International Women’s Day by Erica Leonard

Why keeping women in sport is important to me:

When I was a kid, I was brought up knowing that I could do anything that I set my mind to. My mom and dad would call me supergirl and cheer me on relentlessly. I knew that regardless of what life threw at me, I was unstoppable if I was on a bike.

When I started racing and training in my early teens, this mindset changed, and I began to feel like I was a lesser athlete somehow. I was getting put in the B groups and suddenly considered part of the “beginner group” for training rides. I was still winning races, coming top three; when I was 16, I was even national champion, but I always was put in the slower groups at training camps. Here’s what I learned to believe as a young female cyclist/athlete.

  • Being a girl in cycling means that you’re slower than the boys.
  • Being a girl in cycling means you start second to the boys.
  • Being a girl in cycling means that you might get prize money, depending on the turnout, which is deemed fair.
  • Being a girl in cycling means occasionally mistaken as a male because additional women’s kits are too expensive.
  • Being a girl in sport means that you go on the shorter beginner rides because you won’t keep up with the experienced boys.

BUT!

Girls aren’t slower than boys; we ride differently. Sometimes women’s races are even more exciting than the men’s and are worthy of getting the main event time slot! Women’s event prioritization is finally being recognized by some race organizers like The Silver Goose.

While some events and races offer equal payouts for men and women, we still have lots of work to do; refer to @thecyclistalliance’s Instagram for more info.

There are plenty of great women’s kits that don’t make you look like you have a package and won’t give you saddle sores. Let’s decrease minimum orders for the ladies, please! Thank you, Jakroo!

We need change and support in our sport to see the number of female athletes grow. Why should a woman enter a sport knowing that it caters to men? The answer isn’t to pay women more than men or make men wear women’s chamois! It’s equality. Now for some positives:

  • Being a girl also means that when you do something cool, the whole room stops for a moment to appreciate how badass you are.
  • Being a girl in cycling also means that you are healthy and strong.
  • Being a girl in cycling also means that each success means so much more because you are a fighter. Being a girl in sport means that you get to be a role model for all women.
  • Being a girl in sport means that you are a fierce athlete and an inspiration!
  • Being a girl in cycling means that you are helping another girl see that she has the potential to get a bike, to whip down big MTB descents, to tour the Spanish islands, or even to crawl around in the mud at a cyclocross race.

Be the change you want to see in the world and STAY ON YOUR BIKE!!! Happy International Women’s Day!

Photos by: Jody Wilson Photography

Learning to Take a Step Back by Melissa Wong

“This sport is just wonderful in what it gives back to each person who puts their heart into it”

This quote has never rung truer for me as it has this semester. Thank you to Aubrie de Sylva for sharing it on her Instagram! This semester has been an adjustment with online school and a lack of any structure to my day rather than the packed schedule I am accustomed to where I would spend all day on campus. It gave me some time to re-evaluate my relationship with cycling and redefine how I personally put my heart into the sport and why I bike.

In September, I felt the strongest I’d ever been on the bike and I was very focused on numbers as I watched them go up quickly and gained confidence. I was constantly challenging myself doing longer, fast-paced rides with a few of the Queen’s Cycling boys. Looking back, I peaked even though I wasn’t really training to do so, and eventually I started falling down from it. That hit my motivation, because suddenly the hours I was putting in on the bike wasn’t giving me any results – if anything, it was doing the reverse. In addition, I started feeling some fatigue on the bike. Prior to this setback, I had always seen cycling as a safe space, or a bubble where I could always go to take my mind off of things. This metaphorical bubble was popped when I wasn’t feeling great on the bike; if I was stressed with school or life I was suddenly unable to simply hop on my bike and clear my head because I was facing a mental uphill on the bike too. The lack of progress in my numbers and the feelings of fatigue on the bike led me to take a step back to reflect, and to rediscover my motivation. I took a few days off the bike to let myself recover, although at the time it was difficult to because it seemed like I would lose fitness or valuable training time. After that break, I did a couple rides where I just didn’t look at any numbers, and just rode by feel and by listening to my body.

After this break, I switched my focus from always pushing my numbers to simply monitoring them to ensure I was still properly recovering. I also took more time to do rides that weren’t strictly for the sake of training (lots of sunset rides). Instead, I wanted to focus on other aspects of why I love the sport; the memories, the community, and adventure.

