Over the last few years the number of women who cycle for fitness and recreation has increased enormously, but although the number of women who race has also increased it hasn’t done by anything like as much. So, why aren’t more of those women who cycle also racing?
Some of them just don’t want to, of course, which is as valid reason, but a lot of others feel they’re too old to be competitive. That’s understandable because a lot of teams don’t seem to have much interest in riders older than their late 20s – however, if you delve a little deeper and look at the ages of riders even at the top level of the sport, it’s not at all uncommon to find women who are still racing and still winning well into their 30s, 40s and beyond. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence indicating that on average, women are able to maintain their athletic peak for longer than men – and it’s not unheard-of for the “veterans” class at women’s racing events (which tends to be anyone 40+ as there are rarely enough women racing to give them separate 40-49, 50-59 and so on races, as is usually done in men’s events) to be the most hotly-contested race.
That’s why when Elmy Cycles owner Steve Grimwood suggested Joanne Newstead, who was at that point leading the EasternCross rankings and has since won it overall, as the subject of a Ten Minutes… interview, Neutral Service leapt at the chance. If you’re 40+ and think you’re too old to race, Joanne proves not only that you can – but also that you can kick ass.
Where you’re from: Ipswich
Where you’re based now: Ipswich
Years riding: Since childhood
Years racing: 4 but 3 seriously
When and how did you first get into cycling?
My husband races and both my children were starting but there was no coaching available. I went on a BC Coaching course and started the Ipswich Bicycle Club Saturday Coaching Sessions with Nathan Miller. I then spent the next 10 years coaching most weekends. So I came late to racing. But I’ve made up for it since though, in 4 years I’ve raced road, TT, MTB, ‘Cross, Grasstrack and had a go on the velodrome. Some left to try though!
Do you remember your first bike?
Not really, It was a long time ago. I learnt to ride a bike quite young as my mum doesn’t drive and we had to cycle if she took us out. It was also the best option to get to school and in the holidays it was a way of avoiding any jobs she may have been tempted to give us. Sadly, out of my two siblings I am the only one who still owns and rides a bike.
Which is your favourite cycling discipline, and what is it about it that appeals to you?
I think that has to be Cyclo-Cross first, Mtb 2nd, I find TT just a bit dull and I switch off – hence ending up in a housing estate once, Road isn’t for me, I work full time and have to fit my training in around this, but I do the odd Crit now and then. I watched my first ‘Cross at Foxhall Stadium in about 1998, the following year hubby entered along with my eldest son. By 2000 all three were racing cross and I was on endless pit duty. I didn’t consider even giving it a go until 2011 but it was a short season, a crash resulted in a broken scaphoid, dislocated jaw and tendon damage to other hand. In 2012 I came to work at Elmy Cycles and was encouraged to try again, in 2013 I rode my first full season of the Eastern Cross League, National Trophy events and National Championships. 3 years later and I fall off less these days, not sure if that’s more experience or going slower.
And what do you love most about the sport?
It would have to be the friendliness of it. At the start of the season it is like a massive family gathering. People helping each other out, regardless of who they ride for. For example, at a National Trophy two riders I know spent two days jet washing bikes for any Eastern rider who needed it, they didn’t stop for lunch or ask for anything in return.
Which bit of your racing kit is most important to you?
My Lake Custom Cross shoes, I now have two pairs of these and they are just so comfortable from the first wear. I do seem to own an awful lot of bike shoes – I even hide some at work now.
What’s great about riding for Elmy Cycles?
Endless opportunities and constant support from Steve and the staff. I would never have tried half of the stuff I have either with the team or through my job at the shop off my own back.
What should the UCI and British Cycling be doing for women’s cycling?
Hmm, how about what should women be doing for women’s cycling? The events are there but the numbers just aren’t and it costs money to put events on, so if numbers are low one year organisers don’t want to risk it a second year and events get cancelled or simply not run. It’s no use moaning if you are not prepared to help with the changes. My boss has a saying “don’t give me problems, without a solution.” Right now, I can’t think of a solution.
Tell us a little about your off-season training regime.
