Professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine discusses cycling world’s gender inequality

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Bertine talks about inequality in the cycling field. REBECCA KLINGER / THE FLAT HAT

Friday, April 12, the College of William and Mary’s Bike Alliance hosted Kathryn Bertine, a professional cyclist, documentary filmmaker and advocate for gender equality. In her talk titled “The Power of No One,” Bertine chronicled her path from journalist to cyclist to activist, explained what she learned from her struggles and detailed how anyone can create positive change. 

Bertine started out as a writer for ESPN. In her column “So You Wanna Be An Olympian?” she wrote about what it was like for an average person to train for the Olympics. She chose the triathlon as her sport, and although she didn’t qualify for the Olympics, she fell in love with cycling. However, she saw many problems in the cycling world. 

“In the back of my head, I thought to myself, ‘You know, this cycling thing, I’m so in love with it, but there are a few problems in this sport,Bertine said. “… For example, why are women not invited to all the races the men are invited to? Why are women racing only half the distance of the races that the men do? And why are the prize winnings for the professionals just pennies on the dollar for women? None of this made any sense to me.” 

This inspired Bertine to become an activist for gender equality in the cycling world. She mainly focused her efforts on one goal: allowing women to race in the Tour de France. 

 “The one thing that stood out to me was: in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, where are the women?” Bertine said. “Why aren’t there any women? And why is nobody calling for change?” 

The one thing that stood out to me was: in the most famous cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, where are the women?Bertine said. Why aren’t there any women? And why is nobody calling for change? 

The Tour de France allowed women for a few years in the 1950s and 1980s, but the media largely ignored them, so they were cut from the competition. Bertine wanted to change that trend and decided to create a documentary entitled “Half the Road,” which portrayed the struggles faced by women in cycling.

Along with her documentary, she launched a petition entitled “Le Tour Entier” that lobbied for women to be included in the Tour de France. Within weeks, she had hundreds of thousands of signatures.  

Despite immense opposition, with enough pressure from the public, Bertine and other female professional cyclists got to race at the 2014 Tour de France. 

Bertine went on to publish her film about women’s cycling, which won many awards from the filmmaking community. She was featured on the cover of Bicycling magazine in 2016. 

“I don’t have an Olympic medal; I don’t have an Olympic anything,” Bertine said. “I am no world champion; I am not wealthy; I am not famous, but Bicycling Magazine put me on the cover of the magazine because I stood up and used my voice for change. So if that’s possible, if I am able to do something like that, then we all are. We all are capable of using our voice and creating that change.” 

“I don’t have an Olympic medal; I don’t have an Olympic anything,” Bertine said. “I am no world champion; I am not wealthy; I am not famous, but Bicycling Magazine put me on the cover of the magazine because I stood up and used my voice for change. So if that’s possible, if I am able to do something like that, then we all are. We all are capable of using our voice and creating that change.” 

Bertine cited further examples of gender inequality in the cycling world, such as the gender pay gap. She recalled a recent incident of gender inequality in the cycling world earlier this year, when cyclist Nicole Hanselmann was forced to stop mid-race when she caught up to the male cyclists. Normally, men and women race on the same track, but the women’s race starts later to allow for separation between the racers; in Hanselmann’s race, however, the women started only 10 minutes after the men, and Hanselmann was fast enough to catch up. The race organizers had to stop and restart the women’s race once she had reached the men’s position. 

Vice President of the William and Mary Cycling Club and competitive cyclist Gillian Bennett ‘21 had similar experiences to Hanselmann’s 

“I can totally relate to the story of getting stopped mid-race to let the men’s field pass when I was trying to get on a breakaway, and that’s kind of unfortunate because then the whole field catches up, and all the work you just put in is gone because the men have to pass,” Bennett said. “I’ve been in a lot of races where I’ve passed a lot of the men who have started earlier than me too.” 

Bennett also discussed her experiences with being a woman in the College’s Cycling Club.  

“At the beginning of the semester, I was the only active female,” Bennett said. “Since then, I’ve gotten two other girls to join, which is really cool. I’m very fortunate that I have a club that promotes my cycling just as equal to [the men’s], but I know [when] talking to other women in the sport, it isn’t always the case.” 

Another member of the College’s Bike Alliance Carolina Lopez ’20 has also experienced this inequality firsthand. 

“My sophomore year, when I was here, I joined the cycling team for one semester,” Lopez said. “I did feel that I wasn’t as welcome in the group as the rest of the guys. I think I also felt somewhat inadequate because I was going on rides with them. I did feel like I wasn’t enough.”  

Lopez also connected this inequality more broadly to all women’s sports. 

“I think with any sport, there’s more attention paid to the men’s events for some reason,” Lopez said. “There’s definitely still a disparity, which is why I was so excited that this event happened, so we could talk about that and have those discussions.” 

“I think with any sport, there’s more attention paid to the men’s events for some reason,” Lopez said. “There’s definitely still a disparity, which is why I was so excited that this event happened, so we could talk about that and have those discussions.”