Nutmeg Criterium

Leslie Lupien at NutmegThe 2016 Nutmeg State Criterium took place this past Saturday at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain, CT. The event was much anticipated, as the details of the women’s races became an immediate source of controversy. Countless discussions were held, ultimately prompting individuals and teams to make a decision about how to approach the event and continue to move women’s cycling forward. The choice I made (with several of the GLV ladies) was to participate—to race hard and with strategy—dare I say it, “like a girl.”

The Women’s Pro-3 race was scheduled as the final event of the day, lasting 45 minutes, and awarding prizes of $10 per rider up to $250. Like so many others, I read this description once, read it twice, did a quick comparison with the nine different men’s fields, and couldn’t help but laugh. I drove myself to the venue, reg’d, was handed a FREE T-shirt, and, again, laughed. I walked to the bathroom, noticed the great setup that they had for SRAM neutral support, and laughed. For me, racing has never been about the prize money. Like many cyclists, I very deliberately avoid staring too hard at the financial repercussions of my love for the sport. But, I was admittedly taken aback by the extreme dichotomy. The place was hopping; the event was well-staffed and supported; there was a great turnout for the Men’s Pro-3 field, which was guaranteed to be 40-miles with a $1250 payout (+ hundreds in primes). This WAS a true State Championship event. And yet, as I rolled towards the start, my only thought was, “Don’t take it personally. Block it out. Just race.”

I mentioned that my first reaction to the flyer was to laugh. I like to think of myself as being fairly reasonable, level-headed and hard to anger. But, as I sat there at the start line and heard that that our race was being cut to 40 minutes, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. The speech continued. There was a promise of primes, and then came what I found to be the most offensive of it all: “Don’t worry. We will make the men wait until the end of your race to do podiums…We’ll make them wait.” My jaw dropped. Up came the feelings of anger and disgust. I forced myself to stay silent, while thinking, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You’ll force them to stay through our race?! That’s how it’s done. Everywhere. The Pro Podiums are awarded together!”

The race went off and, like everyone else, I shoved my emotions aside, got my head in the game, and tried to make the most of the opportunity. The tone was apparent from the start: we were on a mission. The pace was going to be spirited with attacks and counter-attacks driving the group forward throughout the entirety of the race. The laps passed quickly with the sole prime coming at 5-to-go. The final bell was rung, and the peloton surged and shuffled through the backstretch and around the last turn. Laura Summers showed her usual prowess – positioning herself well towards the front, getting the jump, and sprinting hard to clinch the win and earn the CT State Championship title. I was 2nd with Meredith finishing strong and placing 5th.

Nutmeg Women's PodiumAs I said, this was a day of dichotomies. The race was exciting, fast, spirited, competitive, and as high-quality as I have seen in the local setting. There seemed to be much to celebrate. And, yet, I cannot help but wonder if trying to rise above and “just race” was the right decision.

You look at the facts.
The $10/rider up to $250 prize money allocation was almost laughable, by itself. But, when you consider that 8 out of the 9 men’s fields were guaranteed an equal or significantly larger payout, you start to wonder. You notice that the Pro-3 Men’s field received $1250, do the division, realize that that is, in fact, 5 x 250, and actually might not think too much of it. There are things like field size and entertainment value to consider, right?! Then you start thinking about the big numbers that were announced over the loud speaker and it hits you: the PRIME MONEY for the men was more than the sum total of that allocated to the women’s field. You take pause. And you could choose to dismiss the prizes altogether…make a comment about how it’s NOT about the money, and say something along the lines of, “At least the women had an opportunity to race.” And, everyone around you would nod in agreement, because YES, all of the women WERE allowed to race. They planned their week around it, catered their training schedules to it, made travel arrangements to get to the event…all to be told at the start line, not to worry their little heads…that the men would not be allowed to leave, and would be forced to stay through the entirety of the race before receiving their prize money. Was this overwhelmingly demeaning, or just fact? You realize that there was a promise of primeS that was NOT fulfilled. You laugh when you hear that GLV women had a 2-person lead-out for the MASSIVE $10 prize. And, then silently question as you remember that the Pro Men’s race ran a full 40 miles, while this Premiere women’s race of the day was clocked at 38 minutes in its entirety.

Did the promoter get things cleaned up on the sideline much more quickly than expected? I don’t know. What I can say is that this event was a model for what local road racing should NOT be. Cyclists should NEVER be put in the position where they are given the option to either sit out OR do the thing they love, and have to simply take it as a promoter tells them, in EVERY WAY possible, that they are second class bike racers, and that what they do is LESS than their counterparts. It’s hurtful and offensive. A true NEGATIVE model. And, in this way, also a reminder of how far the sport has come. MOST riders, promoters, announcers, sponsors, officials, and supporters “get it,” and are out there making the sport accessible and enjoyable for all. We get it. And, I cannot even begin to express how honored and proud I was to be part of GLV this past Sunday when we put on the Purgatory Road Race, and did so in a way that exemplified all that the sport should be.

Looking forward to all of the exciting races (and Whoopie Pies) that lie ahead!