Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Women Can't Descend???

Someone (cyclistrick*) happened to overhear a comment at mt. ham at the officials table about how they need to neutralize the descent for the women next year because "women can't descend." I must take offense at that comment...being a women, and one with a small ego problem at that!

Now....I would argue that descending is a skill, like many other skills. And beginners are sometimes not so good at certain skills. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I have certainly seen sketchy downhillers, both male and female. I was even myself a bit sketchy for a couple weeks after healing from my downhill crash, while I was still fighting the nerves. The sketchy moves usually come from either pushing past your skill envelope, or letting fear rule you to the point of being unsafe. Both come from different core sources, and both can be equally scary to be around.

In my first crit (and 2nd bike race ever), I was terrified. I was told time and time again that I had good bike handling skills (for my level and experience) and that it would be fine. I had one sketchy move in that race, being caught inside going into a corner, and having someone from the outside cut in and give me nowhere to go. Thankfully I was aware, and did not jerk or brake crazily, narrowly missing the wheel in front of me, sliding out a tad, and not taking out anyone else in my little madness. However, I was beating myself up afterwards for being a 'bad cornerer'. But to solve this, every day on my bike commute, I would ride through the little windy bike paths on the way to campus, vowing never to use the brakes and to take things as fast as I possibly could..winding around co-eds on cell phones, skateboarders, and sticking to the path. I learned the limits of my leaning and cornering ability, and how to re-gain the bike when it starts to slide. I also went to crit practice with the guys, did the corners at super-high speed....if I didn't take the corners well, I got dropped immediately, because the draft was the only thing saving me.... The next race, I felt secure about the cornering, and my only worry was the other folk! Criteriums became fun, strategic pursuits rather than stressful occurances. I even reagained my balance when I did get in a bad situation in one and nearly lost it (and fought back for a top 5 finish). Practice helps a lot.

In the beginner categories, I think the spectrum of experience is huge, leading to a wide range of riding styles. And this can be scary....because the new people might not know how to react to certain things, and the more experienced people might assume behaviors which are not yet innate in new riders, leading to more crashes, etc. This very fact is one reason why I'm looking forward to being a 3.

That said, back to the point at hand: these issues plague ANY beginners...not just women!!! Being a woman who has fought so long to be treated as equal in a primarily man's world, these comments hit doubly hard. I have heard so many obnoxious comments about women in engineering (in my work life), from the way women engineers look, to the way they dress, to the fact they get more opportunities than men (????), to "you got the job because we had to fill a quota," to "Dear Sir" (you wouldn't believe how many emails I get from foreign students seeking a position in a US University research lab that have a Dear Sir salutation). The more offensive ones I cannot post here...

Anyway..let us women have our chance! And let us earn respect for our talents, and our hard work, and let us play your games, have the joy of winning, the agony of defeat, the satisfaction of teammwork succeeding, and the fun of a 50mph descent, when you are one with the machine.

...and for anyone who wants to race me downhill...you'll have to catch me first!


*cyclistrick mentioned it on his blog because of how short-sighted and sexist this comment sounded...he is one of those great supporters of female bike racers--the people who are slowly changing these old-fashioned, frustrating viewpoints.


CyclistRick said...

drkim - I am with you. The reason I mentioned the comment on my blog was that it thought it rather ridiculous, a narrow minded view supported by bias not fact. I believe the comment was in response to a crash in the W4 field on the first descent of the day. But I did not hear any comment about steps to prevent the crash near the finish in the M5 category.

I applaud women, like yourself, Ms Chatterbox, and so many others I know, who go out in spite of these narrow-minded views and prove over and over that you are up to any task. Take your bows, and know there are some of us (men) who believe in you, laud your accomplishments, and stand in awe of all who prove by doing.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

cyclistrick...I know the reason you mentioned it, and I appreciate you doing so! We have to stand up to these narrow minded individuals...

And thanks to people like you, who support the people like Ms. Chatterbox and myself, the trail is getting wider.


dr-nitro said...

Holy cow, Batman! I expect that kind of conversation in a bar, but by officials at a bike race? It's the males that need heli-lifted off the mountain for going down the backside of ham too fast (W4 don't even go down that descent for reasons of distance not skill).

The idiot official should be made to try to follow someone like Marla Streb down a hill, and if he could not follow her, should be made to take her skills clinic (http://www.marlastreb.com/clinics.html).

velogirl said...

while I'm also offended by that type of comment, there have been crashes in the W4 race on that particular descent for many years.

Kim, you're correct in your assessment of the diversity of skill levels in the W4 fields. there is also a diversity of fitness levels (and not necessarily in corelation with the skill levels).

if the officials feel they can make the race safer by neutralizing through that 1st descent, my guess is there are at least three women (the 3 who crashed this year) who would nave appreciated that, not to mention all the women who have crashed on that same descent in years past.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

Marla Streb is awesome. I met her this year, and was most awed. She has such a great story...and wow can she ride!

Velogirl: You're right, having not been on that course, I cannot comment on the particulars of that descent. But I would bet that men crash on that, too. I think if they neutralize for the womens 4s, they should neutralize that descent for the mens 5's as well...

