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A new standpoint on women’s cycling:

From laps in London’s Regent Park or Paris’ west side, from the lake of Lugano to Frankfurt’s surrounding mountains, the visibility of female riders is certainly on an upward tangent. We’re seeing major inroads − from grassroots to community initiatives right through to national and international projects. Given the platform and the products, we’re certain that even more remarkable progress can be made.

That’s why we headed to France, a country synonymous with cycling, to co−host an event under the banner of #ASSOSwomen at Paris’ Kilometre0 alongside the world’s first French-speaking, women’s cycling magazine Elles Font Du Velo. And as community is so key to growing women’s cycling, we curated a hotly anticipated panel discussion, pitching the sport’s biggest female thinkers against each other for their take on women’s cycling.

The host of top−notch guests on tap ranged from policy−makers to racers, ex−professionals to app developers, biomechanic specialists to ultra endurance athletes, and journalists to movement creators. On the agenda stood the following questions:

1. Why do we, as women, ride bikes?

2. How can we each improve our levels on the bike?

3. How can we inspire new women to take up cycling?

The situation is France is an interesting one. As while most of the attendees turned up with helmets clipped to their backpacks, Marie-Françoise Potereau, the vice president of the FFC [French Cycling Federation], revealed that the number of licenced women within the federation has completely stagnated over the past eight years. A marked contrast to the scenes on the roads with more and more social riders heading out for loops, this immediately posed the question of why women ride and what some thought might be putting the brakes on the growth of women’s cycling.

“It’s just glorious,”

is how ASSOS ambassador and cycling photographer Mathilde l’Azou sums up riding. Forget the energy expenditure and the investment. Look past the odd bits of discomfort in your neck and back. Don’t worry about the teething trouble with your clipped-in pedals. Sweating isn’t a bad thing. Cycling comes hand in hand with a marked aspect of suffering − but all the panel agreed that’s exactly what renders it so special. The knowledge that you’re getting fitter. That your route has taken you further into unknown territory.

That you’re now committed to riding with a group of women who are rapidly becoming your greatest friends. The time spent on the bike might have felt lonely at first, but only momentarily.

The evening’s panel bounced around tales of their early days on a bike, highlighting similarities and differences with their upbringings, but the one constant shone through: the energy they all exuded when it comes to talking about riding. Whether commuting, doing errands, competing or exploring, women’s cycling is evidently flourishing − in part, no doubt, to the exposure from Elles Font Du Velo.

Charlotte Bravard, 2017 French Road Racing Champion and Séverine Desbouys, ex-champion.

Performance: a concern for all riders at one point in their lives − Words from the floor and panel

Cycling teaches us values, relaying the trait of self-confidence.

In her video message to kick−start the evening, windsurfing champion Nathalie Simon urged those present to ‘set goals’ because it makes cycling more rewarding. This sentiment was echoed by current French road racing champion Charlotte Bravard: ‘The more we progress, the more we are driven to continue.’ The atmosphere in the room could have changed when we reached this performance−focused question, but it transpired that individual performances are just as pressing as those in the elite echelons. For every single rider, the sensation of pushing your physical limits and making your legs and lungs burn on a climb is one that no one is immune to. Fitness isn’t just a buzzword. Approaching the topic of performance with a more technical view, Laura Dubuis shared invaluable biomechanical knowledge about the best equipment: Saddles, shorts or frame, we need to test each product because there is no magic solution. Each piece of equipment needs to be adapted to each person’s physique, whether they’re male or female. Naturally, levels of performance vary across products, so you have to research if the product is well adapted to your needs and anatomy.

Promoting cycling starts with encouragement − Words from the floor and the panel

“If women don’t see these sports happening, how will they know they could take part?rdquo; − Marie−Françoise Potereau

We need to remember that anyone, at any level, can instigate and promote change. It’s about the exposure − whatever the scale. Begin by encouraging your daughter or friends to start riding. Take things further and create or simply join a team like Donnons des elle like Claire Floret. On a grander scale, platforms like Elles Font Du Vélo are an asset to the industry, much like movements like Champs pour elles who campaign on a political level.

