Having It All(?)

By: Molly Hurford Jun 28

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As a female racer, I think and write an awful lot about the state of women's racing in the US, and the way that female racers are treated. But sometimes I forget that the cycling world is just a tiny microcosm, a demonstration on a smaller scale, of issues that face women today.

According to Jodi Kantor in her New York Times article, there is now a "debate about a new conundrum of female success: women have greater status than ever before in human history, even outpacing men in education, yet the lineup at the top of most fields is still stubbornly male. Is that new gender gap caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers or just nature itself?"

While she's talking about the workplace and education system, that quotes sounds oddly familiar to any woman who's been trying to race seriously for years. A lot of this article and the others I looked at are based on the whole work-family conundrum that faces women (and these articles fully admit they're based on the experiences of upper-middle class, the women who can choose between work and family if they so choose). While I was reading them, though, since I'm sans children, I couldn't help but strike parallels between the plight of the working mom and the plight of the female racer.

So in that sense, Kantor's question about what causes the gender gap is a valid one in women's cycling. Are we not working as hard as the men? Are some team managers and race promoters purposely trying to avoid paying women what they're worth? Are women racers just naturally not as 'serious' as the men?

Most of the articles I looked at centered around the old feminist adage that women can 'have it all,' if they only work hard enough. Salon.com columnist Rebecca Traister writes, "No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again… And that sucks. It sucks for all of us, who are so very busy – not aiming for complete satisfaction or amassing everything our hearts might desire – but busy working and living and getting by and fighting to pry open more doors so that more women might enjoy more kinds of opportunities than have been available to those who came before."

I know so many amazing women in the cycling scene, both on the professional and amateur level, who spend so much of their time working to promote women's cycling, to make it more accessible, to make a career as a pro woman more feasible, and it seems like most of the time, we're -- pardon the pun -- spinning our wheels.

And the worst part about it is that despite the huge talent pool for women in cycling in the US, I know of so many incredibly talented ladies who struggle every year to find a team that takes them even slightly seriously. And those on teams are often fighting for scraps while the men get the bulk of the goodies. I know this isn't the case for every woman or every team, but anecdotally, I can say that it happens more often than you might think, and infinitely more often than it should. But that isn't even the worst part. I worry that the worst part is that we -- myself included -- have drunk the Kool-Aid. We don't think that women's racing is as exciting, or that it can bring in as many sponsors, or that it has as much of a future. Or, if finding a team is hard, we start thinking that it's because of our abilities, because we're not a little bit better, faster, stronger. And sure, part of that can be true: I freely admit that I'm not as fast or good as, say, Kaitie Antonneau, and I wouldn't bat an eyelash if she was getting paid 18 times what I made. But I know plenty of women who deserving of much, much more than they get. Still, we've been trained to be gracious and happy to get anything, because it's better than nothing.

Because of this, there are some incredible racers out there who've been made to re-evaluate their self-worth. The article that this debate stemmed from in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter mentioned something interesting about this whole self-doubt issue. "I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)."

Again: she's talking about work and having a family, but when I read it, it applies just as well to women's cycling. It is harder for women to make it in cycling, despite what companies and teams will say. But we've been programmed to believe that we have equality, so anything lacking is due to a personal failure, not a flawed system. And the last bit -- about being thin and beautiful to boot -- just reminds me of another hot debate for cyclists. But that one is for another week.

Slaughter also blasted Facebook's female spokesperson, saying, "Sandberg thinks that “something” is an 'ambition gap'—that women do not dream big enough. I am all for encouraging young women to reach for the stars. But I fear that the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top are rather more prosaic than the scope of their ambition."

Again, the same is true in the workplace and in cycling. I know many women who would love a career in cycling, but it's just simply an impossibility. Being willing to work for little money is one thing, but when that means not earning a living wage, or having to work other jobs to support a racing career, leaving less time for training or recovery, that's a reality, not a lack of ambition, that's keeping women from pursuing a pro career.

