With all the issues that women’s cycling faces, it’s too easy to become cynical. Lack of sponsorship means there simply isn’t enough money to drive the sport’s development – which is precisely what is needed to attract more sponsorship. This endangers our the sport’s future and it’s right that all those of us who want a better deal for the riders help increase awareness. However, cynicism breeds defeatism, and if we’re miserable all the time we won’t attract new fans, which does nobody any good at all. We should, therefore, always celebrate the positives: the teams that do all they can to support their riders and the organisers that add women’s races to their programme because they want to rather than because they have to and then insist that their sponsors put up a women’s prize fund that’s equal to the men’s, simply because doing it any other way is unthinkable to them.
One of those races is the Tickhill Velo GP, which began in 2013 as an event open only to men and was a success; building on that, the organisers added not one but two women’s competitions with races for E/1/2/3 and 3/4 riders, providing a valuable and rare opportunity for cyclists in the 3rd and 4th categories. Right from the offset they maintained that the women’s prizes would be as good as the men’s – in fact, it turned out in the end that with a top prize for the men of £1000 and a top prize for the women of a £2000 Giant Envie Advanced, the women’s E/1/2/3 prize fund was in total worth more than the men’s. Added to this was a truly spectacular and one-of-a-kind trophy, made especially for the race by a local sculptor and based on bike parts and Tickhill’s Buttercross, which split into two identical pieces to symbolise the race committee’s intentions and the equal future of cycling. The riders saw all this, and they signed up to race in huge numbers – both the E/1/2/3 and 3/4 races boasted more than 50 riders apiece.
With Nikki Juniper (Echelon-Rotor) leading the pack away from the start, it was obvious right from the start that the competition for the fabulous prizes (the biggest in any UK domestic women’s race) on offer in the Elite 123 Women’s race at the Tickhill GP was going to be tough: Nikki set the pace high immediately, though not quite high enough for Matrix-Vulpine’s Jessie Walker who had had a puncture at the startline and was saved when a cyclist in the crowd handed her a wheel – keen to show she’ll be a force to be reckoned with when her team gains UCI status next year, Jessie did precisely what she’s done in her last few races and attacked repeatedly, while her team mates were constantly at the front keeping a close eye on Juniper ready to react the moment she looked like making a move.
“Got to be honest, it felt like the peloton didn’t want me to win – that’s bike racing!” Nikki told Neutral Service after the race – she has been so dominant this season that she’s feeling the Merckx effect, where a rider becomes the one to beat and the whole peloton is out to stop them. Nevertheless, she was on the front for much of the race and was many people’s favourite for victory for most of the day.
We should also celebrate and pass on the stories, because cycling’s great mythos is one of the important factors in making it the unique sport that it is. There are many stories in women’s cycling – women have, after all, been cycling for as long as men have; but they’re not so well-known. It’s something that comes up time and time again whenever the riders are asked what needs to be done to help women’s cycling become what it can be, and it’s up to us as fans to make them so. Tickhill provided us with a new one, and it’s great.
Tickhill was not on the Starley-Primal team’s list of supported races for this season, but Tanya Griffiths knew it was going to be special and wanted to be there – even though to do so, she’d have to cover all her own costs and ride without the benefit of team mates. She might not have been there at all because her car, finally having had enough of driving to races up and down the country, died recently and she’d had to hire a replacement to get to South Yorkshire from her home in Suffolk, which left her without enough spare cash to get a hotel room for the night before the race. Neutral Service suggested she contacted race organiser Rich Stoodley to see if a local club member could help; demonstrating the hospitality for which his county is famous, he put her up in his own home and gave her dinner.
Tanya is just about the nicest person you could ever wish to meet, so she made sure she repaid Rich’s generosity in the best way a rider can – she made his race as exciting as possible. “Tha’s fair lump knocked off ‘er rent for tha’,” Rich quipped from the stage as she powered over the line to win a pair of Continental tyres in the sprint lap. After returning to the peloton for a while, she turned the pressure back on with seven laps to go and, with the pack judging her move to be too early, had soon managed to grab 17″. The crowd, having heard her story from Rich, cheered and applauded her all the way.
