On track for Varsity: Women’s cycling team make their debut

by Meryl Hanmer

Since coming to Swansea University in the 2016/17 academic year to study sport science, Izzy Whiteley has made it her mission to build a stronger female presence within the university cycling club. In the two years since Izzy has joined us at Swansea, the cycling club has gone from a year on year consistency of only one female member, to now four female road cycling members.
Thanks to a united effort, the club eagerly awaits the debut of its first women’s team at the forthcoming Varsity event.

As it stands, the club currently has 51 members in road cycling, only 4 of which are female. While this is an initially shocking and disappointing male-female ratio, it does represent a 400% increase over last year’s female membership.

Both Izzy (the current women’s captain) and Kacper Gorski (the current men’s captain) attribute the poor female uptake to overall male dominance in the sport. In a statement Izzy defends the club saying, “Cycling is a male dominated sport, the low female membership is a reflection of the sport as a whole, not the club”.
In an interview with the Waterfront Izzy stated, “Last year I was the only female member of the club and while I imagine that would be discouraging for other women to be the only one, it wasn’t for me. I’ve always enjoyed cycling and was keen to continue it at university, being the only woman was not going to prevent me from pursuing the sport I love”. When asked how it feels to train alone with the male members she said, “It’s interesting when you are the only girl, the guys have always been very supportive of me in training but obviously, I was eager to get some girls on my side.”

In order to try and tackle the issue of low female membership, Izzy saw this years ‘fresher’s fair’ as her chance to show other budding female cyclists that there is a place for women in the club. Also, a women’s cycling page has been established for support and a monthly women’s road ride is organised to encourage team spirit. Additionally, the new title of “women’s cycling captain” was generated to help recognise women’s standing in the club. However, this year’s boost in female membership has been largely accredited to the strong links with the university triathlon club. By joining forces, the two clubs are mutually benefiting for each other; cycling has a boost in club members and triathlon gains from the expertise of more experienced cyclists.

This year the women’s cycling team represented their club at the BUCS hill climb competition in November. This is not a normal type of race for these cyclists and so their scores were modest, but they were excited for the challenge and happy to simply get a team together for it. They hope that as membership increases so will their pole placings.
Equality in membership is evidently at the forefront of the club’s future goals as the club captain, Kacper Gorski says, “the push for more female participation began two years ago and it’s picking up steam now, hopefully year on year we can grow and maybe achieve some parity in membership”. Next year the women’s team aims to have more consistent participation in the BUCS competitions and hopefully one day replicate the success of the men’s team.

Training for the cycling club can be intense with its four weekly sessions; two chaingang practices near bay campus and two road rides. In addition to these set practices members are encouraged to train on their own and the club promotes the use of specialised software to monitor distance and speed of all rides. “Cycling draws a certain personally type; introverts who enjoy the pain and are willing to push themselves in a ‘pain cave’. It’s a low impact sport that is fun and easy to do but requires a certain mindset”, says Kacper. However, despite the intensity of team training, the clubs main priority is the enjoyment of the sport and for this reason ‘social rides’ are also organised and are set at the pace of the slowest person.

Over the past five years, the men’s cycling team have been unfailing in their victories against Cardiff. This year the women’s team look forward to finally having the opportunity to represent their club at the much-anticipated Varsity event.

To any women wanting to join Izzy says “the club has always been very supportive and encouraging to me so to anyone who’s interested, join the Facebook group, ask any questions you have and just come along”.

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