Women’s elite cycling is a sport whose star has been on the rise in the last few years.
Unfortunately, like most female sports, sexist and out-dated attitudes are well entrenched which can make life difficult for the female athletes competing and those who aspire to compete at this level.
One such issue is a minimum wage for female professional cyclists.
Tina McCarthy with some of her ‘wheel women’ at the 2018 Tour Down Under. Photo: Lyz Turner-Clark
Tina McCarthy has a simple goal – to get as many women as possible riding bikes. It’s why she started Wheel Women in December 2012.
In the last five and a half years, Wheel Women has won multiple awards for its work in making cycling more easily accessible for women. McCarthy was awarded the 2018 Cycling Luminaries Award for Leadership and Wheel Women won the Best Outdoor Active Recreation Initiative at the 2017 Victorian Sports Awards. McCarthy was also selected to be an ambassador for VicHealth’s This Girl Can campaign.
Tina McCarthy. Photo: Lyz Turner-Clark
She has achieved much since starting Wheel Women and the social enterprise has helped over a thousand women get on their bikes.
McCarthy had a long and successful career in design and advertising as a graphic designer and art director. She decided to set her own design business in 1996, working with fashion clients as well as small start-up businesses.
However, things changed when she fell pregnant with her son in 1998.
“The plan was that I’d work from the home office as always, look after him and take on what work suited me while he was young. But absolutely nothing went to plan!” McCarthy said.
If you asked someone to picture a cyclist, odds are they would imagine a middle-aged man in lycra with an expensive bike but there are women who ride and they are just as passionate about it as any MAMIL.
In 2012 Tina McCarthy decided to throw in her successful career as a designer and chase her dream of getting as many women on bikes as she possibly could by establishing Wheel Women, a social enterprise which focuses on teaching women usually aged between 33 – 55 how to ride confidently and safely on the road alone and in a group.
Tina McCarthy having fun on her mountain bike. Photo: Tina McCarthy
McCarthy said she has been in the privileged position of watching women gain confidence on a bike and achieve things they thought were impossible.
“There’s a lady who’s joined in September who hadn’t ridden a bike in years, years and years and she’s coming up for 60 this year and she’d been riding for six weeks before I said ‘why don’t you come do Ride Daylesford?’ which was a 65 kilometre ride.” McCarthy said.
Women’s professional cycling has struggled to attract the same level of media coverage the men’s. Then in 2015, Ella came into being – a female specific website that offered coverage of women’s professional racing as well as articles designed to catch the attention of the recreational cyclist. I spoke with Wade Wallace, founder of Cycling Tips and Ella about why he decided to start Ella, the difficulties the site has faced and the future.
It would be safe to say that most people have heard of Tour de France. Some would have heard of Cadel Evans. But if you went up to someone in the street and asked them to name a women’s cycling race or an Australian woman currently racing in the professional cycling scene, the majority wouldn’t be able to.
Female criterium races are often more aggressive and better to watch then the men’s. Photo: Lauren O’Keefe
Traditionally, women’s sport hasn’t gotten coverage in the media because it wasn’t perceived as being of interest to the public. This is slowly changing with the success of the AFLW and soccer’s Matildas. Even women’s cricket is getting a run on TV these days. But other sports like women’s cycling? They’re still in the shadows, only making it onto the evening news when someone wins a world championship, a gold medal at the Olympics or breaks a world record.
One of the major issues for women’s cycling is that it’s a niche inside a niche. However, what cycling does have is a loyal, enthusiastic and passionate following. It was this following that allowed Wade Wallace’s blog, Cycling Tips, to go from being a hobby that he started in 2008 to one of the best known cycling websites in Australia.