Now that I’ve extolled the virtues of our ‘never say die’ junior racers, I’d like to turn to the growing phenomenon that is Women’s Cyclocross on the front range.
I’ve been standing in the pits watching the women’s fields ride by for eight years now, so I think I have a pretty good perspective. The growth I’ve seen culminating in this season is nothing short of amazing. Many weekends, the SW4 category has been among the largest fields! This is a phenomenal success story that’s really heartening to see. I remember not long ago, when the women had few fields to choose from during the day and still it would be considered a ‘large field’ if it was over 20 riders!
Now, we have a Cat 4 field that is very respectably sized, feeding into a solid SW3 field that in turn is moving women up into the SW Open with nice frequency. Besides those three, we still also have Junior and Master’s fields as well! This has led to not only larger fields, but stronger ones, since more riders slows the upgrade process to an extent, giving riders more experience before being thrown into the shark tank that is the SW Open.
What has been especially cool is seeing women such as Deb Homan, Rhonda Mansell, and LeeAnn Benesh (and I’m sure there are many others, those are just the ones I know), who were athletes, but either uninterested or even intimidated by the idea of racing cyclocross. Now all three are regular and enthusiastic participants, smiling through the pain most weekends! LeeAnn took her first win last Saturday, and Rhonda has been doubling up, doing the 4’s and 35+ (back to back!) on most recent weekends!
The other fun thing to watch--and it’s a marked difference from the Men’s race that becomes immediately apparent from the pits or tapeside--is the vibe in the women’s races. While the guys will engage in aggressive argy bargy, even chopping each other’s lines or sprinting dangerously for 38th place, the women’s field presents a more genial, but no less competitive environment. They are absolutely trying to beat each other, but also display at least a modicum of caring, even mid-race. There have been numerous times when riders will pass the pits, letting a pit crew know their rider has an issue and will be coming in. I’ve even been instructed to give one of Kristal’s wheels on occasion to a competitor who flatted! Never seen THAT happen in the Men’s field… It reminds me of the line that was said about Katie Compton, that she would “rip your legs off, but go back to help you find them afterward”. I’m not saying by any means one is better than the other, but it’s great seeing the women’s fields grow to provide more balance to the environment.
I guess the point I’m trying to get to through all this rambling is that, while I’m happy to see more people participating in cyclocross, it’s even better if we can get the demographics more evenly dispersed. There have always been plenty of guys, but avid racers serve as our best recruiters, so the greater diversity we have, the more people we can get aboard! That in turn leads to a healthier community, more races (although this year’s schedule was a bit lean), and perhaps even sponsorship dollars if we’re smart about it!