“Half The Road” By Mary Reynolds

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

“Half The Road” Investigates Pro Women’s Cycling

Tucson Filmmaker Becomes Advocate For Women Racers
By Mary Reynolds

Kathryn races with the men at the Tucson Tolero criterium.  Alyosha Boldt Photo

Kathryn races with the men at the Tucson Tolero criterium. Alyosha Boldt Photo

Thanks to Tucson filmmaker, author and cyclist Kathryn Bertine, cycling fans could get a whole new look at a women’s Tour de France next year. Bertine, a professional cyclist with Team Colavita, recently finished her documentary “Half the Road” illustrating just how much women professional cyclists and their fans love the sport. Plus, they’ll see how far it will take to get where they want to go.

The film reveals how major cycling organizations like the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the Amaury Sport Organization (organizer of the Tour de France) neglect women athletes.

Bertine interviewed some world class athletes, including international cyclist World Champion Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Olympic gold medalist American Kristin Armstrong. World Champion Emma Pooley at first agreed to only 20 minutes for an interview, then spoke for more than one hour.

“She was so passionate about developing women’s cycling,” Bertine said. “If you give someone a platform where they can bring about change, they’re more than willing to do it.”

In fact, as the film was in the final editing stages, Bertine, Vos and Pooley took action by creating a petition to bring back the Women’s Tour de France. In the 1980s, women had their own Tour de France race with weeks of racing on mostly the same course as the men. At that time, cyclists Inga Thompson and Connie Carpenter, both Americans, showed that women had the endurance to perform on the same courses as the men and on the same days.

The petition asks Amaury Sport for a women’s 2014 Tour de France, with thousands of people demanding that it is about time women are allowed to race the Tour de France, too.

An introductory letter from the cyclists states, “We seek not to race against the men, but to have our own professional field running in conjunction with the men’s event, at the same time, over the same distances, on the same days, with modifications in start/finish times so neither genders’ race interferes with the other.”

All it took was a flip camera to get Bertine to be an advocate. While in El Salvador last year, Bertine went from race to director, asking questions she felt needed to be answered when it came to all things women cycling.

“So many women started saying so many terrific things. I knew we had enough woman power to put together a documentary,” she recalled. “That’s when I realized that we needed to get a proper cameraman on board.”

Kevin Tokstad joined her as cameraman and co-editor.

During interviews with male and female fans, Bertine said the 2012 Olympic road race in London and Idaho’s Exergy tour were mentioned most often. These races proved that women’s racing is exciting, and capable of drawing huge crowds.

“World class athletes said our races are always that exciting,” she said, “but they’re just not televised.”

Throughout 2013, Bertine juggled a professional racing career with filmmaking. Her main racing goal was the September World Championships in Florence, Italy. She’s also aiming for the podium in the Caribbean Championships in Curacao. Bertine races for the nation of St. Kitts-Nevis. No stranger to storytelling, Bertine explained how she came to race for that Caribbean nation in her 2010 book, As Good As Gold.

Common themes emerged as Bertine interviewed pros at events in Europe, the United States, and Central America for the documentary.

“It’s outlandish that in 2013 the highest level of professional men has a base salary but women don’t,” she said. “An up-and-coming rider will say ‘I’ll race for free,’ which is not great for the team structure. It devalues the entire gender.”

Most pro women work other jobs in the off-season, when they could be training like the pro men.

Women racers also pointed to American and international race promoters inability to have major women’s events in conjunction with men’s events. Bertine said, “The lack of stage racing means a lack of opportunity for sponsorship exposure. We need to change perception that women cannot do stage races or longer distances in one-day races,” Bertine said. “We are capable of racing the same distance.”

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona agreed, and said there’s no physical reason why a woman can’t do an event like the Tour de France.

“The issue of equality is broader than just sports,” Dr. Carmona said in the film. “When you’re living in a democracy, everyone is equal. It’s not like some people are more equal than others.”

Bertine said Carmona’s insights and voice was a huge gift to the film.

Bertine’s film also highlights successful women’s teams with professional-level budgets and support. 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins finances Britain’s Wiggle-Honda team. Wiggins recognizes the incredible exposure women’s cycling brings to sponsors.

“We have the top male in the sport helping a women’s team thrive,” Bertine said. “If we had more people like Wiggins, we’d see a shift in the paradigm.”

Colavita has category teams, masters’ teams and the largest team structure in the United States – supporting everyone at all race levels. Bertine said, “I also have to give credit to Colavita, they’ve had a pro team for 13 years, and they’ve stayed strong in their support for women’s cycling.”

“Colavita is in it for the long haul,” Bertine said. “They get the bigger picture.”

Bertine hopes to premiere “Half the Road” at Sundance, Banff, Berlin or another film festival this winter. She hopes to have a pre-screening in Tucson this fall.

“Our message is important, so we’re aiming for the top festivals,” she said.

Mary Reynolds is a freelance writer and cyclist who lives in Barcelona, Spain.

 

 

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