Soap Box

Does what it says on the tin!

“Use it or lose it” The trend of low entry numbers in women’s races

This year my twitter feed has been full of tweets from organisers and interested parties appealing for more women to enter their races and my own calendar has far too many races that have been cancelled due to a lack of entries. This is rather sad.

This year so far there have been 412 women only races on the British Cycling calendar, compared to 343 last year. A generous increase in races available to women and one that will help to grow the women’s side of the sport. I always use the film quote “if you build it, they will come”, meaning that women are more likely to start and continue racing when there are races near by for them to take part in. A cyclist, or indeed any potential sports person, is unlikely to take up the sport when they have to travel, sometimes hundreds of miles, to get to their nearest race.

The problem is, the majority of races are struggling to get a decent field. The truth is, we simply don’t have the same numbers of women racing that you do with men, increasing though the numbers are. But this is not the whole problem.

I like to race lots. I don’t like to travel lots. I’ll travel to races that I think are worthwhile – national series road races (due to quality of field and what I can learn), races that are on the way/ on the way back from races I am travelling to, races that I will enjoy most, races that will benefit my team (where either I can help my team mates, or our sponsors will get publicity) etc…

We all have our own priorities when selecting races to enter and I will always enter a local race over all but team priority races. Lets face it, travelling is expensive. Cycle racing is expensive. Today, I calculated how much it would cost me to enter the Barnsley crit, which was getting lots of tweets out in an appeal for more entries. For fuel, entry fee, energy gels/ drink etc. it would cost me around £100. This doesn’t allow for any over-night stay. Aside from the fact that I work full time and therefore would require a day off work to get there and back as it is a mid-week race. This is why I have chosen, after careful consideration, not to enter this race and many similar races. I have entered Tickhill GP, because the organiser has obviously put in a great effort to host the event, which looks set to be fantastic, but I can also tie it in with another race that weekend, I’m not required to take time off work and I am also tying it in with a holiday. This has taken a lot of effort and organisation on my part, but something I have done because I want to.

I don’t not enter races because I can’t be bothered. Although I am perfectly within my right to use this as an excuse. So, when tweets from organisers, or other articles, start to turn negative towards the women’s peloton, it winds me up. I understand that races are stressful, time-consuming and expensive to organise, therefore it is frustrating when you don’t get the entries, but that is not my fault, or that of the majority of the women’s peloton. Local/ regional level races should be aimed at local riders. Look to the local cycling scene for your field.

Maybe there aren’t enough local riders to fill a field? This is not true for all regions, but I’d be very surprised if we have 100 women racers in the eastern region. But you’ve also got to look at what races these riders want. What would an Elite or 1st cat rider want? More than likely, a tough race, a tough field on a tough circuit to make it worth their while. What does a 4th cat rider want? I’m guessing a shorter race on a circuit that suits their technical ability, against riders of a similar ability. By holding a short race that is open to all categories of riders, it’s likely to attract some riders looking for a short race, on a not-particularly technical circuit, with hopefully not many riders and certainly no one who’s very good so that they can ride around at an easy pace and get some easy points, as well as a few local riders who are dedicated and want some hard training. That 4th category rider (I will actually include 3rd and some 2nd category riders, as categories are so easy to achieve – see previous post) doesn’t want to have to race riders way above their level, not knowing that these riders are unlikely to turn up anyway. I must stress that this is not true of everyone who enters these races, but want to make a point that you need to choose your target audience.

If you’re running a mid-week race, you want to target local riders. Local riders likely to turn up for a mid-week race are less likely to be at the top-end of the categories. Riders at the lower end of the categories are less likely to turn up because they are intimidated by the potential for top riders to turn up and blow them out the back of the race before one lap is completed. Especially as lots of races only post results for the top 10. Many riders never know what position they finish in. As for National Series races and National Criterium Championships being mid-week? Until women can afford to race full-time, or at least part time, I don’t think this is fair.

What’s the solution? Split category racing. You are likely to attract more 3rd and 4th cat riders to a 2/3/4 race. Meanwhile, Elite and 1st category riders need races too, but they are more likely to race if they see other decent riders have entered. So you need two races, an E/1/2 and a 2/3/4. Will you then get a full field? Probably not, we need more women racing and this will take time. I don’t have all the answers and thankfully, that’s not my job.

In the mean time, when you are looking for more riders, please continue to get the message out on social media, but stop reprimanding riders, keep it positive and encouraging. If the race has to be cancelled, that’s a shame, but please don’t be put off from trying again next year. The sport is growing and improving year on year. On the other hand, women can help out the organisers by planning what races you want to do with plenty of time and entering early. Entry on the day should be a last resort and not taken for granted.

Footnote: This is just my opinion at the moment, but I reserve the right to change my opinion at any point should I hear valid arguments from others with differing opinions.

Points win prizes? My thoughts on categories in cycle racing

British Cycling appear to be considering a new rule that states that any race with less than 6 riders, will result in no points being awarded, or that for example, the women will have to take part in the men’s race and fight for their points instead. I’m not sure of the exact rule, but the resulting anger from some riders and parents has prompted me to point out the whole reason behind the points and categories system.

Background: In cycle racing, there aren’t just medals on offer (in fact, there are rarely medals involved), but riders can earn points depending on the position they finish in with more points available in higher category races. For example: a race might award 10points for 1st, 8 for 2nd, 7 for 3rd down to 1 point for 10th place. These points are collected and when enough are earned, the rider will move up a category. When a rider first starts racing, they are a 4th category rider, then they move up to 3rd once 12 points are earned, 2nd is a further 40 points, 1st category 200 points and Elite 300 points.

