I tell them that we’ve all been spat out the back countless times, but to keep trying, that it gets easier.
Mentorship requires an enthusiasm to share what you’ve learnt, and a willingness to go out of your way to let someone know you believe in them. As a sport, women’s cycling wouldn’t be where it is today without a deep appreciation for the importance of being, and having a mentor. Informing this ethos is a commitment to lifting up those around you and appreciating that, when it comes down to it, no great victories are accomplished alone.
For many riders, cycling has played a formative role in shaping their lives and who they are. Here are some lessons from women who have made lifting up other female riders a principal part of their lives:
Being a mentor is just as important as having one
Sue Allen, in addition to running her own coasteering business, is a British Cycling Level 2 coach, and therefore has a deep appreciation for what it takes to inspire new riders. She’s loved riding a bike her whole life, and after getting serious about the sport at the age of 38 Allen soon knew she wanted to play a more integral role in the community. She currently works as a coach for Propello Bikes and is studying for her ABCC level 3 coaching license. She leads a lot of women’s training rides and understands that it is about making everyone feel that their progress counts.
When riding with mixed levels, she explained that, “one of the first things we try to teach is group riding skills, so that the stronger ones can spend more time at the front, helping the slower ones, and getting them to the front before hills so that everyone arrives at the same time.”
Mentorship helps keep you accountable
Speaking of seeing progress, Allen said that being able to share your personal goals and aspirations with a mentor is likely to help you achieve them (and possibly more quickly). She explained how seeing the improvement of others inspired her, and she decided to commit to her own goal, the Tour of Wessex, and follow a personalised training program.
She explained, “for me, having to answer to someone motivated me to hit my targets, I started seeing progress, and I was even more motivated. I made friends and we could work to our goals together.” Case in point – don’t be afraid to set goals and tell people about them. When we keep our aspirations a secret, it’s harder to get them off the ground. Sharing your dreams means you’re more likely to get advice and have people by your side helping you to make them a reality.
A mentor can help you understand the sport and where you currently fit into it
Natalie Bravo has been training actively for 7 years, and is the women’s rep for her local cycling club. Like Allen, Bravo regularly leads women–only rides for her club and has seen progress at many levels. She explained how stronger riders have an opportunity to act as motivators to others within a group and can have a huge impact on the overall mentality.
That being said, she noted that it is also important to train at your level, pointing out that she is careful to avoid rides she knows she isn’t going to be able to keep up in. In order for riders to continue making progress without being discouraged, they need to be riding in the appropriate setting.
In terms of being among the stronger in a group, Bravo said it is “important to be patient, but don’t be afraid to suggest an alternative group to some riders.” As she pointed out, the fact that women’s cycling has grown so much and that riders have options is a great thing, “we are lucky that there’s a choice here.”
Mentors remind you that we all start somewhere
When asked if she herself ever personally felt intimated when riding with a strong group, she responded with a definite, “No, just inspired. Everyone’s been the slowest at some point. We all struggle sometimes. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” It’s a good reminder that cycling is about learning to excel on the bike, but also in life. Mentorship allows women to develop both networks and skill sets, and to help each other build confidence, leadership and teamwork.
Bravo’s final piece of advice to those feeling discouraged? “I tell them that we’ve all been spat out the back countless times, but to keep trying, that it gets easier.”