Sometimes only seeing is believing, and the 96 athletes who lined up on the start line of the Women’s Tour of Britain this month could barely believe their eyes when they saw the huge crowds at the race start. All the pre-race nerves and apprehension dissolved, and the racing was, if anything, even more exciting, dynamic and fiercely competitive than any men’s race.
To see the sheer number of people lining the route, including huge numbers of schoolchildren waving flags and cheering the riders on, was amazing, and confirmed the impression that the world is hungry to see more women’s cycle racing, however that may be – on the side of the road, on the TV or on social media.
“I love performing in front of a crowd,” said Tiffany Cromwell of the Specialized-Lululemon team. “Having people there cheering you on is what sport’s about – it’s about engaging the public, engaging the fans, supporting people in their aspirations.” She continued,
To have the chance to show what we do in front of so many people, coming out in the rain, the wind, they’re still there, it’s fantastic.
If you couldn’t get out to support on the side of road for yourself, Strava provided another way of following the race: twelve of the athletes competing were uploading their race data to Strava – just a few of the increasing number of pro riders who use Strava for training, motivation or just plain fun.
Strava had also partnered with the Women’s Tour on the Queen of the Mountains competition, and the Strava team took to the roads of England to cover all the developments in the race as the riders strove for the right to wear the yellow, green and Strava orange polka-dot jerseys.
Among those uploading to Strava every night was Sharon Laws, the UnitedHealthcare rider who took the Strava QOM jersey on the opening day and valiantly defended it all week, never coming in less than third through the orange banners that marked the QOM points on each classified climb. Sharon’s gutsy ride on the penultimate stage, in which she pulled herself back into contention on the final climb, made her a deserving winner – and on the last day her team adorned her bike with orange polka dots in celebration!
Also on Strava is world champion and yellow jersey winner Marianne Vos: “As I’m quite competitive, sometimes I’ll have an endurance ride and not go for segments, but other times I’ll be sprinting like crazy just on a normal ride, and that’s fun!” she said. However, many of the athletes also see it as an important way of communicating with their fans. “For your own motivation it’s fun to see the roads where you’ve been, but for fans it’s great to see what pros do in their races, their averages and things,” Vos continued.
Normally they only see the results of a race and now they see your training, what you’re doing and fans can do the same, they can follow you day by day in training all on social media.
Strava Pro and Wiggle-Honda rider Dani King agreed: “Social media is a big help. I’m on Strava so people can see that what I do for training is not unachievable. They can ride the same routes as people they look up to or who they might never get to meet, and they can say, ‘We did that route today’. It’s very motivational.”
Women’s Tour race director Mick Bennett said he was inspired to create the event after the dramatic racing during the London 2012 Olympics’ women’s road race – “eons better” in his opinion than the men’s road race.
With equal prize money and equal billing to the men’s Tour of Britain, expectations for the Women’s Tour were high, but even the riders were surprised by the size of the welcome they received from fans lining the stage starts and finishes five deep on the barriers. It was a show of force by the athletes, roadside fans and the wider cycling community alike. The recent announcement of La Course, the women’s criterium race on the Champs-Élysées the day the men’s Tour arrives in Paris, only adds to the feeling that 2014 might be a pivotal year for women’s cycling.
I think it’s a massive season for women’s road racing,” Dani King said.
“There’s been a lot more coverage, and accessibility on social media for a wider audience is really important. After London, which proved how exciting our racing was, the more we can put out there the better.” She continued: “The more coverage there is, the more excitement there’ll be around women’s racing, and there’ll be a snowball effect.”
“Much of the recent growth in popularity of women’s cycling has been due to increasing accessibility to social media”, Marianne Vos said after the race “Now it’s also nice that traditional media has picked it up,” she said. “The bigger public wants to see women’s cycling. In 2014 we are here, we’ve got the Women’s Tour as a showcase. It’s a perfect platform to show the world the beauty of women’s cycling.”
Strava was created as a training tool, but also as a platform to share experiences – to inspire and to motivate – and the women of the Women’s Tour are helping us take that to the next level, using it to create a community and engage with riders across the world.
It’s certainly given cyclists in the UK a boost – whether that’s a new generation of girls and women who’ve been inspired by the show the Women’s Tour put on, or the large number of men who found that Marianne Vos, Dani King and the Women’s Tour peloton had staged a raid on all their KOMs. We asked Vos how many Strava QOMs she’d taken during the week:
I don’t know, quite a lot!” she said. “But maybe the whole bunch did! It’s harder to do it on your own – try racing against a bunch of attacking women!