I came into women’s racing spoiled.
Prior to racing in women’s races, I spent a couple of years racing exclusively in men’s races.
Racing in men’s races was awesome in my first year racing. Awesome; that was my world. Every weekend I was gauranteed to have plenty of race options, and would gleefully plot out destined-to-fail race strategies with my cycling buddies, then load up the car and go race! I never expected much, except to have fun, win some preme lap prizes, and enjoy the momentary illusion of grandeur that every novice racer feels while an announcer is revving up the small crowd of spectators (family, friends, passerby) during my repeated and glorious but doomed fliers off the front of the crit. It was awesome. Cat 4 or 3/4 races generally had modest payout, and that seemed fair. I mean, what wasn’t fair about it? I was there to race my heart out, and knew that when I went to race we (the cat 4 guys) would get our 45 minutes of glory and microphone feedback buzz out on the course. It was pretty straight forward: “There’s a sweet race this weekend!”, says my new teammate John. We register. We race. We leave to go get food, and make sure to get back just in time for the start of the pro men’s race.
After a 4am, half delirious and hurried disclosure one race morning, John knew I was not male. But, I was determined not to be treated differently, and he never told and nobody else ever said anything… There were no rules being broken. Anyone can race in a men’s race – that much I knew.
I admit to being pretty oblivious to women’s races.
Was there one on the schedule? When was it? What categories were racing? What was the payout? Was it fair?
If you had asked me that first summer of racing, I probably wouldn’t have an answer for you. Like most racers signed up for the cat 4 races, I was so caught up in my own race day routine that I couldn’t see past my nerves, attempts to focus on warmup, and carb cravings.
There were women who raced in the region who I admired. They were fast, sometimes far faster than me! And, I felt bad that there were so few of them in the races – It must be hard to keep on showing up when you’re one of the only ones. I knew there were issues with women’s races being dismissed as boring or slow, and was adamant that as a good feminist, I would counter any statement to that effect. I didn’t want to be one of them though, not at that point. A race with 3 up to maybe 15 or 20 racers didn’t seem like much of a race, and the announcers were out to lunch – sometimes literally, they were taking a lunch break at that point – and the lack of narration made it impossible for the casual spectator (watch the race for 30 seconds, talk to friends for 2 minutes, watch the race for 30 seconds… and so on) to follow the race.
That blissful oblivion was while I was content in the cat 4 men’s field, still a new racer only a couple of months into my first summer of USA Cycling membership….
Stay tuned for part 2: How I got there and why blissful contentment stopped working.