When I was doing interviews for my cyclocross book, I had a few great eye-opening moments. One was when not one, but several men AND women told me that the reason women's racing isn't quite as exciting to watch as the men's is because we simply aren't programmed with that 'killer instinct.' They were talking about the instinct that makes us want want to crush our opponents, who are often our friends and training buddies when not on the race course. At first, I scoffed a bit. That's ridiculous, I thought. I always want to beat people, no matter how friendly we are.

Then, I was at a race a few weeks ago. There was a minor crash in our field, behind me. I was in the front with six other women, and we opened a gap as the pack struggled to navigate around the crash. We continued at a tempo pace, and I tentatively asked,"So, do you guys want to attack? Because this is probably a good time." That's when I got a couple dirty looks and the group demurred, saying we should wait and see if everyone was OK. When I relayed this story to my male friends, they laughed and told me that the sound of a crash is a signal to pick up the pace in their field. And yes, I know if I wanted to attack, I should have just gone for it. But that's another column for another time: my acute lack of race tactics under pressure.

Now, I've been in plenty of races *cough* Battenkill and Somerville *cough* where crashes in the women's field did pick up the pace for the front. But I think that's a particularly interesting example worth mentioning. And I've written about it before, but it bears repeating: I consider myself to be a serious cyclist, but when someone crashed next to me at Battenkill, my first instinct was to stop and see if she was OK. I will also admit that I squelched that feeling and rode on. And proceeded to feel guilty about it for the rest of the race. Is it because I don't have that killer instinct? Is there something nurturing in my DNA that I just can't seem to get rid of?

Of course, at the end of the day, rather than turning to feminist scholars or feminist debates when I'm worried about my place in the peloton, I should probably just take a cue from Tina Fey during the next race. "Know what? Bitches get stuff done."

Cycling -- and sport in general -- is one place where we can easily see the difference in treatment of women versus men, and while some of it is simply a biological necessity, a lot of it is simply that when it comes to equality in the workplace, professional sports are just lagging behind the times more ostensibly than most other career paths. I've spent a lot of time talking with racers, promoters, managers, and every industry professional imaginable about this, and no, there isn't a simple solution. But pushing for more discussion on the issues of women in cycling, and looking at it as a whole, rather than a race-by-race or racer-by-racer issue would be a good start.







Cyclists and the Art of the Life/Work Balance

By: Molly Hurford Jun 17

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We learn in basic high school physics that two objects cannot exist in the same space at the same time. So what happens when life and work start to occupy the same space? The universe hasn’t imploded yet, but I’m starting to think more and more about it, though not in such quantum mechanic-style terms.

Lately, it’s been becoming more and more difficult for me to decide at what point I’m relaxing, and at what point I’m working. Case in point: I was at the Tour of Somerville on Memorial Day. I was there first and foremost to race, but also to watch the races, to come up with some good column material, to potentially do some interviews, and to definitely set up some interviews. Also, to hang out with some good friends, though some of them were included in that list of interviewees. Among topics discussed after the race once we’d settled down at dinner were my work, the state of cyclocross, and my book. So is that a workday? It didn’t feel like it, exactly, but nor did it feel like being “off.”

There was a moment after the race when someone was bemoaning the lack of coverage of the crit. Someone else suggested that I could have covered it, if I hadn’t been preoccupied. He was entirely right, of course, and it made me wonder: should I have covered it? For whom? Was I on the clock? Then, it occurred to me: I’m never punched out, really.

The problem, then, is this: do I ever get a day off at a cycling event? I’m not a pro cyclist, but when I race, it’s usually fodder for writing, and occasionally a teensy bit of extra cash in my pocket. So racing is work. But it’s also fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. The point, though, is that even when I’m at a race with no real work goals (read: I’m not actually tasked with writing a race report), it still is work. And it’s inescapable.

