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.