Two of our past board members, Carol Kauder and Kayla Thomason, give us a little insight into what makes them, and women's racing, tick. The work done by these two exceptional women over the years has helped get us where we are today. Current board members Susan Adamkovics, Rachel Scott and Sue Lloyd are building upon the foundation that was built over the last decade.
Thanks Carol and Kayla, and thanks Amanda for getting these ladies to sit down long enough for an interview!
Amanda: When did you both get into competitive cycling?
Carol: I started bike racing five years ago, a newbie at age 39. I never saw myself bike racing and was not super competitive in other sports. I joined the Title Nine Women?s Cycling Club to find other women to ride with. After a couple of years of loving T9?s Tuesday night ?Fast and Fun? race rides, I let myself be talked into trying a crit. I got lapped and stewed on it all winter. The next season, I tried another race and won. I?ve been hooked ever since. Now I head the women?s part of the Boulder Running Company Cycling and Multisport Team.
Kayla: I started racing in 1985 as a junior. I raced through high school and college. After college I moved to Summit County and quit racing though I did still follow the sport. I did not start racing again until 2001 when I moved back to Denver from San Francisco. I was riding with my Dad pretty frequently (he was still racing) and he offered to upgrade my bike if I started to race again. I was still riding my 1986 Italian bike in my reentry to racing at Boulder Roubaix.
Amanda: What were the women's fields like at that time?
Carol: Typically our field sizes were between 10 and 20 women. If we had more than 30, that was a really big day. It was a huge drag to show up with a field smaller than 5, because that meant even if you raced, you wouldn?t get upgrade points. This year it seems like every SW4 has more than 30, and sometimes more than 50. It?s great to see.
Kayla: In the 80?s and 90?s we typically only had one women?s field. Occasionally there would be a jr. women?s race and even less frequently a women?s 4 race. At that time Colorado was the center for all the elite women?s teams. Every local race would be like lining up for the Coor?s Classic. I would get lapped at least twice in almost every race. Even then field sizes were rarely over 20-30,
Amanda: What inspired you to tackle the beast that is equal race times for women's cycling?
Carol: There was a crit in Louisville that didn?t offer a race for me to sign up for. I think they only had women Pro/1/2/3 ? no SW4 and no SW35+. I wasn?t about to drop in on the men?s Cat 4. It was shocking to me that someone would put on a race and not be more inclusive. I wrote a long e-mail to ACA director Jon Tarkington. I re-read it and never hit ?send.? I decided if I really wanted to see things change, I should run for the ACA board, which I did five months later.
Kayla: I guess it was out of self-interest. I would meet women that were newbies to the sport and then see them disappear after a year or two. Several upgraded and then disappeared. Starting cyclocross probably motivated me more as there were even less women racing that crazy, fun discipline. I joined the board to give back to the sport that I had been involved in for most of my life. I wanted to see positive change for the sport as a whole as I had observed decrease in numbers of racers from the early years, especially the 16-30 age groups in men and women?s racing. The incredibly small number of jr. women was really upsetting. While there were only 8 of us consistently racing back in the day, it was still more than what we have now. There was no 10-12 age group then and most of those girls quit when they reach puberty.
Amanda: How did you go about getting the change wheel moving? Burning bras? Marches? Oreos and wine?
Carol: The change wheel was well in motion when I joined the board. Several women had started women-only clubs, like Jilayne Lovejoy had with Title Nine and Megan Hotman with The Cyclist Lawyer. Beth Fisk had a number of women participating in the SW4 mentoring program. As a board member, I grew more sympathetic to the financial conundrum race directors faced: setting aside a crit time slot for a smaller women?s field likely meant sacrificing profits that could be generated by larger men?s fields. I have a new appreciation for promoters who demonstrate that they are committed to the cause.
For me, it wasn?t about being confrontational and demanding change. It was about demonstrating how change could ultimately benefit everyone. I?m a market research and branding consultant, so I ran a brand strategy session with the board to help delineate the goals of the ACA, and identify the best opportunities for growth. The men?s categories offer little room for growth ?they are already filling up. But, if we could increase the number of women in the allocated time slots, the promoters could make more money. It?s fine and dandy for everyone to nod and say ?we support women?s cycling,? but when you can show how it makes sense from a business perspective, it helps bump it up a few notches on the list of priorities.
And then there was (and is) the larger hurdle of bringing new women into a male-dominated sport. When I started racing, I was keenly aware of how few women there were on site. I wasn?t interested in forcing my way in; I wanted to know ?Do you want me here?? When I joined the board I looked for ways to cue to women that, yes, we want you to come out and race. I think the SW4 Mentoring Program is great for that. It?s an official acknowledgement of an organizational interest in women?s cycling. So I helped coordinate and promote that program while I was on the board.
Kayla: I give credit to Carol for that. I did not do much but back her up in the meetings.
Amanda: Where do you see the biggest difference now?
Carol: It?s great to see women?s racing as a top agenda item for BRAC. I?m not on the board any more, but I love seeing so many races listed as mentoring races, and it was so great to see a SW4 clinic finally come together.
Racing this spring, the women?s SW4 and SW3 field sizes are noticeably bigger. It?s impossible to count all the factors that could be contributing to this, but I want to believe it?s more than a passing phase.
Kayla: I agree, I am amazed at the numbers we are seeing in the cat 4 races. It is also nice to see more cat 3 races offered the last couple of years. The number of women racing cross has also more than doubled in all categories. When I started cross a large women?s field, all categories, would be 15-20. We now typically have fields over 15 just in the 35+. I am hoping this is an upward trend and not a phase. I have been around too long to not be a little cynical.
Amanda: What are you most excited for in this years season?
Carol: The track to open in Erie! I can?t wait. I hope that having a regulation-sized track in Boulder County will bring a lot of newcomers to the sport.
I?m also excited to be racing in the above-mentioned bigger field sizes this year. The reality is my motivations for trying to grow women?s cycling are very selfish. I?m a sprinter. I do better in a pack. We need more women racers ? so I can spend more time sitting in.
Kayla: Yes, it would be nice to be able to sit in instead of the race always feeling like a break. I have greatly reduced my road racing due to training schedule and the increase of entry fees. I tried a full season of cross and road for 2 years and it does not work. I am looking forward to cross season and Nationals being in Boulder. While I can not seem to hold my fitness to January it will be fun to race at home instead of travelling. I don?t expect great results but it will still be fun.
Amanda: You are stranded on an island with 1 pro cyclist. Who would it be and why?
Carol: Alison Powers or Cari Higgins. I have learned so much from both of them. If I were stranded on an island with either of them, I would work on bike skills the entire time. By the time the rescue boat came, I would be super fit and ready to race.
Kayla: Zdnek Stybar. My cross skills would be phenomenal which would allow me to turn off that little voice that says ?you can?t ride that?. Plus he seems to have a sense of humor and drinks beer, unlike Sven Nys.