by Kat Hunter
State Road Race Championships, my husband and I caught the finale of the Elite women’s 2014 World Championship road race. Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson, Elisa Longo Borghini, and Lizzie Armitstead—representing the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, and Great Britain—get a gap on the last climb, but with roughly 1K remaining, they slow, looking at each other and over their shoulders, no one willing to work for another’s victory. As a spectator, it’s agonizing to see the move fail, all that talent and firepower just sitting back and setting the table for the pack of hungry sprinters behind. When the break is enveloped by the chase group of 11, the four contenders try to reshuffle themselves into a good position, but it’s too late. Vos, the most dominant female cyclist of our time, starts the sprint early and visibly fades. The pack is spread out across the road, and four riders cross the line so close together that even though Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France raises her hand in victory, when the cameras show her waiting for the final verdict you can tell she’s not certain she got it. On the broadcast I can’t hear what the people crowded around her are saying, and there’s no commentary from the announcers, but I don’t need sound to know why the 22-year-old Frenchwoman bursts into tears on screen: she’d just been told she was world champion.
This has been an exciting year for women’s cycling. Inaugural events like La Course, a women’s circuit race held just before the final stage of the men’s Tour de France, and the one-day women’s race at the Tour of Utah have meant new venues and new opportunities for publicity and competition. Rumor has it that both the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge will host multi-day pro women’s events next year. Cycling fans have a host of top U.S. pros to follow at home and abroad, and Texas can certainly be proud of its own in the pro peloton. Dallas native Lauren Stephens (Team TIBCO) has dominated the national racing calendar, ranking first overall in the NRC’s 2014 individual standings, and Houston-based Mandy Heintz had a successful first year racing professionally, capping off the season by riding for Team USA at the Ladies’ Tour of Holland and Lotto Belisol in Spain.
Texas races have had good turnouts, with many promising new female racers coming onto the scene, seemingly at younger and younger ages. The Driveway Series has seen a record number of women participants in 2014; Wienot Films recently put Austin’s female cycling community in the spotlight in a lighthearted highlight video that shows why women’s racing at the Driveway is “addictive.” Some local race organizers and sponsors have offered a healthy prize purse for the Texas women’s P12 field. Because of her UCI pro classification, Lauren couldn’t take home the P12 champion jersey last Saturday at the state road race, but she did get a $1,000 check for first and $250 for the QOM.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives, to say that women’s cycling is getting the short end of the stick compared to the men, and no doubt it’s true that we have a long way to go. I like that juxtaposition between the world championship and the state championship, though, my husband and baby and me rushing out the door after watching that dramatic, rainy world’s finish in Ponferrada, Spain, to see my teammate Katie Kantzes cross the line solo a few hours later as the Cat 3 State Champion in hot, desolate Fort Hood. Watching Katie finish, I was the one nearly in tears—I knew how hard the rest of the team had worked for this, and how excited they would be. Again, I thought, “What a race.” And what a year. I like that these stories, at every level of women’s amateur and professional cycling, are now out in the world, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Links of interest:
Lauren Stephen’s interview with Reynolds – Pro cyclists and TIBCO teammates Lauren Stephens and 15-year-old Skylar Schneider talk about what it means to be a pro woman cyclist and the future of the sport.
Tiff Cromwell’s Worlds Race Report – The most well-written and entertaining race report I’ve come across so far on the ins and outs of the 2014 world championship road race.
20-rider Worlds Pileup – The 2014 world championship road race had more than just a dramatic finish. On the second lap, a nasty crash sends 20-something riders to the hospital, including the entire Canadian team.
TBR’s Interview with Tayler Wiles about La Course – In this August 2014 interview, Specialized-Lululemon’s Tayler Wiles tells TBR about what it’s like to be a part of the first La Course.