Sunday 22 September 2019

Women's national cycling race halted for going 'too slowly' to allow men's race to pass

Cycling race Photo: Deposit stock images
Cycling race Photo: Deposit stock images

Rebecca Lumley

The Irish national women’s road race was halted mid-competition this weekend because the participants were disrupting the men's 'elite race'.

According to race organisers, the women were racing “too slowly” and had to pull in with less than a lap left to go to avoid clashing with the men’s elite race.

Race Director, Derek Webb, told that the women were “given literally a 17km head-start, with only 50km to go, you certainly would be expecting that they would finish it out but they just didn't and the call was made by the commissaires to pull them in".

“It’s the rules of Cycling Ireland and it’s always the way it’s done, the slowest race is pulled over. You can’t ask the faster race, who are there to race, to slow down. You don’t do that.”

Mr Webb said that while it was “unfortunate” for the female cyclists involved, such occurrences happen regularly.

“As Race Director, I have a responsibility to the riders but I’m not responsible for the riders, for their actions. And they (the women) were just racing too slow and the average speed was well below what was expected of them.”

Both races made up the 'Blue Ribbon' event on the last day of the Championship and the men and women’s races ran simultaneously in Co Wexford on Sunday morning. In previous years they took place on separate days.

One official commissaire working at the National Championships echoed Webb’s sentiments, saying it was “the only call on the day they could make”.

He said that the women’s race was “exceptionally slow” and that not pulling the group over would have posed serious safety risks for the male cyclists bringing up the rear.

“As a commissaire, it’s not uncommon for a group racing to come up behind another group racing. It’s always the slowest group that has to pull over.”

However, he also said that he would be surprised if Cycling Ireland didn’t make some changes to the format of the schedule.

The winner of the elite women’s race, Lydia Boylan, said the route may have contributed to the problem.

“Unfortunately I think it was always going to be a likely scenario, on the circuit that they chose for the race. Having such a big men's bunch and conversely such a small women's bunch, I think they probably over-estimated the speed of the women’s group and thought that it wouldn’t catch.”

Ms Boylan added that while it is inconvenient to be stopped mid-race, she did not think it had an effect on the outcome.

“We’re lucky in the sense that our bunch was all intact. I think that I’d be a lot more angry had it been a bit more of an attacking race and there were groups all over the road and stopping it meant groups came back together.

“At the point in the race where we were stopped, I think everyone had resigned themselves to the last climb being the decider of the race. In my eyes I don’t think it affected the outcome too much.”

Boylan said it was important that all cyclists are given “equal opportunity to race” and said that while it was “the right call on the day” to pull the women’s race over, a re-occurrence must not happen next year.

“An alternate option is to start the women really early in the morning and then just wait until our race is over and then start the men. To be honest I think that’s more of a fair way to race because I think having two races on the same circuit is a headache for everyone.”

Cyclist Eve McCrystal, who was runner up in 2016, agreed with Ms Boylan and said that while she understood the organisers’ decision, the place they were stopped was the “worst place on the route".

“The point in the race we were stopped was kind of paralyzing. If we were allowed to keep cycling it could have changed the whole dynamic of the race.”

While organisers assert that the “right call” was made at the race, the incident garnered some negative reaction on Twitter.

Some Twitter users argued that it was a reflection of bad organisation, while others said the female cyclists had been treated unfairly. Some argued that it was a sexist decision.

The National Championship’s official Twitter account responded by stating that the women had started the race an hour before the men.

The Women’s Commission for Cycling in Ireland was contacted by but declined to comment on the situation but said they would be contacting Cycling Ireland directly to prevent the re-occurrence of such an incident.

Cycling Ireland, the national governing body for the sport, said they were “looking into” the situation and were treating the matter “very seriously.”

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