Points are highly contested and fought after, with moving up the categories being the goal for many riders.

In the past, all women always raced together, regardless of skill or ability. This means that a rider who has never raced before, could be racing against an Olympic champion. The inexperienced rider has very little chance of winning this race and may never get to a level where they are able to win. Points are a reward for this rider and something for them to aim for, without them (and even with them) the rider may feel despondent, or feel embarrassed at how far back they come and eventually stop racing altogether.

Having all categories of riders racing together, puts off many women riders from racing, however, as we get more women racing, we are able to split the races into categories so that riders of similar abilities can race together. Like the men and boys have have for years.

To categorise riders, points are earned due to position in the race. Therefore the number of points/ category of rider should reflect  ability. The problem is, there are many races with so few riders that a novice rider can collect 10 points for coming last. It’s easy to select races that are going to have very small fields. A rider can gain their 2nd or 1st category licence without having ridden a race with more than 5 riders. All of a sudden, they are a 1st category rider, with very little experience in bunch riding.

As more races have split categories, this inexperienced 1st cat may have to start racing in E/1/2 races, with larger fields. They don’t possess the skills necessary for fast large bunch riding and this makes racing dangerous. They also are not strong enough to keep up and find themselves unable to come anywhere in the races. It’s the same problem as having an open E/1/2/3/4 race.

Points should be an achievement and although riders do see them as such, they are easy to get. I hate getting lots of points in easy races. I’m more proud of 1 point I might get in a national level race, than any of the 15 points I got for winning against a load of novice riders, or because there were only 3 of us. I used to chase points until I twice got 15 points in my first year of racing, because I was the only rider in the race. That’s when I realised how easy points are to collect and it hardly reflects my racing ability.

What would happen if no points were ever awarded? Would people not race? I don’t think that would be the case. We don’t race to get points, we race because we love competing. Lots of people have been against this new rule, they say that if they travel far to a race and then find less than 6 riders, so no points, it would be really unfair. I’m sorry, but take a step back and think about it.

It’s annoying when you travel great distances and find only a few women racing, because it’s not really a race. What do you learn from it? Should you be jubilant because it means getting easy points. It’s not a true reflection of achievement. And what about strong riders who can’t afford to enter lots of races, so they only collect a few points from tough races. Should they loose out on places in top races because someone much weaker than them got points in easy races?

Ok, so maybe no points might not be exactly right – number of points should reflect number of riders. Maybe only the winner gets points?

It’s easy to get points in women’s races. It shouldn’t be. There should be a greater sense of achievement attached to them. But most importantly, categories are there to indicate ability, that’s skill and experience as well as strength. Stop points chasing, points will come to you when you earn them. Enjoy the race for what it is; the buzz, the thrill, the competition, the experience and the sense of achievement.

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5 Responses to Soap Box

  1. Caroline Harding says:

    Excellent write up

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  3. Well written and fair. I hope we at TickhillGP weren’t the ones ‘reprimanding’ riders.

    From an organisers point of view, we have managed to pull in some great Sponsors and with many people shouting out for split classes for ladies (we’ve got E/1/2/3 & 3/4), and we are producing 3000 (64page) programmes which we want to promote the Teams/Riders & their Race numbers to the ‘public’. We have also put up some great Prize Money.

    Our frustration is that of just ‘not knowing’ how many entries you will have, it does not help with budget, sponsors, programme or the “public’ as we are trying to promote the whole show to people who may not have ever seen a bike race before.

    I understand all your points and they are all valid, and I have had some private email discussion mirroring your comments too.

    What makes it difficult is as an organiser (especially a new event trying to do everything right) is that you have to start with a BLANK SHEET … no Riders, No Sponsors, No Nothing. …

    …. but with vision and a clear idea of what you can achieve, you have to promote your ideology of your event …. until the various elements click into place.

    What I mean by this is you can offer £5000 First Prize for a Men’s Elite and call it the Biggest Crit in the UK … but until you get a field of quality Riders you have nothing.

    We have been VERY CAREFUL in announcing our plans as we want to make sure we are going to deliver what we are advertising – and the only one we have really changed is the removal of the Penny Farthing Race due to lack of commitment & insurance issues. – We took advice and swapped this for an extra Women’s Race – Cat 3/4 only.

    We have addressed the ‘class / competition’ issue with two different Women’s Races and we are (at this stage) quite happy with the level (and quality) of entry.

    But we have worked our socks off to make sure we can deliver a great event for Womens Cycling.

    Our dilemma is what happens if those entries do not increase ? … we are already seeing events considering cancelling Women’s Races due to low entries and we can see why.

    To be honest, if we were doing this for the money, it would be easier and a financial no-brainer to drop the Women’s Races and fill it with additional Mens Races (we are almost full with 2 months to go on the Mens).

    But… we have made our bed. Its a vision to support Women’s Cycling. We understand all the problems, issues, costs, time etc etc … but as organisers, all we ask is PLEASE ENTER EARLY !

    There is unfortunately the real issue of USE IT OR LOSE IT.

    The YESSS Tickhill Grand Prix Women’s Races are sponsored by Giant Sheffield …. I want them to support us next year and the year after …. I can do everything else … but I can’t make you enter …. That is down to you.

    PS … Tanya, Thank you for your ‘early entry’ – much appreciated.

    Rich.

    http://www.tickhillgp.com

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