Griffiths’ efforts left no doubt that she wanted to win, but the sheer effort she was putting it made it seem unlikely that she would – with several laps still to go and with nobody to assist her, she’d burn out before the finish, surely? Although Tanya was not the only solo rider, there were at least a few teams with sufficient numbers of riders in the race to form a chase: WyndyMilla-Reynolds, RST, Jadan and Bonito Squadra Corse had four apiece (Matrix-Vulpine, on the start list as six-strong, was reduced to three due to illness), but just like the crowd – which wasn’t letting itself become too excited for Tanya just yet – they all seemed to feel that she’d run out of strength.
Finally, Juniper decided it was time to give chase and caused a flurry of activity in the pack as she accelerated. Griffiths, though, had been keeping a very skillful eye on her reserves and when she heard over the loudspeakers that she was now being chased, she revealed that she had enough left for a final kick. Flashing across the finish line to begin her final lap, she rounded the Buttercross at such a low angle she was almost scraping her shoulders on the newly-laid tarmac: “Anyone who watched me ride at the beginning of the year would not have believed this possible, I could run round a corner faster than I could ride, but I’ve really worked hard on improving it,” she explained. Then, having selected a perfect racing line, she was immediately accelerating down the Sunderland Street straight ready to tackle the final corners.
As Griffiths emerged onto the final section leading to the finish, the crowd knew that cheering would drive her on rather than jinx her and gave her their full support – as did the usually impartial course marshals and even staff from rival teams. She rode through a wall of sound towards the line, and although the front of the pack was close by the time she crossed she had meted out her reserves to perfection and remained a few bike lengths out of their reach. Next in was Grace Garner of RST, followed by Hannah Walker of Epic-Scott – the full top ten is below.
Some fans, hearing that Starley-Primal had announced they would pay all Tanya’s costs after she’d won, were angry that the team had not supported her up until that point. However, Tanya was quick to point out that she had not expected them to do so, having been aware that the race was not on the team’s list, and that she had been there because she wanted to be. She is most certainly not the only one in that peloton who struggles with the costs involved in racing – for most cyclists at this level there is a constant battle as they fight to maintain a balance between work, bills and their sport. Whilst some sponsors are able to provide bikes, clothing, nutrition and so on, money is always a problem; even if they’re fortunate enough to be sponsored by a company that manufactures bikes and other equipment, they still need to find the means to pay for race entry fees, accommodation and travel costs. As women’s cycling grows, with help from race committees such as the one at Tickhill, team management and fans, more sponsors will want to take advantage of the opportunities it creates; this will in turn increase the amount of support teams can provide to their riders and will help to improve the quality of the races. Right now, women’s cycling is trapped in the vicious circle described in the first paragraph. However, all the signs suggest that we need to use Tanya’s tactic: give everything we’ve got for one last push. If we’re positive and celebrate races such as this one and tell the stories, we can show the media and the sponsors the huge rewards that women’s cycling offers. That way, the vicious circle becomes a circle of growth.
“In the mean time, riders will remain skint because we choose to spend our money doing what we love, and you rarely hear us complaining about it!” says Tanya.
Giant Sheffield Women’s E/1/2/3
1 Tanya Griffiths (Starley-Primal)
2 Grace Garner (RST)
3 Hannah Walker (Epic-Scott)
4 Melissa Lowther (Matrix-Vulpine)
5 Louise Borthwick
6 Nikki Juniper (Echelon-Rotor)
7 Charline Joiner (Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International)
8 Gabriella Shaw (Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International)
9 Charlotte Broughton (MG Decor)
10 Kayleigh Brogan (Thomsons Cycles)
Giant Sheffield Women’s Cat. 3/4
1 Fiona Hunter (Johnston)
2 Kirsty Boak (Marton)
3 Ann Walsham (Women’s Cycling Sheffield)
4 Charlotte Parnham (Women’s Cycling Sheffield)
5 Samantha Verrill (Marton)
6 Jenny Eastham (Airedale Olympic CC)
7 Natasha Morrison (MG Decor)
8 Sophie Enever (Tyneside Vagabonds CC)
9 Lindsay Atkinson-Wright (Albarosa CC)10 Elisa McDonagh (WNT)
Hill House School U16
1 Eleanor Dickinson (RST)
2 Samantha Verrill Marton Racing Team
3 Sophie Enever Tyneside Vagabonds Cycling Club
Hill House School U14
1 Elizabeth Catlow (VC Lincoln)
2 Isabel Darvill (VC Lincoln)
3 Ava May Oxley-Szilaggi (Kirklees Cycling Academy)
Text provided under terms of CC-BY-SA 3.0. Photographs provided under CC BY-SA 3.0 unless stated otherwise