It’s a Girl Thing

The Olympics are here, and what a weekend it’s been. On Saturday around a gazillion people gathered on some narrow Surrey lanes and various parts of London to watch the men’s cycling road race. Despite Team GB not being able to deliver Mark Cavendish to The Mall for his trademark sprint finish the day out was fantastic. As you can see from the picture above it was a huge party and everyone seemed pleased to be a part of The Olympics and British cycling. Road racing can be great fun to watch and you get right up close to the action. The rush of air as the peloton flies by is really invigorating.

Bradley Wiggins tows Mark Cavendish around the Box Hill loop

On Sunday we went back to the Surrey lanes to watch the women’s race. When I say we, I don’t mean the gazillion people who took to the roads on Saturday, I mean….well by comparison, hardly anyone.

Where is everybody? Much smaller crowds for the Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race

Even the cycling club I belong to which encourages cycling for all and had done a super job building a huge gantry to house around 250 people on Saturday, could barely fill a tiny gazebo on Sunday. It wasn’t just Surrey where there was a big difference. Courtesy of Mervyn Dinnen, here are two views of the men’s race and women’s race going through Fulham which show pretty clearly the difference in crowd sizes. Some might argue that the women’s race was shorter which meant they came past our vantage point twice compared to nine passes by the men on Saturday, but the racing was just as exciting and of course GB went on to secure its first 2012 Olympic medal courtesy of the women’s cycling team and Lizzie Armitstead. The pic below shows Lizzie on the left of the picture looking cool and calm as the peloton rushes past us.

Lizzie Armitstead racing through the Surrey Lanes, Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race - London 2012

OK so this year we have our first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish is the current cycling world champion, but my heart sinks when I hear men saying stuff like ‘Nah, I’m not going to the women’s race tomorrow, it’s not as important as the men’s’. Doesn’t say much for inclusion and diversity, does it? That reaction and the lack of interest in the women’s race felt misogynistic, and it is certainly misguided. After the race, Armitstead said ‘The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating’.

Lest we forget, Nicole Cooke first won the women’s Tour de France back in 2006 and has a list of cycling achievements most professional men can only dream about. Emma Pooley is an outstanding climber who can also count world time trial champion among her many successes, and Lucy Martin is a bright future prospect. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winning Team GB cyclist.

Those of us who turned out to support the cycling team yesterday witnessed the British riders on their way to Team GB’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games. That felt pretty important to me, here come the girls.