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Top women cyclists reveal their inspirations ahead of '100 Women in Cycling'

In the run-up to Cycling UK’s '100 Women in Cycling', three leading women talk about those who first encouraged them to get on a bike

Laura Laker
30 Apr 2019

Three quarters of women who take up cycling do so thanks to encouragement from a family member, friend or colleague, according to research, and arguably it’s being involved in a strong cycling community that keeps people riding.

As part of its month long Women’s Festival of Cycling, the national cycling charity Cycling UK is asking people to nominate those women who inspire others to ride and who work in their communities, often behind the scenes. That could be anything from organising cycling lessons, to community rides for women, to racing.

The charity found that of 1,823 women it surveyed, 75% were encouraged to ride by people they knew.

‘Based on surveying our female members, we know for many women it’s their female friends, family and colleagues who inspired them to start cycling. Women aren’t just inspiring others to try out cycling, but also to continue riding,' says Helen Cook, Cycling UK’s head of engagement.

Cyclist asked some inspirational women in cycling about the women who encouraged, inspired and enabled them to be the riders and women they are today – and who they would nominate.

You can nominate someone to be part of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling 2019 here. Nominations close on 3rd May

Helen Wyman

10-time British Cyclocross National Champion, twice Cyclocross European Champion, mentor, women's cycling advocate and many more things

How did you first get into cycling?

'My parents used to ride bikes, and they put me on the back of the tandem from when I could walk. We went on cycling holidays to the north of France and in the UK. I started racing when I was 14.'

Who inspired you in your career?

'Louise Robinson [former UK mountain bike Olympian] and Hanka Kupfernagel [German former Cyclocross World Champion]. Hanka was who I wanted to be. She was never afraid of anything; she won the first ever women’s Cyclocross Worlds in 2000, when Louise came second.

'I was 19 by then. She has had, I think, 35 national titles, across every cycling discipline, she won a medal at the Olympics on the track. She was ridiculously good. When she was riding 'cross, she was skilful, she looked strong and smart, and she never seemed to crack.'

Did you try to ride like her?

'I think cyclocross is a very personal thing. When we were racing each other, we were very different. I couldn’t follow her lines, and she wouldn’t have thought to follow my lines.

'I was 14 in 1995, racing against riders like Nicole Cooke, before there was any way of accessing women’s sport. The internet wasn’t the internet, there was no social media, no coverage of women’s racing. We were on a CTC ride once and we were camped near Beryl Burton, and I didn’t know who she was.'

Who would you nominate for the 100 Women in Cycling?

'Kate Courtney, the mountain bike women’s World Champion. I think she’s a very good role model for young riders. Her social media presence is incredibly balanced, it’s about bike riding, and being the best at what she can do.

'She puts out great Instagram stuff; she hasn’t got a single bikini shot, she’s not using what she looks like, she uses what she does to promote herself, and her sport – it’s about what she does, how she’s achieving it. That’s something I feel is really important to young people.

'She’s out riding, training, sharing her strength work. She eats cake, and puts that up, the stuff we all know we do but she does it in a really good way. The mountain bike girls, Jolanda Neff included, have got it pretty well dialled.'

You have done a lot to support younger riders. Can you say something about that?

'Helen 100 used crowdfunding to pay for every under-23 woman who raced the nationals this year. We did that, and had a bit of money at the end, from the women at the 5th Floor Cycle Club, to fund the first ever junior international cyclocross race at the DVV Cyclocross Series.

'There’s not a single international junior race in the world, so we did the first one, a standalone junior girls’ race. We had 48 women from 12 different nations, and a British girl came second. Next year, we are hoping to have four of these.

'Helen 100 is all about promoting youth girls, to give them opportunities to stay in the sport. It created a bit of a community, and a junior race is really important for the top level competition, because how are countries going to put riders forward for the Worlds if there isn’t a race for them?

'I’m also mentoring Anna Kay and Manon Bakker, riders from the team I ended my career with [Experza-Footlogix].'

What’s key to getting more women into cycling, in your opinion?

