Photo courtesy of Huw Williams
I’m going to start this with my own invention of a ‘pre scriptum’ and say the following:
I understand we are all busy people and that I am very well known for talking and rambling. But I request that each and every one of you has an attempt at reading this; I’ve done my best to make it as interesting and entertaining as I can. Most importantly, if you’re part of the Junior Girls Racing Forum, you have a personal interest in what I’m saying. We are all here for the same reason after all – we want to race. And we want to race people of our ability and age and have tough, fair, and real competition. So I plea that you remain with me for as long as you can.
First of all, I hope everyone’s had a nice start to the new year. For some of us this means assuring ourselves that this year will be different and we will be a better person. Train more, eat healthier, go to bed earlier – all the things that happen for the first 3 weeks of the year but by the end of January are mere distant dreams from our past and we find ourselves laying on the sofa, binge watching Gossip Girl on Netflix with an empty packet of chocolate fingers atop our ever-growing tummies at 3am on a Tuesday night (is this a recount of true, personal events, you ask? Perhaps…). But for all of us it means one very important thing – new season! New licences; a new category for some; and mostly, spending hours on the BC website planning our year around races and emptying our (or our parents’) wallets on race entry fees.
This is when I’ll stress again – we’re all here for the same reason. We’ll scroll through the BC calendar this year, pencil in a few local races and perhaps, for some, have a glance at the bigger, tougher, longer women’s races. This can be demoralising. What are we supposed to enter? We, as junior girls, feel somewhat isolated.
Why do we do it? The training; the freezing, long miles. We do it because we love it. We love racing and riding hard against one another. We all want to do it and we’ll work hard to do it. We’ll get up and go out on our bikes in sub-Arctic temperatures before sunrise. We’ll sit in the car for long hours with our parents, listening to their ‘old school’ music, to travel to races and do what we love. However, I am aware that you all know this, you know that we love riding our bikes fast and hard. In reality, organising races specifically for junior women can be very tough – we understand that. This is where I will attempt to address some of these issues associated with organising these types of races. I’ll go into some interesting statistics here, because numbers are, after all, the best method of proof. Feel free to skip past this if this kind of thing doesn’t interest you.
The first problem someone will always raise is that of participant numbers. This is usually an issue with women’s and girls’ racing, but has become increasingly insignificant in recent years. In 2015, the National Youth Circuit Series consisted of 7 rounds with a separate National Championship held in the depths of Paisley, Scotland. Excluding the IOM youth tour, which is after all, for most of us, on a different island, the average number of riders per race in the U16 Girls category was 55. A large percentage of these girls move up into the junior ranks this season and are all as keen as each other to continue racing on the national scene. Furthermore, 164 U16 girls scored points in the national rankings last year. That means 164 girls who, although they may not want to or are able to compete at a national level, want to race. Another issue suggested is that of spread of ability. People can organise these brutal, long races and it’s all well and good that 60+ riders enter, but it’s fairly pointless when there’s no more that 6 finishers. This is also merely myth. Of the 8 national youth circuit races this year (7 national series and a national championship), there were 80 top ten positions available. In the U16 girls category, 29 different riders filled those 80 top 10 spots and the wins of these 8 races were shared between 5 individuals.
This proof of the lack of ‘ability gap’ is corroborated with the surprising number of riders who scored points in these races. If you think back 10 years to 2006 – ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley topped the charts and gothic skull-and-cross-bone scarves were all the rage. For some of us this will feel like longer ago than others, some of us were 7 or 8 years old, but most importantly in our case, in 2006, 17 U16 girls scored points in the national circuit series. Points are awarded for the top 20 positions which means that, in fact, only 17 girls competed in the series in that year. This wasn’t irregular for this time either. In 2008 just 18 girls scored points and in 2009 just 22. This figure increased rapidly twice; once in 2011 and again in 2014. In 2014, 59 girls scored points in the series and 51 girls did so last year. From these numbers we can see not only the speedily increasing standard of girls racing in the UK, but also the vast increase in participation. Youth and junior girls racing is progressing. We need to keep up.
We understand that this may not be enough. There are indeed still many obstacles. Organising any race is tough and becomes tougher when there is a worry about entry numbers and general logistics. All we are arguing here is that it is worth it. There is a cause you are aiding. There are people who will benefit from this and would greatly appreciate it. In September 2015, 1620 people signed the petition for a junior girls national series and 1620 people still agree such a series should go ahead. Offers to organise such races were in the tens, and the petition even made it onto the Cycling Weekly website. The issue of money should be able to be solved with this kind of publicity that will surely attract sponsorship.
If you all, in your capacities as organisers, volunteers, parents or whatever else it may be work together to create a series of some sort it will undoubtedly be very successful – more so than any individual races. If you can find some tough, testing courses and fair length races, we can make this a huge success and change the face of junior girls racing in the UK. If you do your bit, we’ll do ours. We’ll enter the races we’ve longed for. We’ll train hard and we’ll race harder. We’ll prove to everyone that we deserve these races as much as the boys do. We’re not asking for a full 9-race series including stage races and epic 100km+ races. We’re just asking for somewhere where we can do what we love and show that girls can race just as hard as boys.