By Cathy Fegan-Kim
Every Tuesday night during the summer at the Rocky Mountain Raceway (RMR) there is a criterium (short-course circuit race on road bikes, laps determined by time, also called “crit”) where a handful of women battle it out with a pack of 20 to 40 men. About five years ago I started shooting photos of the Utah Criterium Series which holds two crits a week. One of the things that drew me to RMR or “Tuesday Night Worlds” (as some of the racers jokingly call it) was the extremely fit and fast women racing. I thought this was the coolest thing.
The regulars include Kirsten Kotval (Primal Utah) and Laura Howat (Ski Utah-Marketstar), who have raced in the pro circuit, racing in A-flight up against Pro-1-2 Men while Chantel Olsen (Primal Utah), Margaret Douglass (Bountiful Mazda), Laura Patten and Alison Frye (both Ski Utah-Marketstar) race in B-flight against Cat 3-4 Men. Watching these women and men including my husband race over the years inspired me to start racing the Utah Crit Series races. I started off with the less intimidating Thursday night Emigration Hill Climbs and later, C-Flight at RMR. After racing Cat 4 last season & upgrading to a Cat 3 I knew that I had to up my game. The glory days of Cat 4 were over and I knew that to be competitive in a field of Cat 1-2-3 I had to do what the other girls were doing – race B-Flight at RMR every week especially because I fancy myself as a crit racer. Although it was a nerve wracking step, the girls that upgraded around the same time as me (Amber Woodbury Brown & Kemille Garvin of Bountiful Mazda and my teammate Megan Cloward of Revolution Café Rio) decided to go for it as well so I wasn’t alone. Better yet, the Cat 1-2 girls were very encouraging.
It took many races for me before I could stay in the pack for the entire race. Wind directions, how the guys were racing, whether it was in the short oval or the main track of RMR affected how I did but gradually I figured things out, like how to corner smoothly so that I don’t get dropped. My husband, the other girls, Marek Shon (who is “Crit Series”) and Gary Bywater the race official all gave me helpful tips (such as how to corner well, where to be in the pack etc.). RMR is my weekly race clinic. Everything I learned there has transferred over to the crits and road races on the weekends.
So what motivates the other girls to race the boys at RMR? Margaret told me that she races RMR because she is a crit racer and also because you improve bike handling skills when racing at high speed. Laura P. emphasized interval training and the opportunity to work on racing skills like going off the front or getting in a break, working with different people and/or lines. Alison uses RMR to work on explosive power and overcoming the fear of riding close to others. She also says that the other women mentored her through that and now she has a great time out there. Another important reason to race RMR: learning tactics by watching the various teams work together for the wins.
We all have jobs and many of us are moms and finding time to train and race is tricky. Laura H. races on Tuesdays for a little “me time” and enjoys going fast and hard. She added that this exceptional workout (with bike commute to the race) gives her 50-60 miles with a one-hour max in a three-hour time frame. She used this race to support her goal of winning in the Pro 1-2-3 category at age 50, which she has done several times. Motivation to race with boys for Chantel came from the girls that were already racing out there: Kirsten and Laura H. They told her that women have a great opportunity to ride hard and learn how to crit race twice a week here in SLC. Chantel confirms this, “Nobody we race with in the region has this opportunity to race crits every week.” Because of RMR when Chantel shows up to an NRC or other national race, she knows she is prepared to “race with the big girls.” Laura H. was national champion in the 2004 and 2011 Masters Criterium and Margaret has been top 5 in 3 big national championship races proving that the benefit of women racing with men in Utah’s crit races.
Utah has produced a number of talented pro racers recently like Tayler Wiles (Exergy) and Nikki Wangsgard (Primal Map My Ride) but Chantel says that for most of us racing is a personal challenge of training, team tactics and personal best. She went on to say that competition is good for us as it makes us ride harder than you thought possible because other competitors push you with their abilities. The social aspect of racing is big for all of us. As Chantel puts it, “Riding bikes is like having coffee and chatting with your girlfriends but getting fit at the same time. My best friends are those on my cycling team!”
I have a son with autism and this is a huge challenge so racing is a great release. Race days are when my husband and I spend time together doing what we both enjoy. To be able to hang out with girls that I respect and am inspired by on race days is an added bonus. At the 2012 State Crit Championship I crashed first lap and had a mechanical. When I pedaled back into the race, both my teammates and competitors in the field cheered me on. How cool is that?
It is great to see more women coming out to race in the crit series; Sara Baker and Juel Iverson (Canyon Bicycles Draper), Heidi Roundy (CA Pools CFS Mortgage) and 12 year old, Katie Clouse (Cole Sport) and it will be great to see even more women out there. There are categories for first timers and beginners (C’s and D’s) – it is an easy, no pressure way to test out your legs. RMR is an adrenaline rush, we all get nervous before the race but we come back week after week because it is really fun. Come on girls, come race the boys with us next Tuesday!
For race information please visit www.utahbikeracing.com