Pro cyclists have it just as bad, if not worse. Amateurs around them are there for a day of fun and friendly (OK, sometimes not-so-friendly) competition. They laugh, joke, goof off, and generally have a good time. The pros are there to work, the asphalt is their office space, and the boss isn’t going to come through with that end of the year bonus if their performance is lacking. That said, pro cyclists are racers because they love racing, not because they are forced to be. Unlike working in middle management (sorry, middle managers!) you don’t just fall into bike racing. You give everything to be a pro, and if you’re lucky, you get a little something in return. This isn’t a job you do for the big paycheck. So for pro cyclists, they’re in the same boat as I am: their life/work balance is all out of whack, because there’s no separation of the two.

Things get even more out of joint when doing the balancing act of an elite amateur racer, or a pro without a good contract. Not only are you working a “regular job,” but you leave the office (or coffeeshop, bar, grocery store, whatever) for the second job, that of a bike racer. That’s an even harder balancing act, because with two jobs, one of which is more passion-oriented than the other, it leaves little time for anything else, which means that the cycling job then becomes the “regular life” part as well.

This goes for mechanics or any bike-oriented job as well: if you’re a mechanic and out riding on a new bike, you aren’t just riding for fun, you’re constantly aware of what’s happening with the bike, and you’re constantly thinking about how to sell it to people. Same for reps, dealers and any number of bike-related jobs. When your passion is your business, it’s both the greatest and hardest thing in the world.

It seems like a lot of people I talk to, especially those who work in the bike industry at any level, have the same problem: we don’t know where the workday stops and the “regular life” begins, because for us, there isn’t much of a difference. Since I work from home, my schedule is weird. I write a lot, edit a lot, and ride a lot. Generally, the writing and editing outweigh the riding, but then again, so do the paychecks from said writing and riding.

As a freelance worker, like so many in the cycling world (pro racers included), time is money. Or, more correctly, work is money. Maybe this is just because after last tax season I’m being way more careful about recording expenses, but I’m noticing that things I used to count as being simply fun, I’m starting to realize that they count as work expenses. It’s a bit crude, but it is a good way of telling when I’m on the job and when I’m not: if it can be counted as a business expense, I’m at work. If it can’t, I’m not. Of course, does it count as non-work if I’m out with friends for a drink and end up recording a few quick interview questions?

So how do you cope when your relaxation and your job are one and the same? Do we ever officially turn off from work? I postulate that for cyclists, we’re never truly off the job. But for someone who’s probably grossly out of balance as far and life and work goes, I feel pretty darn good about it.


In The Pro MTB Scene

By: Molly Hurford May 27

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In the pro MTB scene, the US has the big names: Georgia Gould, Katie Compton, and while she isn’t racing for the US, let’s face it, we’ve got Katerina Nash. The list goes on. These racers consistently finish in the top ten at World Cup races, and land on the podium pretty frequently as well. In the last World Cup, Gould was fourth. And if you didn’t catch on, all of those big names happen to be women. The top US man in the same World Cup race? Somewhere in the low teens. Yet somehow, the women continue to be paid less than the men, and paid less attention, no matter how deserving they are.

While cycling is growing across the board in the US, it seems to be growing fastest among its most ignored demographic: the ladies. After this weekend, I can say with anecdotal certainty that this is a fact. I’ve been staying on a houseboat that boasts multiple-time endurance MTB world champion Rebecca Rusch, pro downhiller Katie Holden, and MTBer Susan Robinson. To say that my talents pale in comparison to theirs is an insult to the shade of pale. These women shred. And lucky for me, they don’t seem to mind me tagging along for this stop on Rebecca’s Gold Rusch Tour.

Gold Rusch is Rebecca Rusch’s brainchild, and combined with Specialized and a bunch of her other awesome sponsors, they’re into their second successful year of MTB promotion. The tour, as Rebecca explained to me, has two main purposes. The first is to get more women into mountain biking overall. To that end, they run clinics for women at these events, and let me tell you: when the first clinic ran yesterday and over thirty women of every shape, size and skill set showed up, the looks on the pros faces were incredible. They were stunned! I was surprised, but not quite as surprised. After all, I’ve been witnessing the growth of women’s cyclocross in the beginner ranks on the East Coast for the past two years, and I know how the scene is changing.

