|Sugar n spice|
|Written by Bridie O'Donnell|
|Thursday, 23 February 2012 08:56|
There have been some rumblings of late about whether women should be ‘allowed’ to continue to race in men’s club criteriums on the weekends.
This isn’t the UCI here, we’re not talking about kajillion-time world champion Marianne Vos entertaining the idea of racing the men in cyclocross in Europe so as to extend herself.
Two weeks ago, one of our Club committee members told a very talented local pro that she couldn’t race with A grade men, so she had to slum it with me in B grade. It seems there’d been some ‘complaints’ about her being in their race.
This woman is Belinda Goss, a track World Cup winner, two-time bronze medallist at World Championships now preparing for her 3rd road season in Europe with a German UCI team.
She’s finished top 10 in road World Cups and will be facing a far bigger, faster and bitchier peloton in the UCI races in Holland and Belgium than we’ll ever see in Melbourne.
I’d also hazard a guess that Goss’ list of palmares puts her as the most decorated regular rider in men’s A grade. She’s there in the crit without a team, purely for training, specific preparation and to simulate racing without the risk (more on this later).
Not many sports give an aerodynamic benefit as great as cycling. The fact that we can ride beside (and inevitably, behind) extraordinary athletes like Evans, O’Grady, Cancellara and Armstong while making conversation is what has contributed to the explosion in cycling’s popularity.
It’s also non-weight bearing, so oldies can keep up with young’uns. There’s no salary cap, so the overpaid can have better equipment than the ‘talented.’ And finally, the sweetest delight at all, the benefit of drafting allows 100h working week corporate to keep up with the pros on Beach Rd.
This egalitarian side effect is no better demonstrated than in criterium racing. Every Sunday, my terrific club organises crit racing for 8 grades on a tight circuit, and the numbers in men’s A and B grade make for fast average speeds. Put simply, a big bunch + short lap = very nice aerodynamic benefit of holding a wheel.
Even when your club does a good job of attempting to grade the 400-odd entrants each week into groups of similar ability, there are always those with excellent fitness but lesser skills and vice versa. There’s also ‘young, dumb, full of predictable gusto‘ but we hope they divide those lads up so they’re not a danger to society J
Speaking of puberty, here’s a little refresher in physiology: as a general rule, having an X and a Y chromosome technically means you’re male.
You have higher levels of naturally occurring growth hormone and have plenty of circulating endogenous testosterone (as opposed to the exogenous type that comes in vials, protein powders or mistakenly from your uncle the Vet).
This means you have more lean muscle mass, with skeletal muscle fibres that contract with greater force than an athlete who has two X chromosomes. Her power/weight ratio is likely to be significantly less than yours, and her change of pace will nearly always be less exciting than yours.
Practically, this also means that the B grade guy with a good level of fitness will be able to attack off the front or chase down a break at speeds of 45-50km/h for maybe 20-30s, but only a very strong/powerful woman will be capable of that kind of acceleration.
I’ve ridden a lot on the front of B grade men’s races. I really like the line re-quoted by CyclingTips “if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards” and I try to stay at/near the front as much as possible. If I wander (read: get swarmed) back to 40th wheel, it’s a totally different type of race.
Positioning becomes more important than effort. There’s not a lot of change of pace. There’s a LOT of freewheeling, and I imagine, plenty of time to start your strategic (and, dare I say it, unbelievable) assault on how you’ll go about being amazing.
It’s a predictable truth - the average bike rider is pretty self-centred. And we are capable of imbibing all manner of storylines in our head: ‘My training is very important’ or ‘I’ve trained hard this week, this is just to give me a hard session’ or ‘I deserve to win’ usually substituted by ‘I could have won if’ or ‘I am the next CJ Sutton’
But I am going to tell you two very shocking things now, and I want you to remain calm.
The first one is this: the race is not about you.
There are 60 other people on bikes who shaved their legs, laid out their nice kit, showed up, paid $20 and got to the start line plotting any number of possible plans that may unfold. We think we’re more important than you. Better. Cleverer. Faster.
The race is fast and furious because we all showed up, motivated & with our own personal agendas.
The second thing is: women riders are just the same. We have race-fantasies about winning. If we can’t sprint, our fantasies involving lapping the field in an amazing solo break (or, if we’re being more realistic, the whole field crashes behind us w 1km to go).
All this means is that gender is a completely arbitrary way to classify riders in an event, particularly in one where we all hurtle around a 1000m course for less than an hour.
Other qualities are far more relevant: skill level is very important. General fitness is vital to classify an athlete into a grade. Dangerous behaviour and stupidity are definitely reasons to relegate or suspend a rider.
But gender? It’s largely irrelevant. Any rider who can safely ride in a bunch at the speed that that bunch determines has every right to be there.
He or she may drop wheels, make mistakes, attack at the wrong time, get fatigued and make poor decisions. Ultimately, s/he is there to fulfil her Sunday morning objective, whatever that may be.
When Belinda raced B grade with 70 blokes and me 2 weeks ago, I saw her sitting 5-10th position for the whole hour. She covered every move, sat in smart, rode smoothly, conserved energy and eventually finished up 5th.
Maybe you notice when a woman in your race drops a wheel or misses an attack because she’s the only woman in the race. Or maybe you just notice because she’s there, always in front of you.