North East Living Magazine - - Calendar -

ON April 21 more than 100 fe­male cy­clists are ex­pected to ride up Mt Buf­falo in North East Vic­to­ria’s alpine re­gion, as part of the in­au­gu­ral High Coun­try Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val. The three-day all-fe­male event will be based in Bright, the pop­u­lar tourist town that con­tin­ues to build its rep­u­ta­tion as one of the best on and off-road cy­cling des­ti­na­tions in Aus­tralia. Along with rid­ing tips and work­shops on bike main­te­nance and the like, the fes­ti­val prom­ises more than just cy­cling re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties and is packed with lo­cal foodie good­ness, post-ride plea­sures of great cof­fee and wine, plus ride re­cov­ery and re­ward ‘af­ter par­ties’ at lo­cal venues.

A lot of that might sound like the ul­ti­mate girls’ week­end away but there is a much greater pur­pose be­hind the event than women just en­joy­ing them­selves in a spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Cy­cling is a sport dom­i­nated by males with just one in three bike riders be­ing women, and when it comes to events that fig­ure drops dras­ti­cally with fe­males mak­ing up just 20 per cent of race com­peti­tors. De­spite the or­ganic growth in women’s cy­cling, in an alpine en­vi­ron­ment where road rid­ing is more chal­leng­ing, the gen­der im­bal­ance is strongly ev­i­dent in cy­cling and cy­cle-tourism. The aim of the High Coun­try Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val is to work to­wards clos­ing that gap.

The event’s or­gan­is­ers Michelle Arm­strong and Clare Holdsworth may be 250 kilo­me­tres apart liv­ing in Wan­garatta and Mel­bourne re­spec­tively, but to­gether they share a pas­sion for cy­cling and have been rid­ing for al­most the same length of time, about 15 years. Arm­strong took up the sport when she moved to Wan­garatta from Syd­ney hav­ing been a keen ocean swim­mer and run­ner while Holdsworth made the switch from spin class en­thu­si­ast to cy­cling af­ter de­cid­ing she wanted to ride to work.

Af­ter pur­chas­ing her first bike, Holdsworth quickly fell in love with cy­cling and in 2005 she jour­neyed across France on two wheels, an ad­ven­ture that saw her take a job with the com­pany she trav­elled with, Wide Open Road Cy­cling Tours. Five years later, in 2010, Holdsworth took over the busi­ness and it’s through her spon­sor­ship of Vic­to­ria’s 7 Peaks Ride, an at-your-own pace cy­cling chal­lenge to the top of seven Vic­to­rian alpine re­sorts, that she and Arm­strong even­tu­ally met.

“Michelle and I didn’t know each other but were put in touch by Tourism North East be­cause we both talked about the same type of is­sues, a love of the re­gion and pas­sion for women’s cy­cling,” Holdsworth said. >>

“The con­cept of the fes­ti­val grew or­gan­i­cally and here we are.” The main rea­son the two women linked up was be­cause the tourism body was look­ing to build fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in cy­cling af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing that women weren’t com­ing to the North East in the same ca­pac­ity that men were. The Au­dax Alpine Clas­sic, which is staged in Bright ev­ery Jan­uary, is the big­gest non­com­pet­i­tive race in the re­gion at­tract­ing al­most 2000 riders - it’s one that Arm­strong has rid­den for the past 10 years and says has al­ways had a sig­nif­i­cantly higher ra­tio of men to women although it ap­pears to be chang­ing.

“I started off on the 130km ride where there wasn’t a whole lot of other women and then when I started do­ing the 200km ride you could al­most count on one hand the num­ber of fe­male riders,” she said.

For this year’s ride, Arm­strong went back to the 130km dis­tance and said, across most rides, there was no­tice­ably more women than she could re­mem­ber pre­vi­ously. While the num­ber of women rid­ing in the High Coun­try anec­do­tally looks to be in­creas­ing, one of the rea­sons thought to be stop­ping more fe­males from tak­ing on the chal­lenge of rid­ing in the Alps is the climb­ing as­pect.