The second part of the tour, and the part I find most exciting, is that Rebecca makes a point of inviting women in the cycling media to tag along, providing housing and transportation, which explains why I’m writing this from a houseboat. As she puts it, none of us are making much money doing this, so if she can help out and get us to these events, that’s great for women in cycling and cycling in general. I love her for this, as both a racer and a journalist. She has a great point, one that I don’t think most people ever think of. The cycling journalism industry is, for the most part, a boy’s club. And that does women a disservice, since the tendency is to spend more time covering the men’s fields and maybe overlooking the women’s field just a teensy bit. Case in point, the World Cup MTB races.

With so much talent and so much dedication in the women’s MTB scene in the US, isn’t it time they got a little bit more credit? I’ve heard it time and time again about women’s racing: people don’t watch it because it’s boring. Well, if you saw Katie Holden bombing a downhill ahead of you on the trail, I’m betting you would stop to take a look.

In the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s racing and the way it works. I’ve been approached by a lot of women at the highest level in our sport asking if I have any ideas for teams they could ride for next year. Every time a woman asks me that, I’m a little sad. It’s great when I can offer suggestions, but more often than not, I have to admit that the pickings are slim, and if it’s money and a real contract you’re after, you’re going to have to wait in a very long line. The odds of a woman making it as strictly a cyclist are slim to none, emphasis on the none. Pretty much every lady I know works a job to fund a pro career. Even Katie Compton coaches. Mo Bruno Roy does massage, Nicole Duke cuts hair. Yet somehow, it’s our women who are making huge waves in the global world of pro cycling, not the men. Hmm…

But back to DirtFest. I’ve learned a lot about Rebecca in our close quarters as houseboat buddies. For one thing, she cooks a mean stir fry! But for another, despite being World Champion and having a very, very full plate during MTB season, she’s also a firefighter. This lady couldn’t be more badass if she tried. What’s amazing to me is that Rebecca is already set as an athlete. She has a name, a brand, and serious cred as a solid racer. So she doesn’t really need to be pushing for women’s cycling to be coming up in the world. She does it because she truly thinks it’s important, and I couldn’t agree more.

Of course, women’s cycling has always been special; the camaraderie in women’s cycling is unlike anything I’ve ever known. And Gold Rusch is brilliant for one major reason, in my book: mountain biking is an awesome way to introduce any level of cyclist to competitive cycling (second only to cyclocross, but I’m a wee bit biased.) This is because you aren’t racing in a pack like you would on the road, and because most people who already own a bike own a cruiser capable of at least sampling trails, it’s a good “in” for cyclists. It’s especially great because the scene is low key, and as someone who raced road, track and triathlon, I can say it’s a lot less intimidating and the people are a little nicer. There’s a steep learning curve with mountain biking, admittedly, but I’ve noticed that women in general are more comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and really trying to learn. This is especially true when offered a women-only clinic where no question is a bad one.

I guess the point of this article, and the Gold Rusch tour, is three-fold, but it all boils down to improving the lives of every woman cyclist, from the beginner to the seasoned pro. 1) Introduce MTBing to beginner women; 2) Allow female members of the cycling media the chance to travel and attend some of the big shows; and 3) Point out to the world that there are major names in women’s cycling in the US, and try to build recognition of the pros that spend their lives training, racing and passing on knowledge. I don’t know that Rebecca would call herself a feminist, but I would certainly say that she’s blazing a new path for women pro cyclists. The overarching goal, though, is simple: increase awareness of women’s cycling. Because if we do that, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll see equal pay, equal recognition and equal opportunities for women in every type of cycling.

Time for me to disembark the houseboat and go ride.


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