The name Heather Bamforth will be familiar to most women’s cycling fans in Britain: having decided that more needed to be done for the sport she went ahead and did it, immersing herself in the CDNW Women’s League and organising numerous events to encourage more women to start racing – it’s probably no exaggeration to say that most of the young female cyclists racing on the domestic scene today owe her thanks.
With people like Heather driving things forward, women’s cycling has a glorious future. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter!
When and how did you first get into cycling?
My dad started racing in 1992 and I used to go and watch him race. When my mountain bike was nicked in 1993, I was really pleased because it meant that I could get a road bike and start racing too! I got a Peugeot that cost £329 and I absolutely loved it! I did my first race at Philips Park, opposite the Manchester Velodrome, and loved every minute of it.
What was the highlight of your 2013, and what do you hope to achieve in 2014?
I had been away from competitive cycling for around 10 years – I stopped racing in 2002 when I started working full time. When I got back into racing properly in 2012, it became obvious to me that there was a massive gap for women, which is why I set about trying to organise some 2/3/4 only races, which Cycling Development North West (“CDNW”) agreed to promote for the first time in 2013. Seeing those races actually being a success, with over 40 women entering each one, was the highlight of my 2013, especially the progress that the women made in those races, made even better by the fact that we had smashed the target for entrants set by British Cycling by 400%! This year looks like it is going to build on the success of 2013, with a similar series being held across Yorkshire. Of the 80 women registered for the CDNW league so far this year, more than 50% are new faces to the league (not all fourth category riders), which I believe is testament to the fact that the gap in the market (so to speak) has been correctly identified and hopefully the sport can grow from here.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
The future is extremely exciting and having seen the standard of the 90 women who attended the novice race training sessions that Huw Williams, Carley Brierley and I hosted in the New Year in the North West, I have absolutely no doubt that the sport will continue to grow.
In 2013, a lot of fans have been getting more involved in women’s cycling by helping to promote races and riders. Do you have any ideas what we can do to help even more?
The only way that the sport can now grow is by increasing the pool of volunteers – without race organisers, marshals and officials we have no sport, so if fans want to give something back, get in touch and help be a part of the movement that is women’s cycling. Many people think that they don’t want to volunteer because it’s a pain in the neck but women’s cycling needs you!
Easy, really. Give women a break. Especially those who want to help develop the sport. Without volunteers there is no sport.
What could race organisers do to attract more female riders and fans?
In the North of England, we are very lucky in that organisers have embraced the need for restricted category, restricted distance road races, and last year at least we had women from literally all over the country (London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hull, Wales, Bristol) entering the CDNW races. It is a brave move for an organiser, but it seems to be working, especially when the races are run alongside existing men’s races, where the infrastructure is already in place. I don’t think the “first come first served” basis works for entries either – many people want to enter all of the races up front, but when races are costing up to £20 each, entering everything for the year in January can max out your credit card! So using the “organiser selects entrants” method is much better. I do think that women can be a bit blase about entering races though too – we’re used to races not being full so that we can enter right up until the last minute, which doesn’t help organisers who have to have a set number of riders in order to break even, although that may change in the next year or two as races start to fill.
As for attracting fans, most people don’t want to turn up and stand around for two hours doing nothing, but what if you had a coffee van for those watching – you could get club runs coming out to watch! I think it’s also a case of promoting your race via social media so that people know it exists!
Which is your favourite race? Why?
That is a tough one. My favourite race ever was the Oldham Century Road Race which used to go over Scammonden (the highest motorway cutting in Europe at one time, I believe), down into Ripponden and then climb back up Windy Hill, before descending back into Denshaw, Saddleworth. Lights in Ripponden put a stop to that race. Nowadays, I suppose it would have to be Cheshire Classic from a fan’s perspective (it’s a great race to watch on The Cliff) but I don’t think I have a favourite race to ride in as yet – ask me at the end of the season!
There are still some people out there who think women’s racing isn’t as interesting or competitive as men’s racing. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
I would invite them to come and watch any of the CDNW women’s races – admittedly they are restricted to 2/3/4 categories but they were the most competitive events I rode in last year. I think there is a reputation that women’s racing can be negative (where women don’t want to race as such) but I think that goes back to the times when there only used to be 20 women in a National Series race and nobody wanted to make the first move. Now that you can get a field of 40, 50 or 60 it has changed, as you have to be able to race if you want to get a result. Plus, I think people are beginning to realise that crashes happen more when the pace drops, so races are getting harder.
Finally, the women’s Olympic Road Race or last year’s women’s World Championships are testament to what a competitive sport women’s cycling has become.
Probably back to the mid-1980s so that I could get to race with the likes of Mandy Jones, Sue Gornall and Margaret Herety. That was the golden era of women’s cycling and it is something that we hope to be able to recreate in the near future.
Last question, and it’s the one that top psychologists agree reveals more about a person than any other: which is better – cats or dogs?
Finally an easy one! Cats.