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As a race promoter in Southwestern Ohio who puts on 15-20 events (mainly road) each year, I would like to chime in a bit. For the past couple of years, I have been listening to the local women racers and trying to improve the race quality in the area as far as category breakdowns, prize money, and if possible, age groups. I have been experiencing a lot of the same things everyone has mentioned above with the small field sizes. Only 13% of licensed racers in USA Cycling are women. What do we need to do to increase this number?
I have been putting on a weeknight race series the past couple of years that is geared towards giving the entry level racers some additional race experience. I would typically have 6-7 women each week in the Women's Cat 3/4 field. I did have one week that brought out 11 women, but also had another week that only brought out 1 woman. These races also offered the same prize money for this women's field as it did the Men's Cat 3/4 field which would have 30+ riders in it.
A couple of years ago, I put on a road race that had two separate women's fields (not racing together) with a large prize purse. It ended up being the lowest turnout of women I had all year and was a huge disappointment. This was something the women were asking for, separate fields and real prize money. I offered it up, and no one showed. It;s a shame that those who are most vocal won't come out and support the promoters who are trying to fight for them.
It appears to me that we need to work on getting more women into the sport. I have been trying to do this with regular races and have even been a culprit of using the phrase "more welcoming" or "less intimidating" for the women. For 2012, I am working on a women and junior weeknight training series that will specifically target the cat 4/citizen women who may be intimidated by the "Big Races" we have. We will have coaches on hand to work with the riders how to handle the course and other riders as well as a Sports Psychologist to handle the mental obstacles that newer racers have. In addition, I am also planning on putting on an "Intro to Bike Racing" seminar that just explains the different types of bikes races, what USA cycling is, what the different categories mean and how to get started in bike racing. This seminar will also have coaches on hand as well as several of our local teams recruiting so that a newer racer will have the support system as their finger tips before they even buy their first race license.
The hardest part about women's racing is getting the women to show up. The best part is the gratitude expressed from the women who do show up and recognize the hard work that I am putting in for them, even if it is they same 6 or 7 women that come out to all of the races.
3 years ago on Women’s Wednesdays: The Women Of Cyclocross Speak Up