The 2015 national cyclocross championship was the first time Kristi Berg, a professional cyclist for the past 21 years, saw more women than men compete at a cycling event. The male-dominated sport is growing and this brings forward questions about how to fairly incorporate women into a system that traditionally gives them fewer options.
“(My hope is) equal pay at the highest professional level and equal categories across the board at all levels,” Berg said. “If the men have a masters category offered, the women should have that same category offered.”
In most cases, the national championship excluded, women have the option to compete in only one race at any event.
Whether they are 19 years old or 40, women find themselves on the same starting line. Men cyclocross racers are divided up into multiple categories by age and skill level.
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The reason for this is that men competitors often outnumber women at least five to one.
“If we are not offered the categories, how will we grow?” Berg said. “We are limited only by the categories we are offered.”
In an effort to bring more women to cyclocross, Berg and Courtenay McFadden, another professional cyclist, will host clinics and practices focused on basic skills this September to get women ready for the Cascade Cross Series.
McFadden is teaching the first clinic on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the Padden Ball Fields. She will cover the basics of getting on and off a bike and also how to run with it, which is something racers need to do to get across barriers and through obstacles on a cyclocross course.
The Woolley Cross will kick off the series on September 26 at the Northern State Recreation Area. Berg will be teaching correct body placement, control and braking for maneuvering a race course, while also how to start strong and get over obstacles fast prior to the race.
Cyclocross is a mostly off-road sport, combining the ruggedness of mountain biking on an obstacle course with the competitive style of road racing on a bike built for speed in all terrain.
Of all cycling sports, cyclocross is the one that has been growing in numbers the most in recent years, Berg said. She attributes the interest to the family atmosphere and close-knit course style.
Having viewed the sport as a competitor for over 20 years, Berg has watched the recent influx of beginners with hope. Even in the elite field, numbers are shifting. At nationals in January, 55 professional women competed and 54 professional men.
“In my 20 years of competing at an elite level, that has never happened where we had equal, or one more, than pro men,” she said. “That I think is showing we are seeing some growth all the way up to the top levels.”
But growing numbers of women are not all Berg hopes to see. She looks at the equality of numbers and wonders why there is not equality of pay.
“There is a huge difference in payout between the men and the women in the elite field,” she said.
A Union Cyclist Internationale race, a worlds level race, sets a minimum payout for men and women cyclists. For men, an win might be around $10,000 but for women it would be only $2,000, Berg said.
“There is a huge movement in women’s to try and get equal pay,” she said. “If we are out there doing the same race, just because we don’t have as many people, why are we being penalized and not able to make the same amount of money when we are doing the exact same physical thing. It’s the same course.”
Some argue the number of women simply does not justify an equality of competitive options, but the Seattle-based Washington Women of Cross have proved this idea to be inaccurate the past three years with the annual Washington Women of Cross Festival and Women Celebration Race.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, races for children, mothers, all skill levels for women and a men’s race brought more than 200 women to compete in the only women’s specific event in the country.
The Washington Women of Cross have flipped the tables on traditional cyclocross competition by offering competitive divisions to women.
The clinics and practices Berg and McFadden are hosting formed around the same idea that women should have the opportunity to race cross and their numbers will grow with community support.
"Our main goal is to get more women riding and racing off road bikes," said Kirsten Jensen, who is organizing the events.
Local bike shops, Kona Bicycle and Jack’s Bicycle Center, have donated demo bikes. Participants can also bring their own bikes to the clinic, even if they are not cyclocross -specific.
Jack’s will have a bike technician at the clinics to work with anyone who has questions about the mechanics of their bicycle.
"I think mountain biking and cyclocross can be intimidating for some people when they are first starting out,” Jensen said.
The clinics lead up to the start of a local cyclocross event series, with the goal of preparing first time racers to compete.
The Cascade Cross is an annual series of races based out of Bellingham. The Woolley Cross is the first event of the 2015 five-race series, taking place immediately after the clinic on September 26.
The last Woolley Cross was in 2013. At that race 141 men and 29 women competed, which is evidence of how male-dominated the sport is, Jensen said.
"The last couple years I have just gotten really interested in getting more women into the sport of mountain biking and cyclocross," she said.
The clinics and practices will be taught by women who are active role models in the sport, Jensen said.
McFadden, a personal trainer and professional cyclocross champion, has been competing in USA Cycling events since 2009. Last season she stood on 10 UCI platforms and finished second overall in USA Cycling’s Pro CX calendar.
Berg has been competing and winning cycling events for 21 years and began teaching 10 years ago. She has championship titles in cyclocross, mountain bike and road bike events.
Both women are representative of what she knows the women cyclocross community can be, Jensen said.
Walk-ups are allowed for both the clinics and practices. There is also online preregistration through bikereg.com/wwrx.
Cyclocross Clincs and Practices
5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Clinic and Practice
Padden Ball Fields
Host: Courtenay McFadden
September 16 and 23
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Padden Ball Fields
8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Northern State Recreation Area
Host: Kristi Berg