Invited to the test event for the soon to be launched Maserati Haute Route Norway, contributor Lorena Jones snapped up the chance to catch up with some key females within the Haute Route team to learn of their experience as women working in the cycling industry and find out about their plans to develop the female peloton within the Haute Route events.
One of these key women is Beth Hodge who, after numerous attempts to break into the cycling industry, obtained the role of Haute Route's Strategic Development Executive in January 2017. Like many of us, Beth had bought her first road bike following a charity ride a few years previously, and from these humble beginnings went on to join a large London road bike club which cemented her passion and expanded her network of like-minded friends within the cycling community.
But it was here that Beth noticed a lack of communication between the larger London-based clubs and racing when it came to women's cycling. So she took it upon herself to launch London Women’s Racing (LWR) and using a formerly defunct race series to connect the London clubs, Beth encouraged women to challenge themselves in a supported environment.
Beth Hodge explained that she "came up with the concept for a three-day event in Scandinavia", which she presented during an interview with OC Sport, the company that owns and manages the Haute Route collection. Norway had been on Beth’s radar for a long time as a cyclist "and with the spectacular scenery it was a bit of a no-brainer to focus on this area." Thankfully for us, following a successful presentation, Beth’s next task was to bring this concept to life.
Maserati Haute Route Norway
Alongside Beth sits Julie Royer, the New Events Manager. Well-rehearsed in event management, Julie was handpicked to lead Haute Route’s operational development when the event launched in 2010. The sell-out Haute Route Alps was a huge success and by 2014 Julie was the event director, specifically in charge of delivering new events.
Boasting a strong launch, the more recent Mavic Haute Route Rockies followed suit but with each destination comes a new set of logistical challenges Julie points out. Thankfully, Norway has made the Haute Route very welcome and they have a solid partnership with the venue. “Norway being Norway, we need to embrace what it has to offer – we do take a lot of ferries" she laughs “We are aiming to have 350 riders next year and moving those people around and making sure they are safe on the road is a challenge. This is why we work with a local team who know the roads inside and out."
Whilst the Haute Route might introduce different formats or adapt to suit the local market their D.N.A. will remain the same. Julie asserts; “you won’t see the Haute Route Belgium for instance as this wouldn’t offer the climbing the Haute Routes celebrates."
The 3-day format isn’t new of course! Once enveloped within the 7-day events, the Haute Route has given it a chance to be recognised in its own right and since doing so, it has become a big hit among Haute Routers old and new.
A female peloton
"Women bring something different to the peloton, a lot of care, a lot of smiles, and it’s more fun as a result" Julie Royer, New Events Manager
For the first time in the history of the Haute Route, the Mavic Haute Route Rockies saw a strong peloton of women - approximately 12% - a number to be proud of in an event of that size. Julie adds; "you notice the guys have a different approach and a different way of communicating and that’s why the Rockies was such a great event – it was a big mix of numerous elements; male: female, amateur: pro, local: international, and suddenly the event comes to life".
And whilst fear might be a barrier, "it’s not a female thing," Julie continues "it’s a feeling that comes from many participants; it’s too hard, it’s a long time away from the family, they don’t have time to train etc..." Whatever the hurdle, the Haute Route is making a conscious effort to support participants so they can overcome these barriers one by one.
Once labelled as the toughest and highest sportive in the world, the Haute Route has since adapted their approach to demonstrating their ongoing support. Now projecting the message that the Haute Route can be achieved with the right mindset and of course, a little training, they have also partnered with various cycling training camps facilitate. Consisting of two long stages and a time trial, the distance and altitude significantly reduce with the 3-day event. “It’s not easy, but it’s easier" Julie explains, and “the natural progression from here is one of the 7-day events".
Of course, signing up to an Haute Route isn’t a snap decision and perhaps you want to take a friend, seek a local training facility or even form a team; whatever the set-up, the Haute Route aims to support you in advance of the event as well as during. “It’s a top priority for the Haute Route that people feel engaged, supported, and confident in advance so that when they arrive at the start line they are ready to take part in the event and have a good time and meet friends for life."
Often women support their partners during an event and decide to take part the following year as there is a huge opportunity to train and participate as a couple. Suitable for supporters and/or new starters the 3-day events appear to be designed with this in mind; not only more manageable, the locations the Haute Route have selected are appealing both on and off the bike.
“It’s a really exciting time for the Haute Route!" Holding her cards pretty close to her chest, Beth wasn’t letting any secrets out. “We are developing our portfolio of events and will be introducing some exciting things in the near future with regards to getting people more and more engaged both during the event and preceding it also".
It’s clear that the Haute Route team are going big – they have a portfolio of some powerful and well-established events that they are very proud of, and they want to explore further afield. Following the success of the Rockies, there may be more events in line for American soil but the team’s ears and eyes are open and they want to hear from you. Get in touch and let them know where you would most like to ride – you never know, perhaps like Beth, you will see your dream event unfold.
Is it a man’s world?
With a growing number of events and talks for women in sports Beth believes that it is important for women to encourage, inspire and support one another and to "chuck the ladder down now and again".
Speaking of her role in the cycling industry, Beth has the passion and experience from a cycling perspective, despite coming into the sport ‘late’ in her adult life. “What’s important for women that are looking to get into the cycling industry is to enjoy what you like doing in your spare time. Really put yourself out there and don’t be afraid. The cycling industry is continually developing" Beth advises “and people aren’t afraid to put their hand up anymore."
This is evident not only among those women that work in the cycling industry but also through the activities of the brands themselves, “it’s empowering to us and to younger females also." Beth hopes that she and Julie can serve as a good example of women working in the cycling industry and in the sport as a whole.
There are some challenges that present with working in a male dominated market, Julie continues, “You have to prove what you are made of and prove that you are the right person for the job and that the decision you are making is the right one." As with any another male dominated market, or any other role for that matter “if you work hard and put your heart into what you are doing you will get there, and when you do get there you get a lot of reward and respect."
So will the numbers ever balance out completely? Julie is now celebrating her 10th year at OC Sport and doesn’t “think the aim should be to make it 50:50. The opportunity should be the same if the numbers are not … Getting to 50:50 in our industry is a dream that is likely to never be met, but the decision of being promoted and getting access to a job shouldn’t be made on your gender."
Boasting a 50:50 split for management roles within OS Sports, Julie estimates a 60:40 male: female split among the remaining 170 staff on each Haute Route event. The customer service team is 100% female and specifically favours those who understand and like working with people; “whilst they understand cycling, their priority is to make things happen and ensure all runs smoothly" Julie explains. “The praise the Haute Route receives for the customer service team is incredible; this team work their socks off".
Appealing to many cyclists, the Maserati Haute Route Norway is perfect for those attempting their first Haute Route challenge or those wanting to take the family along. Dotted with preserved white wooden houses presented against the breathtaking back drop of the Norwegian fjords and mountains, the lively town of Stavanger has retained its village like character and boasts an array of activities and scenic locations for you and the family to enjoy during and/or following the Maserati Haute Route Norway. As if that wasn’t reason enough, the region would like to encourage female participants and visitors to Stavanger.
Entries for the Maserati Haute Route Norway will be open soon.
Can’t wait? Nor could we, so we pre-registered here to ensure we are the first to know when we can enter.