“In sport in gen­eral, I think women tend to un­der­es­ti­mate what they can do,” Arm­strong said.

“There are a lot of women who prob­a­bly ride on the flat or on un­du­lat­ing ter­rain but don’t feel con­fi­dent enough to ride up a mountain. I’ve taken so many women on climbs for the first time and they have ended up say­ing it wasn’t as hard as they thought. It’s just about do­ing it for the first time and be­liev­ing in your­self and if you get in a good rhythm on a bike with good gear­ing, which most have these days, it’s even eas­ier. Also with a woman’s smaller and lighter physique com­pared to most men we’re prob­a­bly bet­ter suited to climb­ing.”

Safety is be­lieved to be the other rea­son why fewer fe­males take up cy­cling and that’s why Vicroads, who un­der­stand the im­por­tance of cy­cling safety, will part­ner with the High Coun­try Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val. Arm­strong said the event will in­clude de­tailed plan­ning, traf­fic man­age­ment and safety pro­to­cols, un­der the guid­ance of Vicroads to en­sure a safe, ex­hil­a­rat­ing and en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence for all riders.

“We re­ally want to make the week­end as safe as pos­si­ble with­out hav­ing closed roads,” she said.

“We also didn’t want closed roads be­cause women who don’t

have good road skills need to learn to ride with traf­fic. There’s also go­ing to be a lot of safety mes­sages go­ing out about women reg­u­larly check­ing their bike, be­ing vis­i­ble by wear­ing bright clothes and hav­ing a flash­ing rear light which we are mak­ing com­pul­sory.”

While the High Coun­try Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val and other events like it have been held to en­cour­age more women to cy­cle, or­gan­ised rides put on by re­tail stores and cy­cling clubs as well as the live broad­cast of women’s rac­ing have helped too. Add to this the grow­ing num­ber of en­try to mid-range and mid to high-end bikes for ladies on the mar­ket, and an ever-in­creas­ing range of good look­ing and func­tional women’s cy­cling cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories, the gen­der gap among men and women on the road is nar­row­ing.

For the women head­ing along to the High County Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val, par­tic­u­larly those who haven’t done much climb­ing, the ul­ti­mate goal will be con­quer­ing the 72km re­turn ride up Mt Buf­falo from Bright. Holdsworth said women were dif­fer­ent to their male coun­ter­parts in that they are happy to fo­cus on the joys of rid­ing, the ex­pe­ri­ences that come with it in­clud­ing the sights, sounds and smells. They’re proud of the achieve­ment of where they have gone, rather than the time it’s taken them, their top speed and max heart rate.

The toll-booth at the foot of the Mt Buf­falo Na­tional Park is where the true climb­ing be­gins on the way to the Mt Buf­falo Chalet and from there, it’s just one nat­u­ral won­der af­ter an­other in a unique land­scape of im­pos­ing gran­ite tors, tow­er­ing cliffs, wa­ter­falls, lush eu­ca­lyp­tus forests, wild­flow­ers and na­tive ferns.

The High County Women’s Cy­cling Fes­ti­val (April 20-22) is a cel­e­bra­tion of women’s cy­cling with a fo­cus on fun, fit­ness, and friend­ship and to en­cour­age more women to ride and to ex­pe­ri­ence the beauty of the High Coun­try by bike.

“We want to share our knowl­edge, build con­fi­dence, push bound­aries and help women dis­cover new ride des­ti­na­tions with new friends,” said Holdsworth.

“We want to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for new riders to achieve some­thing they never thought was pos­si­ble and in­spire women to ride more moun­tains.

“We’re ex­pect­ing a mix of ages and rid­ing abil­i­ties and we’re sure it’s go­ing to be a re­ally sup­port­ive and en­cour­ag­ing en­vi­ron­ment for women, and both Michelle and I look for­ward to wel­com­ing peo­ple and see­ing the looks on some of their faces when they say they made it.”

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