So I drove down to Chicago on Saturday morning with Rachel from ISCorp for the Tour of Elk Grove. You are forewarned that there may be some lengthy ranting in here. Let me first explain the setup of this race and a little background.
The Tour of Elk Grove started in 2006 with $153,000 total prize purse and two days of racing for both men and women - the P/1/2 women received $6500 of that on Saturday and the P/1 men got $25,000 for first place and what I assume to be an additional $25,000 or so (couldn't find an exact amount online) to round out the rest of the purse. A $30,000 total purse on Sunday and I assume perhaps a $2000 purse for women? Participation was 79 P/1 men and 35 women. In addition to the pro events there were also category races including beginner races for both men and women with substantial prizes as well. Good event with respect shown towards the women.
2007 brought year number two for the event. $200,000 total prizes for the weekend. Men now get three stages - a TT, road race, and a crit. $153,000 total purse for those guys. Women now get only one day of racing but there is a large purse of $12,000 and $4,000 of primes - very impressive but women are discouraged by only one day of racing. The promoters also include a Cat 3/4 womens race with a large $1000 purse. Attendance was 73 P/1 men and 35 women. And let me just say some very talented women - Brooke Miller, Gina Grain, Anne Samplonius, Kat Carroll, LVG, Kelly Benjamin, Catherine Cheatley, Chrissy Ruiter, among others. Practically a who's who of crit riders. Promoters voiced their displeasure of a poor attendance but I don't think they realized what they really had in that race.
And now we are to the 2008 Edition. The P/1 men get 3 days of racing and $165,000 purse plus some $15,000 or so in primes. The website shows that all of the women will race on the course on the same time - the 3/4 women 1 minute behind the P/1/2. It may be a 2 mile course but it's still not a good idea. Prize money is listed as $3000 (with a questionable $2000 of primes shown) for the 1/2 and $1000 for 3/4. Hmmm - cut down our money and put us all together. Way to encourage and develop the sport.
A final note before the report - this race occurs on the same weekend as the Presbyterian Criterium in Charlotte. This is an NRC and Women's Prestige Series Event with $25,000 for the women ($50,000 for the men). It is followed on Sunday with a $7500 crit for the women ($15,000 for the men) in nearby Winston-Salem, NC. I bring this up because having big races on the same weekend like this brings up a conflict for teams on where they should travel to. Although for the women there is little consideration for a race with $3000 when there is $25000 at an NRC event.
So what happened . . .?
There were about 15 1/2 women registered for the event and an additional 15 or so for the 3/4. Not much team representation with only 2 teams having 2 riders (Revolution, and ISCorp) and one team having 3 riders (Mercy). Everyone else was a solo rider from the Midwest. Devon H, Amanda M, Kristen M to name a few. At the line the official tells us that the races will be combined into one start time and one prize list of $2000/20 deep. This means that the cat 3/4 racers are just hoping that they can hold on to the pace of the 1/2 race. This is the first bicycle race for several of the women - what a way to be introduced to the sport. Disrespectful and incredibly negative. Carrie Cash and I look at each other and wonder whether we want to raise a little hell now or after the race. We voice our anger at this new arrangement but decide we will discuss this post race.
Amanda immediately goes to the front to string out the field. Revolution, Devon, and myself also take over the pacemaking to keep the field from bunching and getting dangerous. A few attacks are thrown down but nothing seems to stick. There are two $50 prime laps and I attack following one of those but the breaks are short lived. Kristen M is off solo for a lap but eventually that gets reeled in too. A $100 prime is called and 500 meters to the line I attack. Michelle Jensen is on my wheel and I slow up. She is out of the saddle and comes around me hard. I try to get on her wheel and with 100m to go am there and am just barely able to come around her to grab the money. There are now 2 laps to go and I am gassed from that effort. I sit in the field a bit and rest and figure I won't make my move until after the last corner with about 600m to go. No one really wants to lead things out and we are bunched up coming around the final corner. I am in a bad position in the middle of the group. I desperately wanted to maneuver up the right side and attack for the line but I couldn't get through traffic. The sprint starts and I pass a few people but end up 7. Kristen M showed us her impressive sprint and took the win. The dynamic of the race was a bit odd with the mix of solo riders and the vibe at the start line from the promoter and officials didn't help. I spoke with a few beginner women after and tried to reassure them races aren't always that fast and that they shouldn't let this discourage them.
Great job Kristen!
I cool down with Rachel and Devon and after changing come to the announcer's stand finding that I just missed a heated discussion amongst some of the women and the promoter. I wasn't there so I'm not going to go into too much detail but apparently the women were scolded a bit by the promoter (hello! we did our part and came to the race!) and were told that there will be no womens event next year (gee thanks!). The promoter did uphold the original $3000 prize list (thank you) but based on the entire field of all categories.
So a few things . . .
1 - Competitive cycling has always been a sport in which men race in far greater numbers than women. The amount of women has greatly increased in the past few years due to better outreach and development programs and also thanks to many race promoters who realize the need to have a beginners race in addition to an elite category race - and who also realize the high level of talent of the women and thus are willing to give them prize purses accordingly. Everyone associated with the sport should continue to take steps that will further decrease the inequality. Elite level women race and train hard for this sport - our dedication and sacrifices should not be treated so flippantly. Watch an elite level womens race at an NRC event (and many other events) and you will likely see an exciting, action-packed race. Just because there are 30 riders in a womens race compared to 100 in a mens race does not mean that the quality of the athletes or the race is any less. And for what it's worth there were only 55 men in the Pro race this year - not exactly growth compared to nearly 80 the past two years.
2- Womens cycling teams are relatively undersupported compared to mens squads. It is difficult for teams to stretch the budget to include races that span the country. It is even more difficult when races with a lot of money and prestige fall on the same weekend. We cannot be at two places at once.
3 - Many women look to get the most "bang for their buck" at races. If there are two events in a weekend it means we get two opportunities to race. We like to race our bikes. We don't need one race with $10,000 - give us two races with $5000/race and I guarantee riders will be more inclined to travel to the events.
4 - Participation of women in the sport will never grow if all categories are forced to race together. This is intimidating to beginner racers and dangerous for everyone. If you're entering your first bike race and are lined up with riders who have been racing for years you're probably not going to make it very long in the race. It will likely make you feel a bit self conscious and discourage you from entering another bike race. Do they ever stick Cat 5 racers with the pro men in a USCF sanctioned event? I don't think so.
Now if you still happen to be reading I encourage you to email this promoter and POLITELY and RESPECTFULLY give feedback. I especially encourage men who race to do this as apparently the promoter listens to and caters to men much more than women. If we can get male racers from some pro teams voicing their disapproval of these tactics we might somehow be able to get this promoter to bring back two days of racing and a SEPARATE beginners race for the women.
And I'm off the soapbox :) I don't mean to bash this promoter and I hope my comments don't offend anyone. These are just my opinions . . . that's what blogs are for, right? I'd appreciate any comments on the subject.
Luckily I still have one more weekend of crits to close out the year at Downer's Grove in two weekends. I didn't want to end my road season on such a sour note. I had a great 4.5 hour ride today with some friends and will spend the next few days working the sale at the bike shop
Just to close the post out on a light note I recently bought Cider some new dog food from Trader Joe's. I figured I might as well get her something a bit higher quality than the typical. She loves it! She's been chowing down the past couple of days. Here she is with her "holistic" dog food - contains blueberries, alfalfa, and Omega 3s!