Sometime ago, I wrote a piece on this site, called ‘Rant!’, which was about the differences found in the cycling world between men and women, and particularly in the range of clothing, equipment, bikes, and equality in cycling sport. Since I wrote it, it is now my view that things are slowly changing, and for the better, so here is Rant! Part 2, and with a bit of a different flavour to it.
Last weekend, and particularly Sunday, I had the day to myself because my wife was away, and as she also had the cat with her, it was just me. I set of on a bike ride and with a destination about two and half hours away, and with a profile that was a bit lumpy, but also ended up with a 10km climb at 10% gradient. The weather was great and I set off with just water and no food, as I knew that I could re-fuel at the destination, which was a ski resort. As I would be getting to the area where the ski lifts start, I would be guaranteed a cappuccino and a piece of cake in one of the cafes there. It is the first weekend in October, in Switzerland and the temperature was about 18 degrees. A very nice early Autumn day. Early in the ride, I pass a banner in a field outside a small village, which is advertising the following week’s Desalpe Festival. This is a great Alpine festival, found also in neighbouring Italy, France and Austria, where the animals (cows, sheep, goats and horses) are paraded through the streets, all wearing bells and with flowers in ornate head-dresses. This festival highlights the end of summer, and is time to get the animals down to the lower farms for when the snow comes, which in some places, lasts uptown 4 months.I was riding along at about 30 kmh (remember, I don’t use any measurement technology on the bike so I just enjoy the ride) on a rolling section of road, which was currently going up hill. Apart from the sound of the bike, the wind in my ears and my breathing, all was quiet on the road, until, I hear a woman behind me shout ‘push!’ Just shortly after this shout, I hear the sound of carbon wheels and bike frames coming up behind me, and then almost immediately after these two sounds, three women on Italian, Pinnarello, black carbon Time trial bikes, and dressed Assos cycling kit, come racing past, and going much faster than my estimated 30kmh. The woman at the back of the team again shouted ‘Push!’, and then said hello to me just as they passed. All three of them were pushing hard up the hill and disappeared into the distance quite quickly. I reckon the total cost of the bikes and equipment that came flashing by me in those few seconds was about CHF50,000/$50,000 or about GBP42,000. This is good news, because those bikes were women-specific designed, as was the kit, so things are changing, which is clearly evident by the increasing number of serious female cyclists out on the roads today. Good news then? Just one message to cycling’s governing body, the UCI. If you do scrap the team time trial in the World championships, don’t replace it with mixed gender teams. It won’t work. If you don’t believe me, just try doing a two-up time trial with someone who is physically much more powerful. I have done this and its not pleasant or efficient hanging onto the back of someone else who is also a bit frustrated that he/she would be able to go a lot faster if it wasn’t for the slow one at the back. Mixing men and women in this type of event isn’t great. My view obviously.I carry on and start the climb to the ski resort, which is obviously uphill. It is a beautiful day and I stop occasionally to take photos, and NOT to have a rest. Honest. Near the top of the summit, I’m again passed by a couple on bikes. The man is on a road bike and the woman is on an e-bike. The woman is leading, doesn’t appear to be in a sweat and is setting the pace for the man behind her, who definitely is sweating. Hmmm, another indicator of change, and for the right reasons. I reach the top where the car parks for the ski lifts are, ask someone to take a photo of me by the notice board that has the map of the mountainous area on it, and then grab myself a cappuccino in a cafe. I decide ‘slimmingly’ against the cake, and enjoy the coffee in the sunshine.The ride down is fast and flowing, although a bit chilly as the sun has not filled the whole valley with sunshine yet. I cycle on through the town at the bottom of the hill and notice a weird figure standing outside of a shop doorway. The figure looks like a space man/woman/person and is dressed in a suit and helmet to illustrate what the company does, which is some sort of industrial cleaning of buildings etc. I park the bike in a way that makes it look like the figure is holding it, although the figure seems to be leaning one way, like the person has had too much to drink. It also reminds me of David Bowie’s classic line; ground control to Major Tom…….which means that I’ve now got the song in my brain, and also means that I’m singing it in my head, as my lungs won’t multi-task hilly cycling and singing together. After reading about this iconic song, I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t stuck in your head for the rest of the day either, or until you hear another song at least. Photo taken, I press on with my ride home. About halfway home, I start to wish I had eaten some cake, as hunger starts in the legs and is moving up to my stomach. As the saying goes, ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’, so I stopped at one of the those sweet vending machines in a garage and bought one. A 5 minute break to take in the views, enjoy the chocolate and wafer combo’, and all washed down with some ‘bike-bottle-water’. For those of you who are cyclists, runners or outdoor types, you’ll know that you never really get your water bottle absolutely clean. This means that even though you think you’ve really cleaned it well post-ride, the next time that you are on a ride and you look into your full bottle of water, there are always bits in it. Personally, I’ve never had any ill effects from ‘bike-bottle-water’ and the bits in the bottle are my bits, but its not the same when you run out of water and someone else offers you their water bottle. The views on the rest of the ride home continue to be stunning, with colourful fields, castles and a great landscape. It is now about 14:00 and the sun has brought out lots of other cyclists, most of which are couples, and both kitted out in their gender-specific kit and bikes. If the change is this visible out on the road, statistically, change is taking place, so it has taken the edge off my initial Rant! story. Good news.I get home after about 4 and half hours of cycling and shower, then heat up the mushroom and potato pie that I’d made the previous day. The pie is nestled in a vintage Le Creuset dish and is basically chanterelle mushrooms in a garlicy white sauce, which is then covered with a big layer of potato that has been pushed through a ricer, and finally browned under the grill. With some fresh tomatoes and a Swiss beer (I feel I’ve earned this beer as a treat), it is a fitting end to my day.One final point in relation to this second Rant! Whilst things are changing in the cycling world for men and women, the business world still has some way to go to get to a more sustainable balance of gender, and particularly at Board level. Most companies are focussing on ‘diversity and inclusion’, which is great, but they need to go one step further to get to a higher level of gender balance right through the organisation. Business cases prove that businesses that have a good gender balance right through the organisation, are consistently high performing. Fact! I’m sure all of the companies, sports clubs and teams in the cycling world are aware of this. Maybe even the world cycling governing body, the UCI, will have a female president one day.
One last thing that happened on that Sunday that was a game changer, was that Ana Carrasco won the World Supersport 300 championship. She is the first female to ever win a motorcycle world championship and she did it by beating all of the boys.
Rant! over for now.
All photos by the author