Velocity’s story on one woman’s experiences of this year’s Cycle to MIPIM has put the cat among the pigeons - spawning a major debate on Twitter and beyond concerning how to get more females into what some are seeing as an otherwise too macho UK cycling culture.
Makower Architects’ Donna Macfadyen wrote a blog after completing the charity ride – which raised over £650,000 for the Coram charity – in which she claimed to have been wolf-whistled after taking off her wet jacket, and told she should be riding on the PedElle all-women event instead of the Cycle to MIPIM. And, although she also praised the Club Peloton-organised event in general, and its ride captains in particular, her words stimulated a debate on diversity issues.
Club Peloton responded with a statement on the issue saying it had "zero tolerance attitude to sexist comments and behaviour on all of our rides and events". The rides are designed to be inclusive, it said, but are by their nature also challenging. "We strive to achieve greater diversity amongst our riders – whether through gender, sexuality, race or religion – but there is always more work to be done."
Jennifer Ross of Tibbalds is one of the mainstays of the PedElle ride, which will include 45 riders this year, up from 43 last time and 26 in 2016. She tweeted that it was sad to read the comments about PedElle, which were "slightly missing the point", and urged more women to take part in Cycle to MIPIM.
This year there were 12 women on the almost 200-strong, six-day ride to MIPIM, which was split between two routes, one crossing the channel at Folkestone the other at Portsmouth. The relay format requires each rider to ride a minimum of around 100km a day.
Ride captain James Morgan of HTS agreed that it was "pretty sad" to hear of some of Macfadyen's experience. "Seems like as well as teaching some to ride in a Peloton we should be teaching how to behave in the 21st C", he tweeted, suggesting compulsory logging of training on Strava or similar apps to ensure participants are better-prepared for the ride's gruelling demands.
One of the contributors to a macho element, some suggested, was that too many riders think they can complete the full 1,500km, rather than resting on the accompanying bus for occasional stages. "Everyone has to buy into the ethos rather than a desire for individual fulfilment," tweeted Gibson Thornley’s Matt Thornley, who added that people should be realistic about their ability before and during the ride.
Legal and General's Ellie Awford, meanwhile, suggested that beginners' training could be extended over a long period, in phases for base building, increasing pace, adding distance, to ease the process. Some riders, she tweeted, had been demoralised by too-fast training rides, suggesting that some needed more time than the implied three months from "zero to MIPIM". "I think it is important to remember the pace is harder for new female cyclists though – the difference between endurance records is 18-25% in cycling so women have to be relatively fitter to keep up."
Another former ride captain, Dan Higginson of Greycoat, tweeted that much of the "bloke chat" on the ride tended to be around "how many stages, how many kms", whereas the women's conversation was more about "having a nice time, which stages are the best".
It shouldn't be ignored that the ride has come a long way since its launch 11 years ago, when Peter Murray and 17 other intrepid riders set off, unsupported, experiencing snow and "sleeting rain" on the way. And the original author of the blog, Macfadyen, said the overwhelming feeling for her had been the positive camaraderie of riding together. "I had an amazing time and would encourage every woman in the industry to consider it, for the good of the whole peloton," she tweeted.
She oberserved that there is nothing wrong with machismo, if it’s not making others uncomfortable. And Sam McClary of Estates Gazette, who has probably cycled more Club Peloton rides than any other woman, tweeted: "I feel I must stand up and say I have never been treated with anything but the utmost respect by all riders and crew". Bad behaviour should be called out, she said, but called out to that individual, not least because the ride raises hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity each year, "and that is what we should be talking about".
Macfadyen’s words have stimulated an debate about how to change attitudes, help on training and make next year’s event, which she has already committed to, yet more successful. "I will be there next year 100%," she concluded. "Hopefully with 50 friends."