are so many directions we could go. I could easily work on the league full time and still not do everything I’d like. Next year, We’re going to be looking at trying to implement a structure/ path that helps riders go from complete novice to competent racer. We’re missing several steps at the moment, and could be losing riders because of it.
This year we introduced race training for novices. We held two events and took 50 riders from very little or no experience, to being competent in a race situation.
These sessions are great and our coach, Huw Williams, knows exactly how to run the sessions so that they are amazing fun and teach exactly what is needed. I wish they were available to me when I first started, I still learn from them now when I go to help out.
We now have 50 new potential racers ready to make their first step, but currently the step is rather large. Granted, some of the riders that attended the training session never had any intention to start racing and just wanted to improve their skills, but only about 20% of the riders from the sessions have taken part in a race. What we need are a series of 4th category only women’s races, held on a closed, flat circuit. When riders take part in these, they will be more confident to step up to 3/4 category races and onwards. I’m now looking for organisers willing to put on these races, either this season or next.
We are also one of the only regions that don’t yet have a regional road race championships! I found it really sad to watch one of our regional riders Laura Massey win another region’s road race (if the field in a regional race is not full, riders from outside the region can take part, but aren’t eligible for region prizes), without getting the honour of being a regional champ. At WERL, we would like to promote the event, as something for riders to aspire to. We can’t organise races though, as all our spare time is taken up with running the league, so if someone is willing to put on the event, that would be awesome – please get in touch!
Although there is a dedicated weekend for regional champs, I think it is better to be held nearer the end of the season, as a finale for the top riders in the region, but it would also mean that novice riders have a season of racing experience before they enter and it could be their end-of-season goal to take part.
What’s your biggest challenge?
I think people would expect me to say sexism. It’s not. I encounter very little sexism when going about league business. People are generally really pleased with what the league is doing and want to support it.
My biggest challenge is time. There is so much the league could do to improve grass-roots cycling for women and support more women to take part and stay in the sport, but every time I come across something, I have to think really hard about how much time it would take – everything takes about 3 times longer than you think it will. There are so many difficult decision that I’ve had to make along the way, saying no to people, events and ideas simply because we don’t have the time available to see it through. Like most in the sport, I juggle a full-time job, the league and my own race training.
If someone wanted to help you what help would you want?
Time! We don’t need someone with experience in this, or experience in that (although it’s always helpful). I founded this league with only a year’s racing experience and nothing else – believe me, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing!
What the league needs is someone who has time to spare occasionally – whether that’s collating results, writing and sending out e-mails, getting things printed, contacting race organisers, or attending events to promote the league. As I said before, you don’t need the experience, we’ll tell you what you need to do.
We’ve got a small, but fun committee and we are always looking for other enthusiastic people to join us – male or female. You don’t even have to attend committee meetings – decisions are made in our Facebook group as and when they need to be made.
I also won’t turn down money, if you want to pay me to give up my job and work full-time on the league, I’d be more than happy to oblige! 🙂
How many hours a week do you spend on the league & how much on training & racing?
The running of the league can take 7 hrs a week, but as I say, it could be a full time job, or be more simplistic and take less time. I train about 10-12 hrs a week, this includes race time, but not travel to races.
If someone wanted to copy your initiative and run it in their local area what advice would you give?
Keep it simple. Get a group of like-minded people together, contact local race organisers and ask if they want to be part of a league. They don’t have to do anything differently, just give you the results. Set up a facebook group as a forum for riders. Don’t expect too much. Have a vision for what you would like the league to be in several years and decide on the steps you need to take to create your vision. It’s easier to start small and build.
Decide what the prizes are going to be, it might just be modest trophies in the first year, but how will you fund them? If you get sponsors involved, be sure that you understand what they expect from the sponsorship, and that they understand from you what they will get.
Ask for advice – there are lots of similar leagues around the country and the people that run these leagues are always willing to give advice.
For getting sponsors and prizes – just ask! We had a few people approach us too. The important thing is to know exactly what you want. If you say “can you sponsor our league” or “can you give us a prize” they usually ask what kind of things you’re looking for. As an example, we asked an artist that does posters – can you give us a print that we can give as a spot prize to encourage more riders to enter race “X”. Or for the title sponsor “we’re looking for a title sponsor for our league, this is what our league is about … the title sponsor will need to provide prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place overall worth … amount of money, as well as …£ to pay for trophies. In return your name will be included on … It’s a good way to positively advertise your business to female cyclists and their families” Something like that. Really spell out what you want from them and they will either say yes or no straight away without any dilly dallying about what you want, whether they can provide it, it’s awkward enough asking for things. You can suggest something, but also say that you are open to suggestions.
I don’t have a formal contract or business case with the sponsors, it’s written down in e-mails what we have promised each other and I’ll stick to that. Otherwise it becomes more of a business arrangement and there is more pressure to perform for them. If I were doing this full-time, I would have a business case and a clear strategy for the league.
If someone would like to offer a few hours occasionally to help you out, how should they contact you?