Their male counterparts might get most of the attention
— and the prize money — but women bike racers are starting to make
their presence known in Central Indiana.
Gone are the days when only a couple of women would toe the
starting line at a race; during the recent Indy Crit, nearly 40 female
competitors tried to outpedal their peers across two races. Racing for Riley's
Bri Clark took the top step on the pro/1/2 podium and will be one of the top
favorites for the Mass Ave Criterium along with Team Nebo Ridge's Sydney Hatten
and Team Indiebike's Sierra Siebenlist.
Where are the new racers coming from? Veterans such as
Nicole Borem, who started in BMX in 1988 to become one of the dominant racers
in the road, mountain and cyclocross disciplines, suggests that the fun and
welcoming atmosphere of 'cross is
helping introduce women into the sport. Speedway Wheel (wo)man Sarah
Fredrickson also sees several women following her example of moving from
Indiana University's Women's Little 500 into the larger racing world.
The increasing number of women competitors allows promoters
to host two separate women's fields, a pro/elite field, as well as a field for
the less experienced riders.
"I've noticed that the level of competition has increased
tremendously just in the past year," said A Cycling Team's Janet Sherman, who
is gunning for victory in the women's Cat 4 race. "For the same courses, the
winner's time from the year before would not have guaranteed a podium spot this
year. Also, I see a larger turnout for Cat 2 women this year than last year. I
think more women are realizing that they're not the only ones who are out
riding their bikes and don't have to be pro-level to go out and have some fun
competition with other ladies. It is also a great way of meeting other women
who share similar levels of passion for riding their bikes."
Fredrickson agreed that more needs to be done to nurture
"Getting more women involved is a big key to stepping up our
game," she said. "It would be nice to have even more races available for
different categories. But in order to do this, the women (and men) in the sport
need to encourage beginner racers. Often times, beginners are ignored or, in
the case of some open category races, yelled at for being in the way or not
knowing what to do in a race. I realize this yelling is usually in response to
an unsafe situation, but I do think we can be a nicer and more supportive
community. If we want more people to race, we need to do a better job of getting
and keeping them there."
The newer riders have their work cut out for them if they
want to topple the current queens of the mountain, which Sherman's teammate
Rebecca Zink is finding out this year. Zink had a remarkable season last year,
winning a national championship in mountain biking and state championships in
both road and cyclocross. But she's since moved up a level in each discipline
and is finding it hard to duplicate her previous success.
The competition is undoubtedly much tougher at the elite
level. Borem, who will ride for Don Walker Cycles in cyclocross this year, was
back winning elite races just five months after a pulmonary embolism nearly
took her life. Little 500 Hall of Famer Clark earned a spot on the elite Nature
Valley Pro Chase team earlier this year. Siebenlist graduated from famed
cycling powerhouse Marian University, winning a national championship on the
track, and has competed several times in the BMX world championships.
Fredrickson is a monster on the bike and a threat to win any mountain or
cyclocross race she enters. Hatten and Team Indiebike's Jennifer Cvar win or
podium in nearly ever race they enter.
"I'd say Indiana women's cycling is very comparable to other
Midwestern states, if not at the top of the list," Siebenlist said. "I race a
lot in Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois where they have a decent women's cycling
scene, but if we were to have a battle of the states I'm pretty sure the strong
women of central Indiana would sweep the podium."
Racing is nearly as fast but just as furious when it's done
by racers with two X chromosomes, but there's still some inequality at play
– at least when it comes to race payouts.
At the Mass Ave crit, the admittedly larger field of pro/1/2
men will split a nearly $2,000 purse, while the pro/1/2 women will be fighting
over a $600 purse – less than what some amateur men's fields will
collect. Should women get paid as much as the men? Surprisingly, many female
racers say no, or at least not yet.
"I don't really think (we) should either, as much I would
like to say yes," Borem said, but adding a caveat. "We have fewer numbers and
that's the bottom line. I do think it is wrong to pay Cat 4 and Cat 3 men more
than the women's 1/2. We may be going slower then those lower cats, but in
reality we have worked just as hard and put in just as much racing and travel
time to earn similar pay as the Cat 1/2 men, not amateurs. So not equal pay,
but more than the lower Cats and more than what they offer now."