I’m personally very invested in (and a member of) the CRCA Women’s Development Series, a program that is helping lead the charge to introduce women, trans, and femme (WTF) cyclists to bike racing. The series spans the entirety of the CRCA season and includes two clinics, simulating a race with mentors and coaches riding alongside those new to the sport, and a specific field for Category 4 and 5 WTF riders.
I got started bike racing last year with a WDev clinic. A year ago, I was one of the newcomers, standing off in the corner, wondering why the hell so many people got up so early to ride in circles. A year later, I’m immensely proud to be one of those crazy people up and pre-dawn hours and I want to share the joy of racing with every new person who likes bikes enough to come try out racing with us. We had some fierce competitions this year, with some of our Women’s Development racers getting enough points to head into Category 3 (or higher!) races during the 2019 season. On the flip side, we had several new riders who swore up and down only a few months before the season started that they had no interest in road racing - and now they have not only held their own in CRCA races but crushed crits and even cyclocross competitions.
I interviewed a couple of our Women’s Development racers for this retrospective to give both longtime CRCA members and, hopefully, some new bike-racing-curious WTF riders some insight into what it’s like to take part in our series.
E: How did you get into bicycling?
N: I first started cycling several years back with a local cycling club in England - Twickenham Cycling Club. I’d see them meet up for weekend 40 mile club rides, a distance I could barely wrap my head around. The thought of achieving that distance on two wheels was mind blowing and enough for me to want to take part. TCC taught me the fundamentals of group riding and introduced me to an incredible community of riders from beginner to experienced.
E: How did you decide to race road bikes?
N: I was burning out in triathlon. I’d done several tri seasons and no longer found joy in balancing 3 sports so I decided to focus on the one I enjoyed the most - cycling. Road racing felt like a natural progression, I had always enjoyed the race experience and wanted to continue to racing. The team element and strategy that goes into road racing was also really interesting to me. I wanted to be a part of that and learn more.
E: What made you decide to join CRCA?
N: Watching the women's field race CRCA Central Park races was really inspiring. I wanted to be a part of it and see if I could hang in there or at least work towards trying to. After some research on the CRCA website I realized there was a really great structure to joining and a deep history to CRCA racing - over 100 years. Getting to take part in that felt iconic and an experience to be treasured, how New York.
E: What was your first experience with the CRCA community (a race, an event, a clinic, etc?)
N: I attended a New Members Orientation held at Rapha. In all honesty, the idea of attempting to join the athletes I’d seen in Central Park was really intimidating. CRCA host several New Members Orientation sessions and I felt like that was a great way to learn more about racing and meet fellow newcomers. I walked away with a whole new respect for the effort that goes into keeping these races safe and fun, and also an introduction to a community along with resources to help get me on my way. The things I learned and people I met in that session gave me the confidence to take the next step and jump into a New Members Skills session before my first race.
E: Over the course of the season, what have you learned about yourself, the club, and/or racing in general?
N: I’ve learned a lot about where my strengths and weaknesses in racing lie. I’ve also learned that there’s a huge community out there to help you develop.
E: Have the expectations you had going into CRCA been met or changed since you started racing? How and why?
N: Absolutely. The intimidation of feeling like I wasn’t good enough to take part has most definitely gone. I now feel like I’m part of a community and was fortunate enough to join a really great team that have filled me with confidence and given me great guidance. What’s more is that as part of CRCA you get to contribute by marshalling, it takes an army of volunteers to put on these races and I think it’s fantastic that all racers contribute in making it happen.
E: What would you say to another woman who was interested in trying out bike racing?
N: If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the CRCA website and browse the calendar. Get yourself to a New Members Orientation and Skills Clinic, you’ll meet great people that are on the same journey as you to help get you on your way.
E: How did you hear about CRCA?
M: It’s funny, this is so hard to remember and I only just started racing this year. It feels like I’ve known CRCA forever. Honestly, it would be a combination of (the amazing) Tara Parsons inviting me to a CRCA CX skills clinic after the 2018 Women’s 100 Ride and you telling me to go to the Central Park races.
E: What made you take the leap from riding to racing?
M: It happened once I got a real road bike and learned what fast was and realized I wanted more. A lot more.
E: Have the expectations you had for what CRCA would be like changed over the course of the 2019 year?
M: Yes! I started off thinking I’d just want to volunteer and not race at all because at that point I loved watching bike racing but wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to do it. Later I realized I did. Though I still like volunteering, sometimes my favorite part of being a member is when you’re in your assigned marshaling spot in Central Park, whistle in hand, and you can just see the sun peeking out over the trees. Soon, bikes will be coming. And after I get to go on a (Muffin) Scone Ride.
E: What are your goals or expectations for next season? What are you doing between the end of this season and the start of 2020 CRCA in March?
M: Honestly, I would love love love to contest for a sprint finish in Central Park. Nothing would bring me more joy. Except perhaps more gravel.
Between road seasons, there is this space of time called cyclocross season. Though once cyclocross wraps up in Nov/Dec, I’ll be looking forward to more ice-cold rides with you and not looking forward to sitting on the trainer.
E: Do you have any advice for new racers, or words of wisdom, to get them to their first clinic or race?
M: I would say…you never know if racing is the thing for you and it’s always worth giving it a shot. In your first race no one’s gonna care how fast you are or if you don’t have the “correct” kit or bike. Just go out and see what sticks.
If you’d like to learn more about the Women’s Development Series, please reach out to Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at https://www.crca.net/womens-development-series. While the 2020 season might be a few months off, women ride indoors and outside all year round - and we’d love to meet you and give you a head start before the new year begins!