Why Women’s Racing Still Has a Long Road Ahead – Podcast with Monique Hanley

Monique Hanley Cyclist

Women’s cycling has come a long way in a very short period of time. It’s actually hard to fathom its progression over the past 10 years alone. In this podcast you’ll hear Monique Hanley describe her own experiences at grass root/club level and the old-school male-dominated mentality that is still resonating at the entry level of cycling here in Australia.

While there have been many driving forces behind the growth and equalisation of women’s racing and cycling here in Australia, Monique believes we’re due for another “step change” to continue the progression at club and race level, with Australia still having a long road ahead to entice more girls into the sport of cycling.

Lee’s recent experiences as President of a cycling club that has a reputation for being progressive with women’s cycling – St Kilda Cycling Club –  creates an interesting blend of views and opinions. While Lee has been part of an environment that has been criticised at times of being too female orientated, Monique has seen the other side of the coin, having been exposed to a broad range of scenarios from a personal perspective and also within her various responsibilities on boards and committees.

This podcast discussion outlines the good, the bad, and some well-rounded insights for the future progression of women’s cycling here in Australia, with the ultimate goal to entice more young girls into the sport!

TM Insight Sponsored Show Notes:

  • Lee starts off the conversation by asking “tell me about Monique Hanley”. Monique grew up in Gippsland and started her sporting life as a basketballer. She discovered cycling around the time she was diagnosed with type one diabetes – around the age of 19.
  • She joined the Warragul Cycling Club and then moved down to Melbourne and started racing the track.
  • Monique describes being the only female racing member of the Warragul Cycling Club back in her day, and she had to race in the ‘Masters’ as there was no women’s racing. Her results were also nullified because she wasn’t an official ‘Masters’ rider.
  • Monique prepared a presentation for women’s cycling at Warragul Cycling Club to outline how it could be improved via a 5-point plan she developed. There was a lot of push back, especially surrounding any ownership of implementing it.
Monique Hanley womens cyclist
Monique winning Race Across America (RAAM) in 2007 and setting a new course record. She was only female in the team.
  • In 2010 Monique was having coffee with some cycling friends post ride and they were discussing the state of women’s cycling. Monique said something needed to be done – and with a baby on the way and her racing ambitions parked for a while – she decided to run for a position on the board at Cycling Victoria. She was successful.
  • Monique doesn’t ride anymore professionally. She has big cargo bike to cart around the kids while also getting in some recreational riding time.
  • Lee asks about the state of women’s cycling now. Monique says there’s been some big ‘step changes’ over the last few years but we’re in a position where we’re now due for another.
  • Lee talks about the implementation of a women’s Tour de France in 2014, but Monique outlines how there have been previous women’s Tour de Frances over the past 100 years but they haven’t been able to establish themselves for the long term.
  • Monique talks about the 1980’s and the growth of TV, the narrow focus on men’s sports tarnished a lot of great work that had been done in the 1970’s and early 80’s in women’s sports, including cycling.
  • Lee asks about club level cycling for women, what they’re doing right and wrong across the board. Monique talks about St Kilda Cycling Club (SKCC) as a good example, Lee agrees. 30% of membership is still female though. Monique says getting to the critical mass of women’s participation at grass roots level is the hard part because the fabric of many cycling clubs is still male orientated.
  • Lee talks about SKCC being criticised for being reverse sexiest because of many women’s specific lunches and rides they run, with little or no “male” specific events i.e. they’ve gone too far the other way.
  • Lee also talks about Bicycle Network getting on-board with promoting women’s cycling, the fondo events such as Peaks Challenge and Ride Daylesford.
  • Lee talks about the great work Gaelene Snelling has done at SKCC as being the driving force behind the growth of women’s particaptung in club level activities.
  • Monique says male orientated boards often turn to default thinking, which is elite men focused. She then uses SKCC as an example, when they talk about racing, it’s not focused on default thinking as the people on the committee/board level are more evenly split between men and women i.e. it’s more of a level playing field.
  • Lee asks if it’s racing or participation – what are the drivers for Monique when it comes to women’s cycling? Monique talks about the Cycling Australia mentality, which is medals on the track will lead to inspiring more people out on the road. Monique talks about offering track tickets for a local school event and they kindly declined the offer. She doesn’t believe this ‘track’ mentality approach is the right one for women’s cycling or cycling in general.
  • Monique says she loves the track, but it’s a challenging sport to get people into. In terms of translating that visual spectacle into more people riding, there’s a bit of a gap there.
Monique Hanley on the track
The 2007 Track Nationals Points Race. Monique is leading Tess Downing, Belinda Goss, Erica Allar.
  • Champagne with podium girls on the stage at these elite men events is the wrong approach. Monique says she’s got two young daughters, and she doen’t want them growing up seeing the ‘winner’ being celebrated by being kissed from a podium girl. The symbolisation is you’re winning the kiss of a women. It’s not the right approach.
  • Lee talks about equal prize money using the recent Melbourne to Warnambool (Warny) as an example. There were 8 starters in women’s and over 200 in men’s. Does Monique think it’s fair that prize money is the same? Although it’s actually the state govt of Victoria – who have funded the event since 2015 – introducing strong requirements for equalisation and a need to have equal prize money.
  • Since 1979 there’s been less than 30 finishes in the Warny in women’s cycling.
  • Monique said when the state govt came onboard for the Warny they had a platform to get more women involved. They developed a program and brought experienced resources into it. 19 started and 14 finished in 2015. That was the best year for the women’s in the Warny.
  • Lee then pivots to this year (2017) when only 8 started and 1 finished and a lot of the men were complaining about equal prize money. Lee says the men have a point.
  • Lee talks about running women’s A, B and C criteriums at SKCC – sometimes women’s C is running 3 people vs. circa 50 in men’s C grade. Lee asks if it’s fair to have equal prize money in that instance.
  • Monique says having an equal approach to gender is key to ensuring continued growth of the sport.
  • Lee asks about female racing numbers – Monique feels the numbers are down.
  • Lee talks about women’s A grade, and some women wanting to race men’s B grade. He says it’s a frustrating scenario because there’s a race there for them to participate in and they’re denying it.
  • Lee asks if there is a future for women’s racing in the Melbourne to Warrnambool. Monique says there’s something that needs to be done about the start. Monique thinks a staggered start could work well for the women’s race.
  • Monique says let’s not get caught up in what happens at one event – there’s a lot of contributing factors that may have caused this year’s Warny to be poor from a participation perspective.
  • Finishing off, Lee gives Monique a magic wand and asks her what she would be doing at Cycling Australia or Victoria to boost women’s cycling. First, governance! A good diversity of experience on the board is imperative, i.e. women and men. Driving hard for change internationally. Introduce grades for championships i.e. A, B and C grades. Better offering for lower levels of racing to incentivise women to enter the sport. Drive participation at a school level.
  • Monique says there’s actually a big trend of taking up licenses at 7 years of age for girls. More analysis needs to be done.
  • More focus and attention needs to be put on creating inspirational athletes that younger girls can look up to. Lee talks about the way the women’s AFL have done it well.
  • Monique thinks there’s a lot more scope to take a business approach to how Cycling Australia operate. Monique talks about the AOC – they are sitting on mountains and mountains of cash – that could be looking at business models to reinvest back into cycling.

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