I'm sure there are also women who enjoy the technical descents that would not be so happy with a neutral descent. The neutral descent at sea otter was one of my least favorite moments on the bike, ever (that could have been due to the horizontal rain and mud though)!

Interesting topic, to be sure.

chatterbox said...

Preach it, sister!

Velogirl is right, too. I was actually suprised the first 2 miles weren't neutralized (for all categories starting at Isabel Creek). People (not just women) tend to be most sketchy in the first few minutes of a race. And, because we had just come off a 1 mile steep climb with attacks, I'm sure the sketchiness was even greater, due to lack of oxygen to the brain. And, it's a very technical descent with off camber corners - a perfect setup for those who are fit but not skilled to hang themselves in the heat of the moment.

Of course, I'm skilled but not fit (at least in the climbing sense), so I had a nice solo descent until I came across the pileup....I would have appreciated a neutralization for that hill so I wasn't out of the race in the first 3 minutes. I could have survived the next two smaller hills with the pack and probably would have made it to the big climb in the group, which would have been a much better race experience for me. As it was, I had a training ride.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

Sounds like a neutral section would be good for the first descent, for ALL riders. I just didn't like the insinuation that women were somehow less skilled at descending...

I agree that the first few miles of a race are usually the sketchiest...it makes sense...all that pent-up stress and excitement.

Auffderbach said...

As an old dude who can't get the
upgrade points due to too small of
a field, I'm surrounded by cat4's
and 5's in most of my races.
Now I may not be the fittest rider
out there but having grown up in
Lake Tahoe and climbed and descended EVERY mountain pass around here, I can say with confidence, " I know how to descend
down a mountain."

At Hamilton there were many who didn't seem to have a clue and it
was a friggin' pain dealing with
them. I had to hit the brakes to keep from getting clipped by folks
who don't know what an apex is over
and over.When push came to shove, I
finally just let them know I was a
comin' up on their inside and that
it would be good if they stayed where they were. I think I scared
most of them but by the time they
got it back together, I was long
gone. Of course they would eventually catch me on the climbs but by then there was too much panting for anyone to talk!

It's not the women. I've personally
descended with some ladies that rode me off their wheel at 55 - 60
mph going down Monitor or Kingsburry or Mt. Rose, etc,etc.

The bummer of it is, is if they
neutralize the downhill, there goes
any chance of me doing halfway decent.

Maybe there should be some sort of
class where you HAVE to go down the
cork screw at Laguna Seca and into
turn 9 flat out until you have figured out how to make that corner. Or the first turn at the
Nevada City Classic. If you can't
pass the test, no race.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

auffderbach: I like the idea of a descent test! I, too, am a descender. I love to take the turns as fast and as tight as I can manage...hitting the apex just right and feeling the gravity work. Awesome. I LOVED laguna seca for that reason..how awesome was that! I was having bike issues that day (a broken barrel adjuster keeping my cable from lengthening enough and not letting me shift into the big ring), so I got to chase down EVERY lap! And so every lap i got to catch back up, except the last one when i couldnt quite make it and sprinted in for 7th...

I know what you mean...I do better when I can show off those descending skills...its part of the race...so get the skills to do it!

It's just dangerous when you screw up (as my shoulder knows all too well...), but part of the game...

Chris said...

I haven't seen the course, but safety has to be key, be it Cat 4 women or Cat 5 men, etc. Both have a mix of skill levels that could get out of hand in a hurry on a sketchy section of course.

However, statements like "women can't decend" are just dumb.

dr-nitro said...

Neutralizing the descent would cause more problems, as riders would be riding into the back of each other. They should simply start the race after the descent for the short course if they think that there is a problem. It is kind of silly, if not dangerous, to have a tricky descent essentially right off the starting line for the short course, especially for the lower categories where the skill level among the riders is not as developed.

End of the day, though, bike racing requires skill. Anything that negates the value of skill takes away from the sport. Thus, neutralizing technical sections takes away from the sport. Race, people, and race safely.

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

dr-nitro: i agree with you 100%. The scariest thing I ever did on a bike was race the "neutral descent" at sea otter in pouring horizontal hail/rain. Talk about frightening with everyone going slow/braking/skidding/gravel and mud everywhere.... IT was just not a pleasant time. I agree that the race should probably be started at the bottom of the descent :-) if its THAT technical...but the technical descents usually work to my advantage so I don't want them all taken out! :-)

Auffderbach said...

Did I miss something at Hamilton?
I mean I remember getting there in
time to change, pin my number and
then warming up, which litterally
consisted of riding across the road
to the line! But I must have been
in another world because when they
said, "One two three go." I only
remember riding across a bridge and
making a right turn and immediatly
headin' UPHILL for awhile.Quite awhile.Things were somewhat strung
out by the time we hit the top of
what I thought was the first climb
but then came back together on the
first descent.
Somebody hep me here 'cause my race
did not start downhill.

dr-nitro said...

There are two starts for Hamilton. The one in SJ, and the Isabella creek start, which is at the bottom of the long descent off of Ham, right before the neutral feed. This is were the W4 and M5 fields start. So, they go up a quick bump, then down the shorter, but still technical descent (about 1.5 or two mile descent). The other fields have the 20 mile climb to sort things out before the technical descent.