The more coverage and championing that women’s cycling gets in the media, the more female cyclists we’ll see.

Role models have a big role to play.

Once we had Jeannie Longo, but now we need to give a younger perspective to our sport to combat the inequality between the salaries of the male riders and the women, in order to make women’s cycling more professional thus giving women the desire to ride.

We still have a lot to do, but the progress is already visible. In the past two years we’ve already many positive developments. And, as a bonus, cycling has been chosen by many health ministries as a sport that promotes healthy living. So, let’s burn calories instead of fossil fuels.

Thanks to you, the women who helped us to organise this high quality evening and joined us for the event. Same again next year? Stay tuned! #ASSOSwomen

The next meeting: Saturday 5th October at Franscoop, Paris

What they said:

The patron for our evening Nathalie Simon : French windsurfing champion, athlete, radio and tv presenter.

It is important to take pleasure in your own time. The time that you invest in sport is beneficial for everyone in your life; it will change how they look at you. Don’t feel guilty by using your free time for sport. “Long live women.’

The evening’s mediator Séverine Desbouys 
 Ex−road champion of France (1991−2004, 3x winner of the women’s Tour de France, best climber). Founder of DSC, an international consultancy firm focusing on strategic, economic intelligence, competitive intelligence and institutional lobbying.

‘I’m thrilled to be here with you tonight because I was a pro 13 years ago. I was a keen observer when Marie−Francoise Potereau set up the first French women’s team in 98. Nine years later that team became the first official professional women’s team in France. I was racing in Italy during those years so I am honoured to have the French Champion by my side, because I am well aware of the sacrifices that she has had to make to reach this level.’

Despite her successful cycling career, Séverine retired from riding but has now taken it back up for leisure after receiving advice from her doctor while recovering from a serious illness. Cycling is one of the sports most supported by the medical profession; their advice is to keep active.

Mathilde l’Azou: journalist for France TV, photographer, and ASSOS ambassador.

‘I’ve always been impressed by women who decide to take up cycling as a profession at the cost of their education, because the obstacles that they face and comments that they have to endure don’t seem to stop them at all. I told myself to just ‘get on your bike and take a chance’. It’s very motivating to see how this initially fairly brutal sport can bring a thrill to each day.

FranceTV and Eurosport are definitely helping the growth of women’s cycling by showing more of the sport and promoting their ambassador Marion Rousse. The more they show events, the more chance there is that they can motivate girls to take up cycling.

Marion Delas: extreme adventurer, blogger and ASSOS ambassador

‘It took me 6−8 months to find the right saddle with the conviction that once this is all sorted I will enjoy cycling and continue to do it. For me the idea is that the more women there are that ride, the more women will come to cycling.

I still ride with a men’s bike but I have changed my saddle and shorts−in time for when I did the 1262km Paris-Brest-Paris audax. When you do 400km and are left with saddle sores, you do begin to question the performance of your shorts. There is a big difference in performance between brands, and I first came across ASSOS when I asked a question on a cycling forum. Their insert was another level and they protected me with great comfort. I also used chamois crème for Paris−Brest−Paris −I did have some discomfort (which is inevitable over 1262km) but nowhere near the level that I’d have before, and I have not found any shorts that are better. In certain bikes shops you can measure the shape of your pelvis to find a better short, which is something that you all should try.’

Laurence Ducastel: Commercial Director and Partner at Bike’n connect, an app that allows cyclists to connect for rides by their location.

As women we often prefer not to ride alone but with other women−after all, sport is better when shared. That’s why we have created an app that allows you to find rides with other people and even create teams to organise rides. Women don’t always have the same goals as men and our mission is to allow you to ride with like-minded people

Performance and sport have an effect on all areas of our lives. Being fit and healthy is key to living a healthy life. There’s a lot less talk about performance within women’s cycling (unlike their male counterparts), but we have a competitive spirit too and women are just as strong as men.’

