Rooted Vermont heads for 50-50 gender parity in 2022
'It’s about empowering female riders to become leaders in their community' says organiser
Rooted Vermont, one of the leading gravel races in North America, will have a 50-50 split between male and female competitors in 2022. The event was founded in 2019 and partly aims to provide aspiring female athletes with both a successful race and helpful clinics that include guest speakers, workshops, and advice. Registration for the race will open on November 1. The full event will take place between July 29-31, 2022.
“Some races open up spots for women-only after the fact but our vision was to take a step back and bring women into our community and teach them the skill to be able to imagine themselves going Rooted Vermont,” said founder Laura King.
Fellow race and event founder Kristen Motley added that the demand among female participants had now reached a point at which they could reach 50-50 parity.
“Now we feel as though we’ll be able to fill 50 per cent of our registration spots. We’re confident that the demand is there and from the genesis our event it’s always been our hope to host an event that’s equal in all regards. It’s an exciting time within gravel cycling because we know that we can fill the spots because women’s cycling is growing,” Motley told Cyclingnews.
Gravel racing has expanded dramatically in the last two years, especially in North America, with a host of new events emerging as road racing continues to decline. The emergence of the discipline has brought with a new audience, and in particular more female voices and riders. Along with the racing, Rooted Vermont has also launched their Women’s Clinics, which began in 2019 and have doubled in size.
At the first women’s Clinic 50 female riders attended but this year’s attendance topped out at 100, with over 200 applicants applying for a place. The ethos of the clinics has been to provide a safe space for female riders of all abilities to enjoy a space in which they can relate to each other and share their experiences. The events focus on a ‘head, heart, hands’ stance and provide practical skill workshops, as well as guest speakers and working groups.
King and Motley encourage the women attending the clinics to take their experiences home with them and share them with their own networks on a local scale.
“It’s been surprising but we’re seeing a real snowball effect when it comes to building a community. We’re seeing people who attended the first clinic coming back as mentors and leaders and then attracting more women to their own communities. We can host 100 people in our little town on Richmond, Vermont but the reach is so much greater. We’ve looked for people who are eager to recruit to their own communities,” King added.
The growth of gravel as a whole has certainly helped foster momentum for the race and the clinics – which work in tandem as Motley and King aim to provide both a high-class racing event and a comfortable environment for beginners.
Gravel’s more laid-back nature certainly has been a helpful ground for the growth but the Vermont organisers have also had to work hard at recognizing what their audience requires.
“Absolutely, the growth of gravel, has been a component,” Motley said. “So many parts of gravel are less intimidating than road cycling,” added King.
“From the rules to the gear and the celebrations afterwards. In gravel, you can be on a startline with all your friends rather than in a category. That all makes it more appealing. So 50-50 is just more in line with the vibe to our event where you can show up and race pros but also come with a retro-fitted bike and whatever athletic clothes you have.
“We have a place for everyone but we know that some people can be hesitant to show up for an event because they think that they’re going to stick out as not experienced enough. That’s just not the case for us. When you come to Rooted Vermont, we just expect people to be nice to each other, to say hi, and make friends. We have a place for everyone.”
Inclusive and expansive
The clinics will return once more in 2022 with the organisers set to unveil their ambitions and plans in the coming weeks but they hope that each year, as more athletes come through their doors, the reach of the network continues to have an effect on women’s cycling with more and more leaders establishing themselves and putting into practice their gained knowledge.
“The first achievement was that we developed leaders through the programme and the fact that they come back as alumni and share their skills,” said King.
“It’s about empowering female riders to become leaders in their community, and that’s super impactful for me. We can step back and see that evolution and it’s happened naturally. We have one woman from Texas who has gone back to her hometown and we see photos of her now with between 50 and 100 riders with her at group gatherings that she’s put together. That’s exactly what we want to see. She came, she learned and gained confidence and took that back to her community.”
King pointed to one rider and their development in particular as one of her favourite moments from the clinics’ short history. The rider turned up without confidence or the right equipment but after some encouraging words began to feel at home, and this year she returned as one of the guest speakers.
“The riders who are newest to the sport are the most inspiring. I think that we can be for both the pros and the people. Just because someone is a pro cyclist doesn’t meant that they don’t need the culture and community that comes with having an experience of an everyday rider,” she said.
“In 2019 a rider came here, sat in her car, and almost drove home because she was so nervous. She didn’t have a gravel bike or the proper equipment. She hadn’t been part of a cycling community, hadn’t been on her bike in many years after having children and her identity was that of being a mother.
“The clinic changed everything in her life. She was fully embraced and she came back the next day and to watch her stand in front of other people this year and tell her story and lead a skill ride was hugely inspiring. She’s a mother, a wife and an athlete.”
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.