RAC­ERS WITH­OUT BAR­RI­ERS

The special re­la­tion­ship be­tween fe­male pros and the fans

Procycling - - Prologue - SAÚL MIGUEL

The mem­ory of that rainy, windy and un­usu­ally cold day in the heart of the Basque Coun­try re­mains vivid. It was 9 June, 2013, and the last stage of that year’s Emakumeen Bira, the most im­por­tant women’s road race in Spain. A day of epic rac­ing. I was there with a friend to en­joy the race as a fan. Af­ter the fi­nal podium cer­e­mony, we went to meet the charis­matic and like­able Eve­lyn Stevens, third placed in GC.

We had been chat­ting with her be­fore the stage and she quickly recog­nised us. A few sec­onds later I found my­self ac­cept­ing a big, sil­ver, sparkly cup in my hands. “This is for you guys. Thanks for your sup­port.” I could barely hear my­self say­ing “I don’t have words for this, Evie.” Eve­lyn Stevens, cur­rent Hour Record holder, twice Olympian, mul­ti­ple Giro stage win­ner and Worlds medal­ist had given us her tro­phy as a gift, just hours af­ter we first met her.

Isn’t that amaz­ing? The thing is, women’s cy­cling is full of such sto­ries be­tween the riders and the fans, sto­ries that would seem rather un­likely in the much big­ger, highly pro­fes­sional and star-pop­u­lated world of elite male rac­ers.

This special re­la­tion­ship be­tween fans and riders is one of the most re­cur­ring top­ics when peo­ple dis­cuss the fu­ture of women’s cy­cling. Ev­ery­one wants the sport to be­come more pro­fes­sional, grow and have higher salaries, but would that dis­tance the fans? It’s per­haps a self­ish thought but it’s pre­cisely this close­ness that makes women’s rac­ing so special to its fans and it’s sad to think that it might dis­ap­pear if the women’s sport ever be­comes as big as it de­serves to be.

Fe­male pro­fes­sional cy­clists don’t earn a lot and few can make a liv­ing solely from rac­ing. Most have an­other job, oth­ers are still stu­dents. And all of them ride a bike be­cause they love it – it’s their pas­sion. How­ever, their pe­cu­liar sit­u­a­tion makes them aware that cy­cling isn’t ev­ery­thing. They don’t live in a cy­cling bub­ble – they are smart, ed­u­cated, have sev­eral in­ter­ests. Most of all, to quote the words of Wig­gle High5’s twice-in-a-row French TT cham­pion Audrey Cor­don-Ragot, “They are not in the star sys­tem”. That makes many of them great peo­ple to have a con­ver­sa­tion with. This is why fans tend to find it so grat­i­fy­ing to meet them, whether vir­tu­ally or in per­son. On Twit­ter you’ll find sev­eral en­thu­si­as­tic fans who have dozens of pro women riders as fol­low­ers. The cov­er­age of many women’s races is poor, so cy­clists them­selves of­ten have to rely on well-in­formed fans to know what’s hap­pen­ing in some of them. Other times they sim­ply fol­low them be­cause they are in­ter­ested in know­ing their thoughts – the role and voice of the fans in women’s cy­cling is more im­por­tant than you think. This has hap­pened to some of my col­leagues, and also to me. It’s lovely.

I re­call now the times when I was a teenager and tried to at­tend as many (men’s) races as pos­si­ble. Ob­vi­ously I hardly knew any­thing about women’s cy­cling back then. Most kids would try to ap­proach the big guns. How­ever, I was al­ways meet­ing the neo-pros. Friendly, ac­ces­si­ble, with no peo­ple around – it was so much eas­ier to have a chat with them, to ask for an au­to­graph or a photo. Many loved the fact that a kid recog­nised and wanted to speak to them. Of course, I was de­lighted at that.

In hind­sight, that re­minds me of what I see in women’s cy­cling now. The dif­fer­ence is that, in this case, it’s the top names of the sport who are so ac­ces­si­ble. If you ever at­tend a women’s race and feel like it, go to meet the riders and don’t hes­i­tate to say a po­lite ‘Hi!’ if you see them around in a re­laxed, ac­ces­si­ble mood. You’ll prob­a­bly go back home with a huge smile.

Saul Miguel is an oc­ca­sional race com­men­ta­tor for Span­ish Eurosport and a hugely en­thu­si­as­tic fan of both women's rac­ing and cy­clo-cross

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