Calling all female cyclists to try out track racing!

  
  


by Aaron Torres

Ask anyone involved in track cycling, and they’ll tell you that there are two undeniable truths about the sport they love: The first is that if a person has never ridden a velodrome, it isn’t always easy to get a beginner out to their local track for the first time. The second though, is that once people do come out, it isn’t hard to get them to come back time and time again.    

American interest in track cycling continues to grow thanks in part to the recent success of American women on the world stage, including a silver medal in the women’s team pursuit in the London Olympics. But still, the question remains how to get more people, especially females, involved in the sport. Despite comprising over 50 percent of the general population in the United States, women barely account for 15 percent of those in competitive riding.

That’s why the cycling community is doing its best to get more women on the track. From local clubs to the collegiate level to world-class velodromes, initiatives are popping up all over the country to get females of all ages out to the track.

CALLING ON A FEW GOOD WOMEN

One ambitious program comes from one of the country’s most well-recognized velodromes -- The VELO Sports Center in Carson, Calif. There, former United States Olympian and Olympic track cycling coach Roger Young is calling on a few good women to come out and give cycling a try for the first time. Since November, two hours of the first Saturday in every month are open solely to women, where females young and old, beginner and experienced have an open invitation to come join the fun.  

“We’ve always gotten great response when we’ve run women’s events completely separate,” Young recently said. “Now, I want to try that more regularly and consistently.”

Fees are cheap ($40 for two people) and equipment is free, meaning that the only thing participants are required to bring is themselves, and maybe a friend or family member for good measure. No, these classes aren’t intended strictly for mothers looking to get their daughters out of the house for the afternoon, but also adults looking to get out the house themselves. According to Young, you’re never too old to hit the velodrome for the first time.

“I would encourage moms to bring their daughters to the track, but bring themselves too,” Young said. “You can get started in track cycling at 50, 60, 70 years old.”

As a matter of fact, velodromes across the country have taken a similar stance, and are inviting riders of all ages to come out and try the sport.

THE VELODROME IS FOR EVERYONE

Track cycling programs aren’t just in place for coaches to identify young riders who might be future Olympic champions, but instead designed for people of all ages looking for a healthy alternative to their everyday activities.

“One of the things we state in our literature is a ‘for life’ philosophy,” said Jose Basulto, who helps run the Brian Picolo Park Velodrome in Cooper City, Florida. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, as long as you’re old enough to get on a bike, and young enough to stay on one, this is a great way to stay fit and in shape.”

Those are words that Basulto doesn’t just preach, but practices himself.

“I’m almost 50 now, and I have no business running, or playing basketball or doing anything that is an impact sport,” Basulto said. “But on a bike, I can stay pretty darn fit. I’m diabetic, so it’s really what’s keeping me healthy. Period.”

And it’s that attitude that Basulto brings to the riders at the Brian Picolo Park Velodrome. 

Like Young at the Home Depot Center and velodrome operators all over the country, Basulto is also always on the lookout for fresh ways to get females down to the track. In addition to an after school program with a local middle school, the Brian Picolo Park Velodrome also hosts “Ladies Night” once a week in the spring. There, Basulto calls on some of the top female riders in the community to come down to the track and bring a friend along too. Like in Carson, equipment is free, although Basulto admitted that as the season wore on, more and more females inquired about purchasing bikes for themselves. Either way, it proved to be a great opportunity for women in the community to get out and have some fun with friends.

As a matter of fact, the communal aspect of the sport seems to be one of the common denominators which separates track cycling from other disciplines. It’s prevalent in Young’s mother-daughter program in Carson and in collegiate cycling as well, where team results are based on cumulative points from both male and female riders. In turn, the unique scoring structure of collegiate track cycling builds an uncommon connection between riders of both sexes.

Surprisingly the shared bond of track cycling has even found its way to the highest levels of the sport as well.  

“In my experience, being on a track “team” or in a track training group is much more social than on the road,” Benjamin Sharp, USA Cycling's director of endurance programs, recently said.

Sharp would know. He travels to the top events all over the world, and when pressed, was more than happy to describe in detail exactly what the vibe at the track on race day is like.

“There is a camaraderie that is rare in the sport, as there is plenty of down time between efforts when socializing can take place,” Sharp said. “There is emotional support as every effort, every lap, really, is witnessed by the entire group. Riders will cheer on their teammates during the training sessions, encouraging them to give their best each time. It has more of a school team sport environment than the solitary training sessions that most road athletes endure.”

And it seems as though the bonding aspect of the sport is drawing more women to track cycling than ever before. Interest is especially strong at the collegiate level, where according to USA Cycling’s High School & Collegiate Cycling Program Manager Jeffrey Hansen, 38 percent of the participants at the 2012 Collegiate Track National Championships were female. That is up from 34 percent in 2011, and a percentage that is about as large as you’ll see at any major track cycling event.

More importantly, it also appears as though there is interest in the sport from younger females as well.

Jennifer Valente, who at 17 years old is one of the rising stars in track cycling, remembers a day not too long ago when she was the only female racing amongst a group of guys. Now, after competing against the top females in the world and winning two juniors world championships and her first elite national championship in the keirin over the past couple years, she is happy to return to her home track in San Diego to see a group of young female riders hitting the track together.

“There’s a whole group of juniors who are 10, 11, 12, 13 years old who are out there,” Valente said. “Some are doing it competitively, some recreationally, but I only think it’s going to continue to grow.”

And what advice would Valente give to any female looking to take up track cycling for the first time?

“Just ask questions,” Valente said. “Most riders or coaches would love to answer questions about the track, or do whatever they can to support you, or get you started.”
 

Cari Higgins breaks down the team pursuit and Madison from the 2012 Elite Track National Championships


Cari Higgins (Exergy Twenty 2016) @ 2012 Track Nats in Carson CA from peyton skelton on Vimeo.



This Article Published October 31, 2012 For more information contact:
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