’s oft-used hashtag, can mean so many things. It’s easy to imagine it as a race strategy, even a mantra during an extreme effort. But it’s not just about winning, as Tiffany Cromwell explained in the post-race panel at the Rapha Cycle Club New York; it’s about growing women’s cycling by doing things in a fundamentally different way.
A shining example of the problems that Tiffany hopes to address came up when I sat down with Ronny Lauke, her directeur sportif at
CANYON//SRAM, on the eve of the Philadelphia Cycling Classic. Having worked exclusively with women’s teams since 2008, he has a unique perspective on where the sport is headed. We spoke over the din of the lobby, equal parts men in bike-industry tshirts schlepping hi-vis carbon bikes, and bewildered wedding guests in formal attire. Ronny recounted a race a few years back where pro women were mingling in the same pre-race staging area as amateur racers. He was absolutely stunned to learn that the amateur women had never even heard of the pro team he was working with. And while this happened in Germany, it truly could have happened anywhere – at times the chasm that separates the cycling fans from the elite end of the sport seems insurmountable. But if there is one team destined to bridge that gap, it’s likely CANYON//SRAM.
In the United States, that divide between pro athletes, amateurs, and women who are passionately pursuing the activity is particularly pronounced. The dearth of Title IX funding for cycling means we don’t have a continuum of support for athletes from youth development to professional the way many other countries do. (For readers outside the USA: Title IX is a federal statute which stipulates that universities must fund women’s sports to the same degree as men’s, and sometimes has the unfortunate and unintended consequence of causing universities to cut both men’s and women’s teams, rather than increasing funds available for women.) Add to that the sheer size of the US and cliquishness of the sport, and the country is left with a fragmented patchwork of clubs, teams and enthusiasts with so much in common, except their connections to each other. This situation is one of the biggest hurdle’s to cycling’s growth in USA.
CANYON//SRAM have an all-star roster, heavy with national champions, time trial specialists, and Olympic contenders. While the ladies’ podiums matter, some of their most meaningful work isn’t competitive at all, but in promoting their sport. In Philadelphia they connected with fans over lunch on paper plates. Post-race, they did laps in New York’s Central Park, and rubbed elbows with fans at the Rapha Cycle Club New York. One girl in the crowd, captain of her high school’s road racing team, was beyond star struck, her eyes the size of saucers, to just be casually chatting with Alexis Ryan over hors d’oeuvres and LaCroix (sparking mineral water). Ryan’s interaction with the High Schooler was typical of the whole team: witty, funny and smart, and deeply engaging with the fans.
The Monday after the race, as the women of CANYON//SRAM gathered for their panel discussion, the CCNYC buzzed with activity – but there was truly nothing extraordinary about it. Talk wasn’t about the race, or the podium or the general rankings. Selfies greatly outnumbered autographs, and everyone wanted to know about the shoes Tiffany Cromwell had designed in partnership with Boa for the team. Talk centered around the universal elements of women’s cycling, the shared experience of training and travel, and what was popular at the breakfast buffet (Vegemite is not always a hit, we learned). Women who may have been strangers up to that point were chatting like dear friends. Under one roof, women from all sides of the cycling community had managed to bridge the gap, and it was anything but business as usual. Words by: Anna Maria DiazBalart of Pretty Damned Fast.