"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood." Susan B. Anthony, 1820-1906, abolitionist and leader of the American women's suffrage movement.
Inspired by the wise words of Susan B. Anthony and to mark International Women's Day we thought there was no better time to share our biggest inspirations in the cycling sisterhood.
Prepare to be wowed, these ladies epitomize girl power!
[part title="Beryl Burton"]
Inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame in 2010, Beryl Burton (1937-1996) is considered by many the 'best ever woman rider’.
Born in 1937 in West Yorkshire, where she lived for most of her life, she suffered chronic health problems as a child. Introduced to cycling by her husband, she took her first National medal in 1957, and so began an incredible cycling career.
Over an impressive lifetime she clocked up more than 120 National Titles, five World pursuit titles and two World road titles. On top of this she has six bronze and silver international medals. In 1967, she set the 12-hour time trial record, which remained unbeaten by a male or female rider for two years.
Her immense achievements have been honoured in various ways; she was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame in 2010, and the ‘Beryl Burton Cycle Way’ between Knaresborough and Harrogate was named in her honor.
This year, as part of the Yorkshire Festival celebrating the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, a play based on her life written by Maxine Peak will be performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
[part title="Juli Furtado"]
American mountain biker and Olympian Juli Furtado, AKA ‘The Queen’ is one of the pioneers of the early days of mountain biking.
Juli came to the sport from competitive skiing, where her career in the US National Ski Team concluded prematurely after several knee operations. She couldn’t ski, so she switched to mountain biking.
She raced numerous disciplines including cross country, where she won the inaugural World Championships, and downhill where she won the Downhill Word Championships. She also competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, placing 10th overall.
Her racing career came to an end when she was diagnosed with the auto-immune condition Lupus, which she had struggled with for some time. This wasn’t the end of her love of cycling, however.
She now works with Santa Cruz bicycles on their grass-roots sponsorship program, was instrumental in the creation of the first women’s specific mountain bike, the Santa Cruz Juliana, and now figureheads a full range of women’s specific bikes, Juliana Bicycles. And of course, she still rides.
[part title="Franziska Hollender"]
As you read this, Franziska Hollender will be a couple of days in to 3-month cycling adventure – the World Cycle Race (WCR) 2014.
The WCR is a single stage race, with the clock running continuously until all riders have lapped the planet and reached their departure point. I think the race’s motto says it all… “If you want a bigger race, find a bigger planet."
Together with two male contestants, Fran kicked off the race on March 1st in London and she hopes to complete the 18,000-mile journey under the 152-day current women’s record.
Fed up of living in a “comfortable stupor" Fran was keen to get out on the road to re-establish the priorities in her life. And, although not a stranger to travel, in Fran’s own words “I haven’t ever competed in a cycling race and my friends wouldn’t mention my name in combination with “athletic"."
Taking the challenge seriously, Fran has enlisted help from current world record-holder Juliana Buhring while training.
Fran is definitely one to watch, especially as she’s the only rider in the World Cycle Race to go completely unsupported. Chapeau!
We wish Fran the best of luck on her travels. You can follow Fran’s exploits via Twitter.
[part title="Sarah Connolly"]
Sarah is what can only be described as a super-fan of professional women’s cycling. As one of the UK’s best-known voices in the field of women’s cycling, she writes engaging, super-enthusiastic but smart and knowledgeable articles on racing right through to grittier issues about pay and equality in cycling.
You’ve just got to follow Sarah on Twitter to see how passionate she is about raising the profile of the sport. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and what Sarah doesn’t know about professional women’s cycling is probably not worth knowing!
Sarah can usually be found waxing lyrical about all things cycling related at the Unofficial Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Blog. Sub-titled ‘A sweary blog about professional women’s cycling’ it’s safe to say you know what you’re in for.
It’s so refreshing to see such unbridled passion for a sport that Sarah has admitted she doesn’t partake in enough. Connolly is not a cyclist, in fact she’s currently studying photography.
Her writing is utterly infectious, and makes you want to delve deeper into the sport – Sarah is undoubtedly a great ambassador for the sport.
[part title="Sara Braidwood"]
Sara Braidwood is a modern day unsung heroine of cycling, and she’s got the award to prove it! The winner of the 2014 Total Women’s Cycling Unsung Heroine Award was suggested and voted for by her avid supporters – the women she rides with.
Sara is a Breeze Champion, part of the Breeze initiative set up by British Cycling as part of its mission to get one million more women cycling by 2020. Volunteering her time, she’s run over 80 rides and helped more than 500 women discover, or rediscover, the joy of two wheeled transportation. And on top of all that, she also co-ordinates other champions over the Cheshire and Merseyside area.
Her infectious good humour and encouragement have clearly made an impact with the women she’s ridden with, and she represents the very best of grass roots cycling.
[part title="Marianne Vos"]
Where to start! Simply put, Dutch superstar Marianne Vos is a phenomenon, an enigma on the bike.
Never has there been such a dominant, capable cyclist in the women's professional field. At home on both tarmac and mud, the Dutch wonder is the current world champion on the road AND in cyclocross. She's also the reigning Olympic road champion and let's not forget she's previously won Olympic gold on the track.
We could go on, but there's just not the space. We're in awe of Vos and her incredible prowess on the bike - she's a force to be reckoned with.
You impressed yet? You'll be even more amazed when you find out that Vos has achieved such greatness at the tender age of 26-years-old.
Want to catch a glimpse of Marianne in action? If you're around in May, check out the Women's Tour when Vos will be back riding on British soil for the first time since her epic victory at the 2012 Olympics.
