Interview: Kathryn Bertine

If you’re a fan of women’s cycling, the name Kathryn Bertine has probably crossed your radar, writes Neutral Service contributor Clara Beard.

The filmmaker, author and pro racer recently released the first showing of Half the Road: the passion, pitfalls and power of women’s professional cycling to a sold out audience in Tucson, Arizona. Bertine is also the co-founder of Le Tour Entier, an organization calling for the inclusion of a separate women’s stage race at the Tour de France.

Neutral Service talked with Bertine about Half the Road’s production, fighting for parity and what’s next for the Caribbean national champion.


Kathryn Bertine - author, activist, pro cyclist

Kathryn Bertine – author, activist, pro cyclist

To start, what inspired Half the Road? 

We made this film because I felt like there were so many injustices in women’s cycling. I wanted to see if others thought what I thought too. So the only way to make that happen was to go around and talk to the cyclists that were at the top of the sport, just getting into the sport or had been around for a while, to get their reactions. I knew that one of the key people I wanted to speak to was Emma Pooley as well as Marianne Vos. Chrissy Wellington is a personal friend, but I wanted to speak to her as the athlete that she is because of what she’s done in triathlon in terms of showing the physical capabilities of women in endurance sports.

UK racer Emma Pooley has been an outspoken critic of the state of women’s cycling in the past, what was it like interviewing her for the documentary?

I didn’t know Emma personally, but when I reached out to her and said that I would be doing a series of interviews at the world championships in Holland in 2012, I asked if she could carve out some time for the documentary. She replied and said, “yes, I can do that, but I’ve only got about 20 minutes.” And of course I totally understood because she was focused on her race. I was happy to talk to her as long as I could. So, we sat down to do the interview and she’s so incredibly passionate about the sport of women’s cycling and the change and progress that needs to happen that 20 minutes went by in a flash. At the end she said, “you know what? Forget what I said, I’ve got more time, let’s just keep talking.” Sure enough, an hour and 20 minutes later, we’re still talking about women’s cycling. I think her passion for women’s cycling in Half the Road really steals the show in the most incredible way. Chrissie as well, both with her knowledge and terrifically humorous comments, they really make the film shine.

You chose to produce this film with crowdfunding through Indiegogo. How did you maximize your $10,000 budget?

I tried to go to the biggest races that I had to go to anyway as a racer. I could kill two birds with one stone. We did the majority of our filming in 2012. We filmed at the Exergy Tour in Idaho and the world championships in Limburg, Holland. In those two races I was able to get quite a bit of footage from international athletes. I had to go to where the racers were.

In the documentary you stress acquiring parity through the men’s side of the sport, for example, having a separate women’s race during the men’s Tour de France. Why do you think that’s the most effective way to advance the sport? 

That’s a great question. I think when any woman is part of a sport that is traditionally male dominated, in order to break through and be your own sport, first you have to be seen and accepted by both the federation and fans. And when you talk about a sport like cycling, I do believe the women can stand alone someday and have their own races and venues and have it be equally as successful as the men’s side of the sport. But to start, we need to be at the same places where the coverage is. If all the coverage is on the men’s side of the sport, we should have equal access to that. For us it makes sense to capitalize on what’s already there and bring something to the sport. Especially now, when there’s a tumultuous cloud over it with doping scandals. What if the inclusion of women’s cycling is not just about women’s cycling but could help the men’s side of the sport as well. I don’t see us as piggybacking off the men, we actually might help save it. Before we can stand alone we very much need to stand together.

You also mention the importance of media exposure in the film. Is there something you think teams can do to encourage better coverage?

If you talk about women’s teams having a budget toward marketing, yes of course that’s great and that will help, but should it be all these individual teams doing individual marketing or what if we pull together for the whole sport, so that the marketing is much easier when it’s broken down to an individual level. I absolutely believe in product based sponsorship of teams, like Optum. If Optum is using marketing dollars within the healthcare industry, then absolutely they are going to see a return be able to grow the team in the future. In addition, we need all of those teams that are sponsored by different products to pull together and fight for the whole of women’s cycling. So for example, Optum isn’t just about the healthcare industry, but has a wider presence. I think we need to band together so that all of women’s cycling has that plan to get exposure for the entire sport.

Many women’s cycling supporters wish there was more media coverage out there. What are your thoughts on how to develop that side of the sport?

In any other sport the media caters to the athlete because they are well known or the sport itself is well known. But with cycling, I don’t think the media has truly has any idea what to do with us on a global level. One of the things we need to do, and I hope that the film helped in this, is that we need to show that these racers have personalities, that they have lives that are interesting on the bike as well as off. Once the media gets a whiff of the fascinating aspects in cycling, then I think that dynamic will change. Emma Pooley is a great example. She’s smart, funny and passionate. Also, I think that as female athletes, we need to celebrate each other as well. It’s one thing to be in competition and rip each other’s legs off, but when we’re off the bike we should elevate our sport by speaking highly of our competitors. We need to create fun dynamics, positive rivalries and really celebrate the attributes of our fellow racers.

Image credit: Clara Beard

Nicky Wangsgard, Addy Albershardt, Alisha Welsh, Amber Pierce, Kathryn Bertine, Jade Wilcoxson, Robin Farina and Lauren Hall (Image credit: Clara Beard)

While this film was in production, you were also working to lock in a women’s race in the Tour de France. To say it was, and still is, a busy time for you is an understatement.

We were working so hard with the Tour de France to get this race into existence it may have seemed quiet. On Twitter we’d have to say, “we’re working hard behind the scenes.” We had so much going on and so much to keep confidential and so many hours. Sometimes I felt like I was living two or three dual lives. It was a crazy year. And then to top it all off, we had all these things come out at once.

You tweeted about finishing some book edits the other day, what are you working on now?

It’s called “A Road Less Taken” and is coming out through Triumph books in August. It’s a collection of essays I’ve been working on over the past five years. Some of them are from racing, some are a larger life picture. I’m really excited about that coming out. In the meantime, I do want to start work on a new book that tells the story of the past couple years of making this film, and the progress with the Tour de France women’s race.  I don’t have a formal book deal for that, and to be honest, we’re still kind of in the story. 

Where and when can people watch the film in the UK?

At Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. We are going to screen at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 6th. Hopefully we’re also get into more film festivals or screenings in the UK. But this is a definite. We’re working hard to get as many screenings there as possible. 

More information about the film festival can be found at www.shaff.co.uk or on Twitter at @HeasonEvents

More on/by Bertine

Author/Activist/Pro Cyclist: www.kathrynbertine.com
Documentary Filmmaker: www.HalfTheRoad.com