'I think one of the biggest things is creating a community. It doesn’t matter what age you are. When a young rider starts racing the mum might take up 'cross at those events, too, and find a community with other women.'

Elinor Barker

Team Drops, Olympic gold medallist and World Champion in track disciplines

Who inspired you to start riding, or throughout your career?

'When I was younger, Nicole Cooke was the big role model to look up to. She was fantastic for the sport and spent a lot of time interacting with young people in the area we lived in. I think I’ve been lucky in that I could almost take women’s success and visibility in sport for granted when I was younger as I was exposed to so much of it through Nicole.'

Who would you nominate?

'I can name a huge number of inspiring female cyclists for so many reasons, there are some incredible stories of women racing bikes at the moment. I’ve been inspired recently by the resilience of riders such as Vicky Williamson and Lauren Dolan [both Team GB track cyclists] who have recently returned to racing after having some pretty nasty crashes.'

How important are women role models in cycling?

'Role models are invaluable in cycling. It’s a cliché, because it’s true, that if you can see it you can be it. It’s so important to see role models of all kinds competing and showing all kinds of inspirational attributes, from Serena Williams being just as powerful as a businesswoman and a mother as she is an athlete, to seeing women like Dina Asher Smith completing their degrees before dominating international races.'

How do we get more women into the sport – and what can women who already ride do?

'There’s a lot of initiatives already involved in getting women cycling, so if you’re not aware of them then search for "breeze network", "team glow", or simply "women’s cycling" in your area. In terms of inspiring potential competitive cyclists, column inches and airtime are invaluable.

'It’s a growing sport and luckily, with the rise of social media, teams and individuals can put their own content out without having to rely on mainstream sources.

'However, nothing can replace live airtime for bike races to really inspire people and catch the attention of the public.'

Rebecca Charlton

TV presenter, journalist, author

Who encouraged you to start cycling?

'It was my family that got me into cycling. My mum, Avril, was undoubtedly a huge inspiration. Along with my dad and brother, she would take me along to my local track at Preston Park – they have a fantastic youth programme there. My brother and I would do Saturday morning race training, and she would do laps.

'Mum would pack a picnic and take us to every cyclocross race she could find. She would most often race herself, always armed with food, drinks and clothing for every weather eventuality. If there were only a couple of women racing she would race it to encourage me to get on the start line. We did cyclocross, track and mountain bike, first as under-10s.

'It was little things: she would take me to the local bike shop to hunt for Lycra that fit me. It took down any barriers; I didn’t know any other girls my age that raced, and few people knew anything about the sport, so her encouragement made a huge difference.

'A bit later on there was another girl who raced, and we still keep in touch. If there weren’t enough girls we would race against the boys, which was usually the case.'

How about later on, as an adult?

'I had women who were pivotal at different points in my career. My first ever editor, when I started working as a cycling writer, was Bex Hopkins. When I went into the cycling industry, which was quite male dominated back then, she removed any barriers I might face.

'She was another role model in terms of helping me progress in that industry, and being a visible, senior female editor. She was a huge support in helping me get to where I am in the media world in cycling.'

What would get more women cycling, in your opinion?

'It’s important that we have women on and off the bike in and around the sport. For me, at school age, you look around you and you look up to older girls, people you think are cool. If you have a lot of girls around you that are cycling and looking cool in their helmet and glasses and going out and smashing races at the weekend, I think that is a massive factor.

'People will think, "I might not want to race but I really want to get on a bike." It’s great that more women are finding the sport at any age and fitness level, to show you really can just enjoy riding a bike. The more women and girls we have in the sport at different levels the less people will feel like it doesn't speak to them.'

Who would you nominate?

'I’d like to nominate Cheryl Owens, she rides the most technically astute and powerful elimination race I’ve ever seen and now works with the Great Britain Cycling Team supporting the young women who are the next generation of road and track race stars.'

You can nominate someone to be part of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling 2019 here. Nominations close on 3rd May

Laura Laker is promoting the central league cyclocross race run by Velobants on 29th September, where the aim is to get 100 women on the start line