After years of watching men conquer mountains on TV, I finally had the chance to witness a women’s race for the first time last June in Philly. Sure the men were racing at the same time (or there wouldn’t have been a race), but there was something about the grit and emotion everyone could feel as the women battled up the course’s famous Manayunk Wall. The male spectators surrounding me were captivated as well. Every time the women’s peloton passed, we yelled and cheered until our voices were raspy.
Since I first began cycling I always compared my body and my performance to men because I had nothing better to go on, but as I watched these women, I suddenly felt at home. They weren’t rail-thin like most of their male counterparts and I could feel their suffering in my own legs as they charged over the monstrous climb. This has been a tough year for cycling, as so many were dumbstruck by the sudden fall of their heroes. I never yearned to be like them, nor could I ever relate to those guys in the least. This is why women’s racing is so necessary and we all need to hear of cycling’s success stories in order to help launch our own.
A year after Philly, when I first met Specialized Lululemon’s Evelyn Stevens, Ally Stacher, Carmen Small and Taylor Wiles at a meet and greet in the city, it felt like I was with my female friends on a group ride. We chatted about local races (most of which Evie had won), how tough it is to mentally recover after a crash and the sudden highs and lows of cycling. After the meet and greet, the team grabbed their backpacks and pedaled away through Manhattan to their hotel. There were no fancy cars sent to pick them up. These women were on their own. They were surprised that so many cyclists had shown up to meet them. “You came all the way from NJ?” they asked, amazed that we had taken the time. The truth is I’m sure most of us would have driven much farther to meet the women who inspire us to dig a little deeper or finally sign up for that first race.
The momentum is building for women’s cycling, especially on the local level in NJ. On Memorial Day I hung out with one of this year’s most successful crit racing teams at the Tour of Somerville. It wasn’t a men’s team, but the Fearless Femmes p/b Pure Energy Cycling-Vie13, a group of ass-kicking women (two are national champions) with the firepower to consistently land on the podium. Even cooler is that the owner of my amateur team decided to invest in women’s cycling. There’s nothing better than watching all the men on my team rooting for the women and having the chance to ride with and learn from them. They are our cycling superheros. With any hope, they are launching us into the future of the sport.