One of the best parts about watching the Tour de France is the opportunity to learn something new about the world of professional cycling. While the drama of the stage race combined with the drama of personalities and politics makes for an entertaining month of sport TV, the Tour de France is also an opportunity to learn insider tricks of the trade for your own cycling adventures. For instance, this year we’ve learned that perhaps the most important thing one can do in cycling is to stay on his or her bike.
But we’ll save talk of crashes for another day.
Marveling at the beauty of bike racing over the weekend brought a round of googling to answer the question — what about the women? Currently, some of the top female cyclists in the world are in Italy for the Giro Donne, the women’s version of the famed Giro d’Italia, while others are racing across the United States in relative obscurity, but with the same passion and athleticism as their male counterparts.
Lisa Hunt, the owner and director for Team VBF, said her cycling team has three goals: 1. To win races; 2. To raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research and 3. To promote the sport of cycling among women.
What exactly is the status of women’s pro cycling in the United States? Here’s today’s Q&A with Lisa:
What is the relationship like between a cycling team and a charitable foundation as a title sponsor?
Hunt: This is a new sponsorship for this team and we’re really excited about it. It’s interesting because you’re seeing more and more cause-related sponsors within teams. It’s become more popular and we’re one of the first teams that is really giving back to a cause that we feel very strong about. Breast cancer is a disease that impacts women, and men too, of all ages and races and even athletic women. It’s a great way to combine athletics, a female-oriented sport and a cause-related sponsorship.
What do you see as the status of women’s pro cycling in the United States?
Hunt: In the United States we have a history of some of the best female cyclists in the world. We have gold medalists and several world champions. We have one of the strongest national teams in the world competing at the highest levels in Europe right now and they’re on top of the podium. (Through Tuesday’s fifth stage of the Giro Donne, Mara Abbott of the US National Team is fourth overall.)
Women’s cycling is changing and changing for the better. It’s still quite a challenge but more and more industry sponsors are starting to recognize how strong the women’s competition is and how bright and intelligent these women are for spokespeople. We have a long way to go. We’re still playing second fiddle to the men. The goal is to do what Billy Jean King did for tennis. We can’t boycott cycling races, but we want to get into races, we want equal prize money, equal distances, equal events.
Part of your team goals is to get more women into cycling. Can you speak to that?
Hunt: One of the things we’re very lucky is to have a relationship to Specialized. We’ve been promoting their Amira bike — a women’s specific bike. We’re also using their women’s specific bike shoes, women’s specific helmets. What’s unique about Specialized is that they don’t take a men’s product and add pink or flowers to it. They listen to what women’s needs are and develop products tailored to the needs of women. They really listen. They talk to a lot of women and we’ve been able to provide feedback for them, too.
What’s your advice for women going into a bike shop?
Hunt: I find that 9 out of 10 women are very intimidated about going into a bike shop. It’s a male-dominated sport and bike shops are usually dominated by men who work there. Part of our job is to help them overcome some of their fear.
One tip is that you should make a list of what you want to get out of bicycle. What are you looking for? If you want to be able to commute back and forth around the neighborhood, you should say that. If you’re looking to get into more long distance or endurance riding with friends, look for a bike with comfort. You should get the right fit on your bike. Have al list of your needs and make sure the bike shop is not trying to push and sell you on one brand or one style. The important thing when buying a bike is your comfort on it and that it’s the right fit.
What do you suggest for women who want to get better at riding?
Hunt: I always encourage people to do more group rides whether it’s with women or men or both. The sport in so many ways is a social sport and can be so much more fun when you’re riding with others. If you’re interested in watching your results improve, I suggest to look for a coach to give appropriate training or read more in-depth about training in magazines and books.
But the important thing is this is a sport you can have fun with. The more you’re having fun, the more you’ll see signs of improvement. I also coach cyclists and when they take it too seriously, sometimes I say to put a smile on you face and stop thinking about things and believe it or not, their results get better.