Some of the rides I’ve done have involved not even looking at numbers, and just enjoying and soaking in everything else about the ride. One of my favourite adventures was riding to Frontenac Provincial Park, doing a hike, and riding back home with Kaitlyn and Matt. How I managed to find two friends equally as keen as me to do a 100km of riding with a 15km hike in the middle carrying bikes beats me, but I went to bed with a smile on my face that night.

Because of the pandemic, I was only seeing the small group of people I was riding with and this led to strengthened friendships. Cycling is so much more than the activity itself; it’s also the people you meet and the awesome times you have with them. Many of these friendships have transcended the sport, and we are there for each other off the bike too to support each other with school and life. Equally, I’ve also found support through my cycling community through these times, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

Mid-ride Timbit stop!

Recently I’ve taken to learning some new skills (bunny hops), riding more gravel, and off-roading. If anything, I’ve come to realize there is no better time to just enjoy the bike and do adventures I wouldn’t usually have time for – and I have my teammate Kaitlyn to thank for that! I decided to take a break from Strava as I found myself getting too caught up in comparing myself with the training others were doing, when the best thing for me personally was to just get out and enjoy cycling as a break from school or to hang out with friends. I’ve come to realize that cycling is a lot more than just training or a sport for me; it’s also an outlet for my emotions, and what’s happening off the bike.

 

 

 

Without any in-person races on the horizon, it has been an especially great opportunity for me to re-evaluate why I love the sport, and to realize there’s so much more than just the numbers. The connections you foster through cycling are truly special, and I’m incredibly grateful for and look back fondly at the memories I have made this semester! I’m excited to continue pursuing my training next year with Evolve Training Co, while not losing touch with the other aspects of cycling that I love. This semester has been a great reminder that from time to time it’s nice just to be able to really soak in where your bike takes you, appreciate the time you get to spend with others while biking, and the adventures it lets you experience.

Feeling Flat by Deirdre Maloney

Training Camp in Girona, Spain by Kaitlyn Shikaze

Training Camp in Girona, Spain by Kaitlyn Shikaze

May 31, 2020

Girona, Spain is a small town north of Barcelona. It’s like the Hollywood of cycling, one of the most popular training grounds for professional cyclists (and wannabe amateurs like me 🙂 ). I was fortunate to travel there this past February with Team Ontario for a two week road training camp to gain base miles for the “upcoming” season and an experience of a lifetime. I even met up with Highgate Teammate and friend Ainsley Black who was also in Girona raining at the time! Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

The climbs:
By far one of my favourite parts about riding the Girona is the amount of elevation. It’s something that’s hard to get here in flat SW Ontario. It’s not that I enjoy the painfulness of never ending climbs, but rather, the satisfaction of pushing your limits, the sense of accomplishment and rewarding views at the top. With the company of good friends, the amazing scenery on the way up and the beautiful reward at the end, the climbs didn’t seem as bad. The climbs of Rocacorba and Mother of God were definitely my favourite.

Learning from the pros:
Another one of the really cool things about training in Girona is the opportunity to ‘bump’ into pro cyclists as it’s a popular training destination. It was neat to learn from and meet the best in the sport; including chatting with Leah Kirchmann at the coffee shop, lunch with Emily Batty and an interview with Mike Woods. We also went down to Banyoles to watch a UCI race which got us pumped for the race season, which at the time was just around the corner.

Food and Coffee:
The food in Europe is just something different and Girona was no exception. Gourmet meals with the best presentation were a dream to come back to after a long day on the bike. Coffee in Girona was also a hot topic, a picking a favourite coffee shop was just as important as a favorite hill climb. The sparkling gold lattes at Espresso Mafia and Fabrica have my vote!

Hitting PB’s:
Something I brought back from my time in Girona which has been keeping me motivated these days with no races, is the feeling of accomplishment when you hit a new PB (Personal Best). Whether it be a new distance, higher elevation or quicker time it gives you that sense of race season thrills that I love. In Girona our “queens stage” day was a huge day, which, at
the beginning, sounded extremely tough, but as the kilometers went by and as the group encouraged each other, we completed 167km and 3200m of elevation. I’ve been using this same motivation recently by setting a new PB last weekend with a 320km ride from Oakville to Niagara Falls and back with my dad. I encourage you to give a new PB a try if you haven’t already, you may be surprised what you are capable of!

