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Interview: Kathryn Bertine Leads the Way for Women’s Cycling

Kathryn Bertine tells us why women's cycling deserves a stage as big as the men's, if not bigger.

Kathryn Bertine is one of the women behind La Course by Le Tour de France

Kathryn Bertine, is a woman of many talents. She is an activist for women’s cycling, a film maker (she is the lady behind Half the Road), journalist, former elite triathlete, ex-professional figure skater and has recently joined professional cycling dream team – Wiggle Honda.

Her latest venture into cycling only came about after she was put on an assignment by ESPN in 2007 when she was 31 to try a host of sports, see what she was good at and see if she could make the Olympics for that sport. A challenge most of us would laugh in the face of, but not so for Kathryn Bertine.

We caught up with Kathryn ahead of La Course by Le Tour de France to see how she went about lobbying the ASO and her future dreams both personally and for women’s cycling in general.

I think the excitement is a type of nervousness but it is a positive kind of energy. I have been in the road cycling world for long enough that the nerves aren’t there in terms of the newness of anything. I know what to expect and I know how to execute a role of a team so in that sense I am not nervous for La Course, but I am nervous in terms of making a first impression on my new team-mates.

My childhood sport growing up was figure skating. And strangely enough the muscles we use in skating are actually really conducive to cycling, it is a very quad dominated sport so after I went through my skating career which ended in 1998, I went to study for grad school in Arizona. I was kind of done with skating at that point, I felt I had done everything I needed to do so I needed a new athletic outlet.

In Arizona triathlon and cycling are very big so I got into that and stayed with it for about nine years. It was clear to me that the cycling leg was probably my strongest of the three.

I got an assignment from ESPN to see what possible sport I could do to get myself toward Olympic qualification. I tried a bunch of different sports but really cycling was my strongest so I thought why not try and make a go of it.

I was 31 when I got that assignment, but luckily in endurance sports women do tend to peak later. I was still a rookie, I mean I had strength but if you don’t have knowledge that’s a conundrum. So I progressed in cycling for the first couple of years trying to get myself to the Olympic Games but being a total rookie and really not knowing much about it or what I was doing.

There’s a lot of sports I am not good at. Anything like the typical sports you grow up with in America so basketball or field hockey – ball sports were not my thing.

I do love team sports – I was a rower in college – but I also really like the individual sports. And cycling is the perfect blend. You are an individual but it is also a team sport so that kind of spoke to me. I have been in cycling since 2007 and joined my first pro team in 2012 when I was 36.

My Dad got into triathlon when he was about 66 years old. Everytime someone says oh gosh you started really late, I am like no I didn’t, you can start your dream at any age.

In triathlon everything is equal. When I went over to cycling I thought it was crazy. We see all these men’s sports on TV but there is a very high level women’s professional side but where is it?

Some people feel the men’s races should be shorter to make them more exciting. I agree with that philosophy too, I believe we aren’t racing the same races due to the belief that we physically can’t race the same distances and that is just wrong. So wrong.

La Course by Le Tour de France is humbling. I certainly don’t go around saying: ‘Hey! I did this!’ I am humbled by it and most humbled by having Rochelle (Gilmore) see that and have her see that I had something to do with it. She gave me my dream of being able to race.

I wanted to leave a legacy in the sport and open the door for other young riders. To actually be able to race it is the high point of career in racing. It pretty much makes me cry, it was the nicest thing in the world for Rochelle to do.

My money is on Bronzini to win!!! It will not only be nitty gritty in terms of the women and their levels of competitiveness and their ability but the course itself, the cobbles, it is going to be a hard race and I think that is great for our audience.

La Course is just the first step, a fantastic first step, we have our foot in the door. I think the viewership will convince ASO and UCI that televised women’s events matter and they are going to get a return on investment so why not create something bigger and larger.

I know we have plans to keep the pressure on to make sure that this race grows to be the stage race we know it can be and at the same time to also have the one day events thrive as well. Personally I believe at the Tour de France, we should see this particular race evolve to a stage race because that what the Tour de France is but all of the one day classics should also have a one day race too for the event. I want it all!!

I try to quiet my mind as much as I can before the race. But that is really difficult as that thing is on all the time. Not necessarily all quality thoughts!

I really try to revel in the moment of it – this is everything I have worked for. Now I need to step back and enjoy it. I eliminate anything that will reduce the enjoyment

My life is wide open at this point. I joined the team pretty late in the season, surely my goal is not to disrupt any plans that are already laid in terms of the teams and the rosters but if my talents are needed for certain races coming up, I am ready to jump in.

Also worth a read: 

La Course by Le Tour de France: Everything you Need to Know

What Happened to the Women’s Tour de France

Interview: Emma Pooley talks cobbles, climbing and phds

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