The first two time trials of 2014 are complete and under my belt. Event number one, the SCCU Sporting 10 was on a hot day that felt like 20 degrees, and the second, the Redmon CC 25 was also sporting (eg hilly/twisty – not dual carriageway), but completed on a day where the heavens opened and rain beat down almost constantly.
The two events were totally different in respect of distance, terrain and conditions – but they shared one common feature: other female competitors.
As I mentioned before the season began for proper, Rebecca Slack has done an excellent job of creating the South East Women’s Time Trial Series. The idea behind the series is to bring female TTers, and potential female TTers together, giving women who race and want to race some competition and encouragement.
Previously, I’ve had to go to the National 25 and National 50 to see a full field, local events drawing anything from 3 to 10 female riders, 20 at a really “good” event. So far this year, I’ve lined up at events with 33 and 42 women on the start sheets respectively.
Arriving at both events, it’s been refreshing to see so many female faces – some newbies looking nervous, as well as confident looking long-timers selecting wheels carefully from their collection.
The Redmon CC event, with 42 female sign ups, admittedly only had 28 racers, but the men’s results board had a similar percentage of DNSs thanks to the perceived oncoming floods. Despite the smaller than hoped field, the HQ still had a vibe that reminded me of the buzz you get around the warm up area of a crit race.
With all the ladies setting off at one minute intervals, rather than sporadically embedded within the men’s start times, we were all there warming up together, riding to the start together. There was even a queue for the ladies toilet – something unheard of at a time trial!
Cars parked, turbo trainers/rollers set up, the confident whirring of multiple rear wheels began. But this time, I was not a woman whizzing over the fixed resistance alone in a cloud of testosterone, wondering if maybe I should just quit being the alien, pack my stuff up to go home, and maybe bake a cake.
Occupying the turbo zone to the left of me was Kerry Bircher, head coach at Revolution Cycling (a cycle coaching company set up specifically to coach women – pretty cool idea and filling a gap in the market!) – she popped over to borrow some chain lube and have a chat. Just in front of me – the Les Filles line up, the girls resplendent in their awesome black and pink kit which never fails to make them look pro. (I hope they don’t mind me using their picture – but it is awesome kit)
Next to me (probably a little worried about parking next to a car with so many dents in it..) was Jasmijn Muller, 1st female solo rider at the LeMans 24 Hour race (yes – 24 actual hours!). In fact, she was 10th overall, beating 50 men. All people to look up to and athletes I’ve got a lot of respect for.
Alongside the experienced riders, there were some brand new racers, timidly pulling out road bikes from car boots, and nervously laughing with friends and spectators who had come to watch them – it was equally good to see them there. One new lady on her own might feel intimidated, but with a group of them there, they can support each other, and the race is more fun with direct and fair competition between them. Given time, some will no doubt be knocking huge chunks off their times, and flying their way up the ranks.
The anticipation, the excitement, and to be honest – the camaraderie and friendship has been obvious at the first two SEWTTS races I’ve done. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the 1hour when racing, where no one is friends with anyone except the bike and the road.
I’ve heard it said that as time trialling is an individual sport, it shouldn’t make a difference if there are other people of one’s own sex to compete against. I’ve heard it said that all the matters is your own performance vs your previous own performances. That isn’t really the case, and it’s certainly not the case as you get closer and closer to that rear light half a mile up the road, finally overtaking the rider attached to it.
At event 1, I raced with tired post-Majorca legs, and came 9th – I was pleased with the time, but not overly so. The second week, I came 5th, and felt much stronger. Oh, and I won a cool LookMumNoHands! cap and chocolates for being the first cat 3, too.
I’ll admit the gap between 4th and 5th at the second event was HUGE (though Rebecca did remind me the fastest ladies started as the rain began to slow down, though I’m not sure for these amazing women it makes any difference?!), but then there was another woman about 4 seconds behind me, and about 10 of us clustered within 1-2 minutes of each other, so it almost seems like a race within a race. Coming 5th of around 30 women, some of whom I know are damn good, feels a lot better then coming first of 3.
Results: (Natalie White is actually Kerry Bircher – hope that gets sorted soon!)
Though the rider lists at the SCCU 10 and Redmon 25 were different, which will clearly have an effect on placing, I still found myself ahead of ladies who had beaten me the week before, which was encouraging for me at least, and will no doubt spur them on at the next event, near Reading.
The SEWTTS is having a noteable effect on the dynamics of the race scene now, though admittedly on a small, South East scale. Even events that are not fixtures are seeing a higher numbr of female participants – with 15 women signed up to next weekend’s SCCU 25, as opposed to 3 last year.
Time trialling may be an individual sport, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want other people to share it with, and I’m so please to be sharing it with a gaggle of (some bloody fast) girls.
SEWTTS is not alone in creating a series that encourages the smaller numbers of female racers to enter the same events, thus creating larger fields at selected races – but it is one of a small number of such organisations. Let’s hope that with a little news sharing, a little passion and a lot of just-get-on-and-do-it – we’ll see more of this all over the country in years to come.