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A Tribute to Women’s Cycling Pioneers by Kasia Niewiadoma

By Kasia Niewiadoma

In the world of professional cycling, the paths of inspiration are often paved by those who dare to push boundaries and redefine what’s possible. Reflecting on my journey, I owe a debt of gratitude to the trailblazing women who inspired and shaped my career. Today, I’d like to delve into the pivotal role of some of my biggest influences, explore what we can do to inspire future generations and consider the strides yet to be taken in women’s cycling.

Pioneering inspirations

Marianne Vos was the first woman to inspire me and push me towards dreaming of achieving cycling goals. I remember very vividly when I was able to find race footage (before, practically nothing was broadcast, and to see women’s races, you would have to stay up until 1 am and hope Rai Sport would show some of the Giro Donne) and to see Marianne attacking fearlessly and bossing her way to the finish line winning Cyclocross World Championships!

I knew I wanted to be like her. I never stopped dreaming, and two years later, I found myself riding for the Rabobank team with Marianne as a leader. Another pioneer for me was Emma Pooley! I was starstruck when, as a junior during the World Championships in Copenhagen, I was able to warm up next to her. She ended up winning the silver medal, and I could not stop wondering how such a small and short person could push so much power — I’ve been a big fan ever since.

Admiring their qualities

Cycling back then used to be way different to what it is now. We do have a lot of riders who specialise in specific areas, whereas before, it used to be more open. This means a strong rider could climb, sprint, and do time trials — basically, do it all. And that’s how Marianne was winning everything from cyclocross races to classics to stage races! The level of women’s cycling wasn’t what it is now, but most riders would not get any support in pursuing their dreams.

There were a handful of teams, or to be honest, just two teams, that could provide a proper environment for personal growth. Riders were working on the side, and after coming home, they would train until it got dark. That was an insane commitment to the love of sport. I believe that thanks to those women, women’s cycling made a huge step forward. Riders were fighting for more races, live broadcasts, and media attention while working and hustling around in their personal lives. I think all of them are, to some extent, my heroes — for not giving up and believing in the sport.

Marianne Vos
Marianne Vos was the first woman to inspire me and push me towards dreaming of achieving cycling goals. © Profimedia

Acknowledging unsung heroes

I think every single rider who was part of the bunch back in the day deserves recognition, as they all contributed to the existence of women’s peloton and fought hard for its development despite years of standing still. Personally, I can talk about Polish pioneers that I was looking up to, like Bogumila Matiusiak or Paulina Brzezna. They were some of the very few Polish cyclists racing abroad, and in some ways, they paved the path for the future generation or showed that there is more besides racing in your own country.

Inspiring future generations

As I grew older and gained a different perspective on life, I realised I was in a very powerful position where I could help spread the word to all young riders, making it easier for them to accept the cycling environment. As a rider with a 10+ year-long career, I’ve got plenty of experience on my shoulders, and sharing that with others is like a blessing!

There are tough moments when being away from your family and racing hard from one weekend to another takes its toll. Hence, it’s normal to experience a meltdown or some sort of crisis. It is important to let somebody know they are not the only ones feeling that. Allowing them to go through it learning more about themselves is more beneficial than pretending that nothing is happening.

Besides that, I see that young riders look up to the ones who have been around for years, and with a good, healthy approach to racing personally, I can show an excellent example to follow. When I say healthy, I mean showing your riders that you need to be strong versus super skinny; you must take good care of your body on and off the bike. Right now, one of the best riders in the world, Demi Vollering, is a great role model to follow. She is talented and strong, and she has a personal life that is very well-balanced.

Envisioning what comes next

I hope there will be more teams for under-23 riders so girls coming from junior categories can go to a place where their development will be steady and progressive instead of jumping into the world tour craziness that is very shocking and in some ways, discouraging. I hope that one day we will stop comparing ourselves to men’s cycling because there will not be any differences anymore. I hope every young rider will be surrounded by knowledgeable people who will direct her to healthy success.