Words by Katherine Moore

You only have to look at the entry list for any road or circuit race to see the huge difference between men’s and women’s participation, but the situation is far from dire. Figures show that over 20,000 women have British Cycling memberships, 45% of which hold race licences. Since the London Olympics in 2012, overall women’s membership has grown by a massive 139%. So has this converted to more ladies competing on the track and road?

Professional women’s racing has been growing in exposure year on year, with some 2017 races finally attracting the same prize money as comparable men’s races, such as the British Cycling National Series. Our elite riders in all disciplines are world class, with five medals at the Rio Olympics and numerous World Titles.

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The first major step of progress was seeing women’s-only races making an appearance on race schedules. It’s chicken and egg; with relatively few women actively involved in competitive cycling in some regions, leading to less provision being made to accommodate them. As fewer women than men are involved, these races are often run with categories 2, 3 and 4 together, where absolute beginners are set alongside fast and experienced riders. Could this be why some women are put off racing?

The British Cycling’s Women’s Strategy has set out an ambitious target to get one million more women on bikes by 2020, with one of the seven core targets to create ‘opportunities to race and ride’. A 43% increase in the number of race licences since the launch of the strategy in 2013 is indicative of the improved level of female representation in the sport. Here we look at just one of the new ways in which British Cycling is striving to get more women to try racing: The Go-Race Program.

What is a Go-Race?

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The Go-Race initiative from British Cycling provides a platform to experience closed circuit racing. Set in a friendly and encouraging environment, rather than getting thrown in at the deep end in a competitive race, British Cycling aims to encourage more riders to try racing.

Run exclusively for women, these half-hour coaching sessions develop riding skills, and give the opportunity for riders to push themselves in a simulated race. This could be the ideal solution for women who are curious to try this often intimidating discipline.

To take part in a Go-Race, all you need to do is register, either online or on the day, and rock up with your road bike. A full racing licence isn’t required, simply a British Cycling Race Bronze Membership which includes a provisional licence, and is very inexpensive given the range of benefits that it offers. When you sign on, you’ll be given your race number to pin onto the back of your jersey, a great way to get acquainted with one of the other riders! Just remember, if you’re number 13, the convention is to pin yours on upside down!

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Go-Race sessions often precede categorised circuit races, also known as criterium or crit races, commonly forming part of a season-long league. Run by a British Cycling accredited coach and volunteers usually recruited from the host club, you’ll find road cyclists of all ages and abilities warmly welcomed at a Go-Race. The coach will be able to tailor the training to suit everyone from the novice rider, to very fit cyclists trying racing for the first time, for example by using a handicap system.

So what should you expect from a Go-Race session? Expect a range of activities that work on key racing skills such as riding in a group in close proximity to other riders, cornering, and communicating with other riders. Each coach will use different exercises to test you and help improve your bike handling and confidence. After all, racing is so much more than just fitness; tactics, experience and learning how to ‘read a race’ are all critical to success.

The Go-Race in practice

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I went along to Odd Down circuit in Bath to take part in the women’s Go-Race myself. I didn’t have very high hopes for the following 234 race, but the lure of women’s-only coaching was too good to resist.

The session run by coach Felix Young and the Westbury Wheelers has been growing in numbers week on week. Fourteen of us gathered at the start line, a real mix of abilities, all eager to taste what crit racing is all about. The first task was a one-lap TT, setting off in 10 second intervals for 1.5km of effort, giving our coach an insight to each individual’s ability. Times were noted down but not shared, there was no humiliation of finishing last, just a real sense of camaraderie.

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Paired up, the next few laps familiarised us with the sort of contact you might experience in racing. Many women are confident in riding in a group for example on a club run, although typically much more ordered, and of course less competitive than in races! We lapped riding closely, taking a hand off the bars and resting it on a teammate’s shoulder or touching elbows.

The grand finale was a mini race, with a handicap system setting those with the longest one-lap TT time off first, followed by groups of two to four in order of speed. Riders at the back had quite some catching up to do, so Felix emphasised here how important it would be to work together. Starting from the back and taking turns on the front of our triplet, we worked our way past each group of women gradually over the first two of our three laps. Turning the final corner up and onto the finishing straight, our little team split as we all lurched out of the saddle to get as much power into the sprint and sail over the finish line to a round of applause.

Cooling off around the top loop of the circuit, we congratulated each other for our awesome team work. For me that’s one of the best things about women’s cycling; whether it’s in a cyclocross race, on a club run or cheering on from the sideline, women tend to be so supportive, no matter how competitive it may be.

Where to Go-Race?

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Ready to give it a go and wondering where your local Go-Race could be? Here are just a few of the regional leagues, clubs and circuits that are putting in the effort. From as little as £2 booked in advance, it really is accessible to all. Visit British Cycling for full listings.

Racing or coaching session Location
Odd Down Winter Series Bath, Somerset
Prissick Spring Shield Series Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire
Thanet RC Spring Circuit Races Kent
Female Circuit Race Skills 5 Tameside Cycle Circuit, Lancashire
Weymouth Crit Race Series Weymouth, Dorset
Women's Intro to Racing Marsh Tracks Cycle Circuit, Clwyd
Bianchi Dama Women’s Race Day Exeter, Devon
London Women’s Racing League London
Women & Girls Road Race Coaching Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire

So what are you waiting for?

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With new coaching sessions specifically for women developing all over the country, there's a chance for everyone to get involved in racing, regardless of ability, age, or confidence level.

So go along, make a day of it or spare just an hour, take your friends or make some new ones there. Go and support; the more women get involved, the better the opportunities will become for women in racing.

All I can say to those of you who think you can't; you can. Who knows, you may even be pleasantly surprised with how you get on.

If you're looking for more information, or a more personal perspective on the Go-Race events, you can read more from Katherine here. To help you get on your way into the wonderful world of racing, check out some of these helpful guides below...

10 Tips for Riders Thinking of Crit and Road Racing This Year

How to: Corner a Road Bike at Speed

How to: The ultimate exercise to improve handling and group riding skills

How to: Get into Road Racing

London Women’s Racing League 2017 Calendar Unveiled