As I had a bit more time on my hands, I wanted to try and get involved, and one thing that I knew I could do (with the help of the wonderful women in the hill climbing community) was to share our stories. This idea had been building slowly, and it was something I’d thought about as I’d done my (limited number of) ladies rides over the summer, we’d done some hill climb sessions and they loved them. I realised how much of hill climbing was about confidence; how a little knowledge about bikes, gears and cadence could really help people conquer their fears. My Cambridge cycling ladies had smashed these sessions, and many had gone back for more after we’d done our session (this really was the proof in the pudding!). So, sharing hints and tips worked, and it was something I thought we could do on a bigger scale. I sent out a message to as many of the hill climbing ladies as I could, and we discussed what we should call the hashtag to try and pull this all together. From there, the idea was born.
We wanted people to share their experiences of their first race, and what brought them to enter the national hill climb championships. We centred it around this event because it was coming up and was at the forefront of our minds at the time. I am hopeful that we can continue to use this hashtag next year to speak about other races.
As we launched this, it got me thinking and reflecting about how supportive cycling is, about my route into cycling, and how I have had a relatively easy ride (pardon the pun!). I am white, and middle class. I am a confident woman and luckily have the courage and opportunities to speak up. When I was getting into cycling I was in a triathlon club that welcomed women, I was taken under the wings of the supportive chaps at Brothertons Cycles in Birmingham, and I led ladies sessions and bike maintenance sessions for them. There’s plenty more about that in future blogs though. I have had one really bad experience when turning up to a local club – where I heard one chap say to another ‘oh, we’ll have to put the slow group on now that lady has turned up’. This was gutting, heart wrenching, and it really knocked me. I am a confident rider, with good ability, but this hit me hard. I was so upset. For the record, I did keep up, and I did feed back to their committee chairman. This has actually since resulted in a positive outcome, because now the club has a weekly women’s ride (covid permitting).
Many women don’t have such an easy ride, and I can see this all around me at races and when chatting to others. We need to have the confidence to speak up and to address the issues and barriers that we see, and we need to instill this in others too.
We started the hashtag, I figured no one would care or get involved. I suppose, like many things in my life, I thought I should probably just give it a go and ‘have a bash’. What did I have to lose? We were very lucky I think, people wanted to share their stories and were really keen to engage with us. In the first few days we had many shares, and so many engagements on Facebook and Instagram. I was blown away, that feeling hit me right in the stomach – we were making a difference and getting conversations started. People were sharing stories, for many this was their first season of racing; they’d been anxious, and worried about racing – but they’d overcome these barriers and they were there on the start line! Many people entered a couple of smaller races before the national championships, so they could have a bit of practice, and we shared a lot of hints and tips in relation to these. We shared stories too about how we’d got into cycling, what our background was, and why everyone should come and have a go!
From there, the ball kept rolling. We contacted some companies to see if they wanted to feature our campaign – we had a podcast feature with Rouleur, an article on their website too, as well as podcasts with the Cycle Station and Cambridgeshire 105 radio. Getting people talking about it helped raise awareness of our hashtag, but also about the bigger picture. I have been astounded at the response, and the coverage that we have got, and it’s meant the world to me that the year 2020 has had some really positive experiences for women cycling.
Through our continued campaign, we discussed media content with women in sport, and the lack of it – ‘if we can’t see it, we can’t be it’ (20x20_ie #cantseecantbe). All of these also go hand in hand with the Cycling Time Trials open letter that was written by Haddi Conant in October. One of the main points with #climbhighertogether was to link the two together; our positive experiences with an aim to increase women racing, as well as equality once people get into the sport. We’re fighting for equality in cycling in terms of overcoming barriers, but also in prizes and opportunities. This is not always about the money, but more about the inequality that is seen surrounding the prizes as a whole. We ride the same courses as the men (in time trials and hill climbs), we train just as hard, but all too often we are not rewarded in the same manner for our achievements. For example: If the first man is awarded £100 cash, then should the 1st female win a set of tyres? I think not.
The letter sets out the following stipulation:
We propose an amendment to CTT regulation 27 (k), that at a minimum, prize money for male and female competitors finishing in the top 3 across all age categories be equal provided there are a sufficient number of finishers within that category. An organiser may choose to award fewer than three prizes in a category, but this must apply to both male and female competitors. This level of equality is a minimum standard that we feel can be met at all events. Although our proposal does not in all cases provide the complete equality we feel is deserved, we aim to build a consensus that can be accepted universally.
If you’d like to sign the open letter please follow this link .
So… How can you get involved now?
We want people to share their questions, their pictures and stories with the hashtag, and we hope to plant the seed for other women to race in the future. In Laurie Pestana’s words; ‘we want this to be a movement, not a moment’. We need to keep this ball rolling, to keep the discussion going, to enable women to race and to raise the awareness of women’s racing from grass roots levels.