[part title="Mary Mwanza"]
Bike maintenance is traditionally seen as a man’s job. But Mary Mwanza has proved that this need not be the case.
Working in the harsh conditions of rural Africa, Mary, a trained field mechanic has made strides in this male dominated industry. Her groundbreaking role as a female bike mechanic has earned the respect of her community and her top notch work means she welcomes repeat customers everyday.
[part title="Rachel Atherton"]
Discipline, professionalism, dedication and commitment are all words you can use to describe Rachel Atherton’s approach to mountain biking.
Rachel has been racing all her life. She entered her first race, a BMX event, aged eight, and her first mountain bike event aged 11. That means she’s been racing for more than two thirds of her life so far.
Her drive and determination in the face of injury is inspirational, and her stellar performance in the 2013 season, winning both the World Cup Series Champion and World Champion titles, represents the pinnacle of a sporting career already studded with achievement.
Rachel's profile, sporting achievements and hard work have also brought her wider mainstream recognition, and she was shortlisted for the illustrious BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, and won the Sky Sports Sportswoman of the Year Award.
[part title="Molly Pattison"]
At just 14 years of age Molly Pattison has showed resilience and positivity that adults would have struggled to display in her position. An avid BMX racer, Molly fell ill last year and was diagnosed with acute demyelination which affected her balance, co-ordination and sensation. She has not been able to ride competitively since.
Not one to sit home and feel sorry for herself though, Pattison decided to get out there and take action. The youngster got involved with the Cycling Award for Young Volunteers and has since started her own BMX team, securing funds from sponsors, team kits and a team of 20 very enthusiastic riders.
[part title="Melissa “Missy" Giove"]
Missy forged the path for mainstream professional downhill mountain bikers around the globe. A serious force of nature, Missy (42) did not earn her nickname The Missile for nothing.
Missy was undoubtedly the sport’s first mainstream female superstar though, she landed campaigns for Reebok, is the all-time leader in NORBA downhill wins with 14 to her name and is second on the World Cup list with 11 titles under her belt.
And to top it off, it seems Missy is a woman of many talents, she was previously a nationally ranked downhill skier. Impressive stuff.
After retiring in 2003, Missy helped finance the travel and fees for several up and coming downhill cyclists.
[part title="Tara Llanes"]
Tara Llane’s incredible story is not one of how she became paralyzed crashing in a downhill mountain bike race back in 2007 but rather one of determination, drive and the positivity.
The four-time national bike champion may have lost the use of her legs but she is living proof that you can always come back fighting and if you have the will, energy and competitive spirit can help you to achieve what others would deem impossible.
In 2009 Llanes set her sights on Ironman Hawaii. As she trained and her time on the bike got longer, she realised the size of her bladder would mean she would need to be lifted out of her chair every 30 minutes to use the bathroom. To right this problem she underwent surgery to double the size of her bladder. Ironically, it was this surgery that ultimately prevented her from realising her goal.
The training however still proved to Llanes that despite her injury, she was still an athlete and a talented one at that. She is now back on the trails on a four wheel dirt bike and is a champion in raising awareness for spinal injuries.
[part title="Eileen Gray, MBE, CBE"]
One of the pioneers and champions of women’s racing is Eileen Gray. It’s a name that might not be familiar to many, but the incredible vision and hard work of this woman made a significant contribution to establishing women's cycle racing on the national and international stage.
Growing up in Dulwich, she wasn’t bitten by the cycling bug until well into World War 2, where she rode her bike to work as an engineer through all weathers, past bomb holes and through rubble.
Post-war, she was one of the three women that made up the first ever Women’s International Team, cycling in Copenhagen, and pushed hard for the UCI to recognise first women’s records and then racing. She became president of the British Cycling Federation (the precursor to todays British Cycling), and in later years was Deputy Commandant of various British Olympic teams, Mayor of Kingston Upon Thames, and most recently was one of the Torch Bearers for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Her achievements helped grow women’s cycle racing from the ground up, and establish the foundations upon which the champions of today continue to build – with her efforts recognised with an MBE and CBE for services to cycling. We have a lot to thank her for!
[part title="Jane Eccles"]
In 2005, a few days after giving birth, Jane and her family were told she had just hours to live. She had contracted Necrotising Fasciitis (NF) and it was very quickly ripping through her body.
Thankfully their prognosis was not correct, but for Jane this was only the first battle of many. Extensive surgery was required to get rid of the NF, one which involved the removal of her abdominal muscles. As she lay in intensive care, it was becoming clear that her physical ability would never be the same again.
Officially discharged from hospital in 2008, Jane was confined to a wheelchair. But not one to give up, Jane clenched her teeth and decided she was determined to walk again.
Six years on and Jane has done far more than that, She is now an avid cyclist, who is about to attempt to cycle the 1,000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End.
“If someone told me 8 years ago that one day I would be attempting to cycle 1000 miles from John O'Groats to Lands End, I would've thought them mad. Truth is that if I hadn't contracted NF I never would have! When I learnt to walk again getting on a bike wasn't even on the radar. I never even knew if cycling would be possible but I bought a bike and on my first outing I managed nearly half a mile before the pain was too much. Unfortunately pain is part of my daily life and being on a bike is tough going so I guess I may as well be doing something spectacular," says a determined Jane.
“Cycling has given me a freedom I never thought possible. I often ride in tears. Some for pain and some for the realisation that I shouldn't be here doing this but I am," she continues.
To follow Jane’s progress, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter - @velvetcherries
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