The biggest fans of women’s cycling are the women cyclists themselves. They are also their biggest advocates. The women’s peloton has had enough of the gross inequality that they experience day in and out and are finally starting to speak out.
Pro Cyclist, author and ESPN columnist Kathryn Bertine explores this inequality in her upcoming documentary, Half the Road: The passion, pitfalls & power of women's professional cycling.
With footage from UCI races and interviews with some of the sport’s leading athletes, managers and officials, Half the Road explores the world of women’s professional cycling, focusing on both the love of sport and the pressing issues of inequality that female athletes face in a male-dominated sport.
"This all started in 2006 when ESPN gave me the "So You Wanna Be an Olympian?" online assignment, the basis of which was to see if I could make it to the Beijing Olympics in just two years," said Bertine. "It was a baptism by fire into the world of women’s cycling!"
During her quest for the Olympics, Bertine soon noticed that women’s cycling really took a backseat to the men’s side. Bertine said that whereas in triathlon –in which she competed previously –things like events, distances and prizes were more or less equal for the men's and women’s fields, in cycling this wasn't the case.
"Races were often shorter, prize money was lower, the female pros had no base salary and women’s events rarely were linked to the major men’s events," Bertine pointed out. "I brought a flip cam with me to qualifying races and wanted to see if some of these women would talk to me about these inequalities and could elaborate on my observations."
What started off as a documentary about women’s cycling soon turned into a film about equality and society, told through the stories of cyclists. Bertine, a three-time national champion of St. Kitts and Nevis, also explores the issues faced when smaller nations try to make strides in a sport that has no history of tradition or support within their culture.
"It’s one thing if someone fails to make the Olympics but it’s something completely else if an entire country or gender is held back because of red tape and flaws in the UCI," said Bertine.
Bertine showcases these issues through the stories of celebrated pro athletes like Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Kristen Armstrong and Ina Teutenberg as well as rookies, kids and fans.
"I’ve seen more growth in the sport in 2013 alone than I saw between 2008 and 2012 because more women are standing up and stating what they want and deserve out of the sport. The beauty of all the women speaking their minds is that it’s calling attention to the fluff and need for change," said Bertine, pointing out (social) media outrage regarding this year’s Tour de Languedoc-Rousillon and Amgden Tour of California’s women’s individual time trial mishap.
"Those incidents might look like a step backward but the fact that all these people are speaking up about it is actually a step forward," said Bertine.
But ultimately, change must come from the top.
"If the UCI and Pat McQuaid don’t care [about women’s cycling], nothing will change," said Bertine. "It’s about human rights and smart business decisions."
Bertine said her ultimate goal is for the documentary to travel the film festival circuits and get as much exposure as possible.
"This is a film about passion and change. As a filmmaker, I want this to open doors to continue making film like this. As a cyclist, I really try to be an ambassador for the sport," she said. "If anything, I’m trying to make cycling more inclusive –for women and smaller nations."