Marie-Françoise Potereau: Vice President of the FFC (French Cycling Federation), President of FEMIX SPORT, and organiser of Champs pour elles.

Just by waking up in the morning with a certain goal, that’s a step towards performance. You should take pleasure in focusing on yourself and pay compliments to yourself for that. It is not just about competitive performances, but also about personal performances too − it’s always great to be able to say, ‘I succeeded.’

The cycling industry is adapting to the idea of women’s cycling because it has economic power. So we should see an evolution in women’s specific clothing and equipment. I rode in woollen shorts nonetheless!

The cycling industry is adapting to the idea of women’s cycling because it has economic power. So we should see an evolution in women’s specific clothing and equipment. I rode in woollen shorts nonetheless!

To promote women’s cycling, we need to get media coverage. The work of my organisation Champs pour elles, which has 2300 women riders, has been a real success. We need to share these values with young riders and create equality between male and female athletes.

‘The bigger we are, the more we will be seen, and then we can develop our sport.’

Gaétane Grauwels, Partner and Director of the 100% women’s online magazine, Elles Font Du Vélo

‘Everyone between the age of 7 and 77 should have the right to participate in women’s cycling. Elles Font Du is a magazine that is here because of you, thanks to our contributors we bring added value to what we produce. Our objective is that all women can identify with our magazine. We are focused on promoting all levels and types of women’s cycling. Without you women here tonight, we are nothing.’

Laura Dubuis, researcher in biomechanics, working specifically in the field of women’s saddles and bicycles.

Posture studies have concluded that there is no magic formula when it comes to one specific posture for men or women because there are many criteria that affect this (ex. right or left-handed, anterior or posterior posture.) A person with a posterior posture [tendency to stand backward of their vertical axis] is likely to get more benefit from a lower saddle height than someone with an anterior posture. Your body can certainly adapt to anything, but it’s still important to really take a person’s unique physique and riding style into consideration. Men’s bikes may be suitable for women, but they need to be set up in the right manner. You should never take a generality of a group; you must adapt to the bike to the person and not to their gender. Talking saddles is tricky; you need to think about the different forms and materials before making a selection.

Charlotte Bravard French 2017 Road Racing Champion.

Back in June I won the French National Road Cycling Championships, which is a highlight in my career. Every year I7rsquo;m progressing and that really gives me motivation to continue.

To make it to the highest level you need to make a lot of sacrifices, because it demands a lot of riding. I do 15 to 20 hours of training a week.

In the past two years women’s cycling has developed. The best women in the world still don’t make the same amount of money as the men, but it is going in the right direction thanks to the media.

Claire Floret : Creator of the movement, Donnons des elles, which aims to restart the women’s Tour de France. ‘She breaking down barriers.’

What I love about cycling is that it is neither an individual sport nor a team sport, but it is a mix of the two. We can never win by ourselves, but all our results come from the individual. I also like the possibilities that come with cycling, from competition through to cycle tourism, there is something for everyone.

Cycling is a sport that needs a strong will. As Charlotte highlighted, it also takes a lot of time to get to the highest level. I think to break this up, you need to make sure you vary your training–add in gym work, intervals, long-distance riding etc and keep it varied as that’s the best way to stay motivated in the long-term. Riding in a group is also a great way to get more out of your rides.

In the past two years women’s cycling has developed. The best women in the world still don’t make the same amount of money as the men, but it is going in the right direction thanks to the media.

Date: 12 September 2017
Location: Kilomètre Zéro Paris

Partners: Elles Font Du Vélo and their Bike’n connect, team Française des Jeux and the French Cycling Federation.

Find out more about ASSOS of Switzerland here.

The following morning there was a group ride planned, but due to adverse weather the women stayed inside doing a static bike session at KM0.