In an interview with Sally Bigham who will be racing Transalp 2014 in a mixed pair, unassisted, Subaru-MarathonMTB.com racer Imogen Smith delves into the integrity of pushing and towing in mixed pairs racing, and reflects on her own experience at Transalp last year.
When Sally Bigham announced on Facebook a couple of days ago that she would be racing Transalp in Mixed Pairs – a category she’s avoided for four years – and taking a stand against the pushing and towing rampant in a category where one partner is usually stronger than the other, her post was met with universal approval, but I was left feeling like a bit of the story was going untold.
After all, I raced Transalp with Subaru-MarathonMTB.com partner Mike Blewitt last year and had a life-changing experience. And he pushed me at times – helping me keep my tempo up a climb, or stay with a bunch if I was dropping off the back… The more I thought about it, the more I wondered – had we done the right thing? Was our third place in 2013 legitimate? What about all the lessons I’d learned, all the confidence I’d gained as Mike had helped me into a higher level of competition? And there was his race to consider…I always put in 100%, but sometimes the only way for Mike to sink his teeth into the race as hard as I was meant giving me a push. Then there was the fact that everyone was doing it, even men’s pairs… and it’s well within the rules. I hated it the first day, but once I got used to it, the occasional push became a normal part of our race.
Sally gave MarathonMTB.com an interview just hours before hitting the start line with her first male partner in years – Great Britain’s Ben Thomas – and assured me that the occasional push, just like Mike and I had used, was fine in her book. That said, Mike and I are returning to Euro Mixed Pairs racing at Poland’s Sudety Mountain Bike Challenge in less than a week. Maybe it’s time to try to ride entirely unassisted myself?
Here’s what Sally has to say:
When was your first experience of mixed pairs racing? Did you enjoy it? Why or why not?
My first experience of stage racing was as a mixed pair at the Cape Epic in 2010. My partner told me that if we wanted to compete for the podium then I had to let him push and pull me. I was mortified by the idea! Mountain biking to me is about pushing myself to my limits, powering myself and being able to reflect back knowing that I rode the distance. I don’t need a man to push me! To me it’s ridiculous; women can ride bikes too and often better than men! I found it humiliating to be pushed and pulled and I vowed I would never do it again. I don’t know of any other elite sports where women get such massive assistance from men. But let me be clear, I am not talking about a little push here and there to give a helping hand. What I am talking about is the prolonged towing that I’ve seen in the mixed category over the years. The men in the leading mixed pairs pull the women practically the entire length of the climbs and it is this that I am talking about.
Have you done much mixed pairs racing since then?
No. That was the last time. Since then I’ve always raced in the women’s category.
What made you decide to take a stand against pushing/towing in mixed pairs at Transalp this year?
I believe that women being towed by men sends out the wrong message about women’s cycling. Strong, talented women do not need to hang on to a man’s pocket. Young aspiring women should see that we can ride stage races ourselves and we don’t need a man to literally drag us around.
What do you think your chances are in the mixed pairs GC at Transalp given you’ve decided to ride under your own steam?
That I am not sure about. The end result on paper does not matter to me. What’s more important is my integrity!
Do you think it will bother you to see your opponents getting a push in the race?
No, getting ‘a push’ at certain moments is fine but being giving a huge advantage by being towed for prolonged periods of time will and does bother me because it is unnecessary. Women do not need to be dragged around the Alps!
Have you ever pushed or received a push in female pairs? Do you see much of it in that category?
No, I’ve never received a push in the women’s category, but I have helped my partner on occasions. This I believe is fine: a small helping hand when one partner is suffering is fine. I don’t have a problem with this. It’s a part of stage racing, building a supportive relationship and helping each other out through the tough times. I don’t have a problem with this in any category.
You’re one of the best marathon racers in the world, so it’s fair to assume that you and your partner’s ability will be more closely matched than many mixed pairs out there… Do you think that changes anything?
No my partner is stronger than me, but he will race at my speed. Sure, I hope we will build a good supportive relationship and he’ll help me out at times as I would expect a female partner to.
Would you like to see pushing/towing banned in pairs racing altogether? Why or why not?
No, not at all. I think it’s fine to offer a helping hand intermittently during a stage race, as I said it’s part of the stage racing experience. What I do not agree with is the prolific pushing and pulling in the mixed category where the category simply becomes all about how strong the man is. In this case the category should be called ‘man pulling a woman’ category! What you often find in the top mixed pairs is disparate abilities, and in this case the advantage of prolonged pulling is insurmountable for women who are not receiving the same level of assistancce.
Follow Sally Bigham’s race on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bighamsally or via Twitter @ironsally1
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