That would be the summer then for me! Lots of long steady miles with friends, with the odd MTB race to keep my race head.
Do you have a winter bike or do you stick with your usual trainer?
My ‘cross bike is my winter bike. I am lucky that my job allows me to have a road bike and an MTB in the summer though, so I am never without the right bike really.
What’s the best way to keep motivated through the winter?
Maybe that should be summer for me too! Winter isn’t an issue, I took Christmas Day off, but was back out on Boxing Day – I am more motivated in the winter. Summertime is when I need a good kick from Colin or Steve. I often spend 1-2 weeks in Cornwall or Wales though just riding ahead of the cross season.
What were your highlights, favourite race and hardest race in 2016?
My highlight would have to be without a doubt racing a UCI Cat A in China. I never thought someone of my age would even get a chance to enter. It would also be my hardest race for a few reasons: I left my family behind, it was 40C and the equivalent of riding on top of Ben Nevis. But I also competed in the World Masters in Mol too which was the other end of the temperature scale and conditions.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
I am optimistic, I read a lot about how bad the divide is, however, that divide is less now than say 10 years ago. I can remember a time there were just two women in the Eastern Cyclocross events in the late 90’s, this year we have had over 20 at every Eastern Race. At the recent National Championships there were 132 female riders taking part. I think there is still some way to go and the progress is slow but the more women we have competing then this will help shape the future for those coming into the sport. The biggest complaint seems to be the prize fund, but that’s always difficult, riders often forget that venues, equipment and officials all need paying and if you have a field of 80 men but 20 women the prize fund will be proportional, if we want more then we need more riders.
Describe your warm-up routine.
Music all the way there, but I like to arrive at the venue with time to do a lap or two, change and then relax with friends, then do a single practice warm up just before I race. I went through a time where I was making myself sick with nerves, I was told “at the end of the day, it’s just a bike race, if you’re not enjoying it stop because it won’t make you rich.” Wise man that.
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 don’t think it’s a case of less interesting, just that with fewer participants the range of abilities is much greater. To say it is less competitive is a bit of an insult too, I certainly don’t think that those who finish behind me are less competitive, there is more racing within racing sometimes and people will often just look at the first three and disregard those who have given it their all regardless of where they finish. It’s attitudes like this that deter people from giving sport a try too as they feel they are not good enough before they even start.
Following the World Cyclocross Champions, which took place a few days after NS received these answers and in which Marianne Vos and Sanne Cant fought all the way into a final lap that many called the most exciting racing they had ever seen, Jo said on Facebook “I was recently asked in an interview “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 probably suggest they watch that race.” (Ed.)
What are your main aims for the coming season?
I hope to get a return invite to China, but my main aim will be World Masters in Mol, Belgium. I finished 5th this year so I would like to improve on that.
A ten-year-old comes up to you after a race and says she’s just starting to race. What one bit of advice would you give her?
My advice to her would be make sure you are enjoying yourself above everything else. Where you are on the start grid and your finishes is all irrelevant if you are finishing in floods of tears. U12’s racing should be fun, our children are being pushed at such an early age in everything they do, so it’s no surprise to see so few stay in the sport to senior level.
Finally, here’s the keys for the Neutral Service time machine – you can use it to go for a ride with anyone in cycling history, past or present. Who’s it going to be?
I found this really difficult, but decided Sven Nys would be handy, as it’s rather difficult trying to watch his videos whist actually trying to put it into practice, I am happy to do the travelling too.
Previous Ten Minute interviews on Neutral Service
Connie Hayes – Alice and Tom Staniford – Catherine Coley – Sian Botteley – Maddie Gammons – Gemma Sargent – Gaby Homer and Savannah Morgan – Valentina Scandolara – Alicia Speake – Meredith Miller – Anneke Prins – Giorgia Bronzini – Marijn De Vries – Heather Bamforth – Georgina Pymer – Nicola Soden – Detta Guerrini – Isla Rush – Jen Edwards – Anika Todd – Alice Cobb – Deborah John – Tanya Griffiths – Laura Morgan – Rebecca Nixon – Suzanne Deveny – Karla Boddy – Sjekkie Vos