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.