Some of you reading this may or may not know about my run in with British Cycling. BC are very frequently criticised like most things these days I suppose, we do live in a very critical society and I love to criticise. So I was lying in bed last night dreaming of Liam Killeen’s chassis and reading my twitter feed when I noticed that BC have decided to restrict some races from 4th cat riders. I am a 4th Cat road rider. I’m a 4th Cat for a number of reasons: I started road racing last summer, fairly casually. I presumed it would be more important to get some good experience on the road than chasing points to work up the cat system. It seemed unimportant last season when I could enter the races that I wanted. I live in the East Midlands there is virtually no women’s road racing here. This was a little tricky. Unsure of how to get into road racing (having very easily ridden a full season of cross- racing locally every weekend) I considered my options.
1. Go to london and ride some of the crits down there – quite a lot of faff considering there was a risk I could be dropped within the first 5 mins.
2. Enter a more local but much more hard core open road race for women involving E1234 rides.
3. Enter a local 4th Cat mens race.
I chose 3. Sheffrec put on a mens race on an open road triangle circuit just up the road from my parents. It’s an evening race. I emailed them to see if they would mind me having a go and they were more than happy. I turned up I rode my heart out, I was dropped I spent a lot of time out on my own and I worked with a dropped group of male riders. I lasted the full 2 hours and finished. I even won a combativity prize for trying so hard. It was a great experience everyone was really encouraging. So I rode a few more mens races and a couple of crits in london. Not enough women’s only races to get me my cat 3. Did this concern me? No. I had worked hard enough to be able to ride with Mule Bar Girls. I was confident in handling my bike, I can sprint out of corners with the men. Road racing – easier than my cross season :)
So I was a little upset when I realised my season was going to be limited. Living in the east midlands is a disadvantage we only have 2 women’s only road races between feb and june. So I had a little rant on twitter about the things that piss me off about BC. Firstly I have to pay the same licence fee as the men despite there not being anywhere near the same amount of opportunities to race and secondly this announcement that they were limiting these races but no explanation of what us lowly new to road racing bike riders would get in return. I work as a doctor, I’m fairly used to giving bad news and I know that it is always helpful to follow it with some sort of positive. And thirdly they seem intent on promoting women only rides and sportives but the racing seems to get pushed to one side. So I rant on twitter and head off to sleep.
UP at 6am and off to the hospital to cure the poorly children. I’m just about to start the ward round when my phone rings. VOICEMAIL – “This is Jenny from BC calling to discuss your comments on twitter and let you know what BC are doing to improve women’s racing!” Off to the naughty step I go. Bloody hell Ive complained about BC loads they’ve never called me before. I was a little anxious BC did not seem very happy but I was kind of impressed they had bothered to call. I’m a customer of BC I pay the membership and race licence fee, they must be calling to listen to my feedback and see how they can help improve my BC experience. Unfortunately that was not really the response I got. I spoke to Jenny Gretton who does seem to be working hard to improve women’s road racing and has been involved in establishing the team series events but clearly did not appreciate my comments. I was met with a defensive bombardment of information about all the things they were doing to help women’s cycling. I will summarise the conversation as it went on for some time.
4th cats cannot ride the national series races for 2 reasons. 1 safety – these races are not for inexperienced riders and last season there were loads of crashes. There were 7 4th cats in the Cheshire classic RR – “none of them finished in the top 20”. (I’m not sure what the point of that comment was – I didn’t finish in the top 20 at the CX national champs but I hope they let me ride it next year) I wasn’t at the Cheshire classic RR so I don’t know how those 7 4th cat riders feel about this and I wouldn’t like to speculate. The other reason for not allowing 4th cats is that it then raises the profile of these races and gives women something to aim for! (make of that what you will) and will make the women’s cat system more valid.
In return for having your already limited race calendar reduced BC will be putting on more road racing opportunities for the inexperienced rider, but these haven’t been confirmed on the calendar yet and more information about this will be put out in a press release some time soon. None of these extra opportunities are in my area they will still involve going to london or the north-west.
I did question why it was so difficult to put on women’s racing and intro to racing sessions, the answer to this was that BC relies on volunteers to put these things on and so if the volunteers aren’t willing to do it, these events won’t happen. Which I feel is precisely why we should be so impressed by the London women’s cycle league who do a huge amount for women’s cycling down in london. I did ask if there was any incentive or could there be any incentive to encourage clubs to hold road racing skills sessions or women’s road racing (no real solution for this).
I do feel it is a bit of shame that BC have yet again struggled to portray women’s racing in a positive light, by announcing this restriction with no positive spin on it whatsoever and making out 4th cat riders cause loads of crashes. Look at the tour de france those lot crash all over the place. I hope they can turn this arround and I look forward to reading the press release and attending some of these new opportunities.
I do feel very strongly about the women’s road racing as I think it is such a shame that it doesn’t live up to the CX and mtb side of things. During the CX season I can race locally every weekend sometimes twice a weekend. I can turn up and ride a national trophy and I can line up against some of the best CX riders in the world at our national champs. You only have to look at this years start sheet to see how fast women’s cycling is growing. I think we must have had approximately double the entrants. At our local NDCXL races we have had up to 22 women racing. what do these women do in the summer – would any of them fancy road racing? If you can bust your gut for an hour on a cross bike and handle the slippery conditions, road racing is not that daunting.
Improving safety in road racing is clearly very important and it is also clear that it is not just a problem in women’s cycling. It will be interesting to see if cutting 7 4th cat riders from a race means no crashes. I hope there are no crashes – doctors do not need the extra work. I feel a better way to do it would be to improve rider education. If you are a 4th cat why not send them a road racing handbook detailing the skills you might need should you want to enter a road race. For example, cornering and descending at speed, group riding, holding a wheel, cornering in a bunch. You could even suggest ways to get these skills – join your local bike club, ride the group rides, ride the chaingang, come to one of our road racing skills session, etc etc. Perhaps you could even offer an incentive to cycling clubs who encourage and bring on female road racers. There will always be someone who panics slams the breaks on and takes a few people out every now and again.
I do however appreciate that sitting at my laptop and suggesting these things is easier said than done and I’m sure things are greatly improved. I have been told by BC should anyone ask me about the 4th cat restrictions to tell you all that there will be other racing opportunities that will be announced at some point!
I would also suggest that if you enjoy a quiet life, do not complain openly on twitter as you will receive a number of phone calls and text messages informing you quite why your opinions are wrong.
I would love nothing more than to see some evening circuit races and road racing skills sessions for ladies just like they have in london and the north west all over the UK. I would love to be able to see more and more women able to road race, so many women that we could have separate 3rd and 4th cat races. And that way being introduced to cycling, riding a few sportives, having a go at your first road race, becoming a regular on the circuit – is a natural progression.
Next week more rants about life in the hospital!!