While living, working and going to graduate school in northern California, Katie Hall was looking to rid herself of a crowded commute and $4-per-gallon gas. A scan of Craigslist turned up a 1990 Cannondale road bike.
Eight years later, she’s still got that Cannondale, but it’s reserved for her days off because while at work, she’s riding a 2016 Wilier with her professional cycling team — UnitedHealthcare (UHC).
“I lived and worked a quarter mile off the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle. There was 25-miles of fantastic trail between my home and work,” said Hall. “I started commuting and I absolutely loved being outside and not being stressed about being stuck in traffic.”
While at the University of Northern California, she became involved with the cycling team and began racing. She did quite well and quickly moved up through the categories, now traveling around the world with the UHC squad.
Starting with a collegiate team was key to Halls early success.
“I think the collegiate system is an absolutely awesome way to get into racing bikes,” said Hall. “There’s a ton of structure, you already have a team, and all the teams are super supportive of people just getting started.
“I think women have a lot of different experiences as they’re getting into cycling,” she continued. “It can be pretty intimidating. It’s definitely a male-dominated sport. I got into it through collegiate racing, and that’s so great for women to start cycling. There are both men and women, and the whole team benefits from everyone riding together. The team really supports the women as much as the men because all the scores are counted together, so the whole team benefits from having a strong women’s team.”
The structure was important, but the mentorship provided by the wide array of riders on the team was critical. Young riders get to ride with older and more experienced cyclists who act as mentors and role models for the new cyclists.
“Collegiate cycling is a really supportive and wonderful way for women to get into cycling. As an amateur, I had some really good women on my team that were wonderful role models,” said Hall. “I rode with Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, who just set the hour record and she’s a law professor at Berkley. She’s just a bad ass lady — and there were all these women that are balancing careers and bike racing. That was cool to see such a positive, forceful group of women and get to hang out with them.”
Through the support of her NorCal team, Hall rode a strong collegiate national championships, which helped secure her a spot on the Collegiate All Starts team at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
“That race was really good for people just wanting to make their way onto the national team,” she said. “That was my first ever NRC race and I raced with the Collegiate All Stars. It was a good place to start. A couple of us from that team have pro contracts now. Those types of programs are really fantastic, so when a race like that doesn’t happen, it’s a real bummer.”
The women’s edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, now the North Star Bicycle Festival, was cancelled in 2015 due to lack of ridership.
“Women need to show up to races like this, but teams can be spread too thin,” said Hall. “Our team, as were several others, were in Europe during that race, and we don’t have enough women to field a team on both continents.”
A rising tide raises all ships, and women’s racing should be on the rise.
“I think women’s bike racing is so exciting to watch. When people get a chance to watch women’s cycling, they get really excited about it,” said Hall. “Because it’s a little shorter format, it’s often more aggressive throughout, from the beginning to the end. I never have a chance in our races to have a sandwich or can of coke. That’s just a product of the races being a little bit shorter and the women having the fitness to race aggressively from the beginning to the end. It’s full-on the whole way.
“You’ll see a break go, but it won’t get very far. It’s brought back, then another break goes, and it’s brought back,” she said. “It’s evolving throughout the whole race. The more people get a chance to see that, the more they’ll be excited about it and keep watching it.”
The more people that are introduced to it, the more will enter the sport, and races like the North Star Bicycle Festival can happen again, but it takes effort from the top down.
“Be an ambassador for women’s cycling,” said Hall. “I think women’s cycling is great, but introducing other like-minded people to the sport will help grow a fan base. Before I started racing, I was obsessed with the Tour de France. I would watch the live stream coverage in the morning and then the primetime coverage of the same stage in the evening.
“I had an appetite for bike racing but no idea what opportunities there were beyond the grand tours.” she continued. “Even now that I know a little about women’s cycling, finding quality videos online or even good race reports can be difficult. Getting quality media coverage of women’s races and getting the attention of people that already love bike racing will help women’s cycling grow.” So, you never know. You never know about that girl you help find a cheap road bike or take on her first group ride. In a few years, she might just be that girl who pulls up next to you at the starting line.
Follow Katie throughout the season on Twitter: https://twitter.com/katiehall47.
Story Courtesy of Dave Mable of the womenscyclingnetwork.