 

The coast:
It’s hard to pick a favourite route in Girona as they all have different things that I liked about them such as new views, interesting climbs, uncharted small roads and unique towns we rode though. One route along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea was very memorable and may be the winner as we climbed and descended along the coast with an amazing view the whole time and we went down to the beach for a mid ride dip!

Over the 15 days in Girona, I rode 1387km and climbed 22 171m, I had a blast, riding with old friends as well as meeting new cyclists whom I now call friends. Overall, this trip strengthened my love for road cycling which has been my outlet these past few months. I can’t wait to race and ride with my Highgate teammates soon!

Why I Love Cycling by Melissa Wong

11 Things I Learned in Belgium By Ainsley Black

Progress Not Perfection by Erica Leonard

Would you look at that, it’s already Fall. To me spring and summer went by like days of the week and now we’re here in the midst of school, cyclocross, or for some like me, the off season.
After an incredibly busy summer of working, racing, and visiting friends and family, I found myself mid-August, burnt out and ready for a break! But I’m here to talk about why that’s normal and actually ok! During the school year it’s easy to get caught up, and find yourself missing training due to a midterm or exam or even just by trying to be social. During the summer, when you’re at home working 8-5, it’s a challenge to motivate yourself to NOT go right for the couch after work everyday. What I’m saying is, it’s normal to feel tired and not want to get out there for training some days. But what I’ve learned is that regardless of whether you’re at school or working full time, the key to motivating yourself to get outside and be active is having friends and loved ones that will get out there with you! Being burnt out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a reminder that you need to take care of that V12 engine that you’ve created and to look after yourself.
Now there are different symptoms of being burnt out:
  1. Hating your bike
  2. Not wanting to race
  3. Not feeling the “passion” or “drive”
  4. Impulsive behaviours (for me that’s going for the sweets)
  5. Feeling like you’re not getting the results you want.

And obviously many others. Everyone has their own burn out signs. For me it’s all of those. One or two signs usually to me means that I need to have some fun or find ways to spice up my training. I used to consider myself an introvert, but what I’ve found is that as nice as it is to go out for a 3 hour ride and pop some head phones in, having people to motivate you and hang out with makes your “work” feel like social time! That’s enough to get you out training even when you feel like watching the Office for the 24th time (very clearly calling myself out here).
The tricky part is when all of those burn out signs are piling up and at the end of the day, you just feel like crap. Over the years, I’ve hit this stage a couple times, and for me it’s a sign that I need to take a break. Day after day we challenge ourselves to be better, to perform better, to constantly improve and get to the next level. It’s exhilarating, passion filled, and exhausting! So when you feel burnt out, instead of feeling down on yourself for not feeling the drive, take a week off to reflect on how dedicated you’ve been and how much you have accomplished.
I noticed in August that I was experiencing all of those signs, and a big one for me was not feeling the drive to keep pushing. I decided to start my off season early and focus on hanging out with friends, making some money, and only riding when I felt like it. Ideally, we could all be inspirational models of passion and fire, feeling the NEED to excel all day every day. But in reality, we’re all human and we all need breaks sometimes. Now in October, I’m training again, currently for the Varsity Cross Country Skiing season, but with some base for the cycling season. I wake up motivated and excited to exercise, especially now that I have teammates to keep up with in training! I’m not saying that every day is perfect, but I’m ready take on whatever my athlete life throws at me, with drive and passion! And as always, a little goofiness!
Happy (belated) Thanksgiving everyone!
-Erica Leonard

Biking in the Netherlands by Ali van Yzendoorn

This summer I had the opportunity to live in the Netherlands. Being half Dutch, I’ve always been curious about life in Holland and what it really means to be Dutch. I was lucky enough to live with some amazing family members and immersed myself in real Dutch lifestyle. This included: drinking lots of strong coffee, listening to Dutch music, learning the language, eating stroopwafels, and riding my bike EVERYWHERE.  I found comfort in seeing everyone on bikes and that provided me with a connection to Dutch lifestyle that made me feel so at home. Seeing young children ride their bikes to and from school together, seeing old couples riding on the Dijk together, business people riding to work, you name it! Everyone is on a bike. I think this was my favourite part of the Dutch culture. I rode my bike to and from work, to my friends house, to the grocery store, and of course for training.

This summer I truly realized how powerful cycling is. After the death of Charlotte, (a close friend and former teammate of mine and many others), and living abroad, I’ve realized a lot about myself and my relationship with my bike.  I’ve found that sometimes biking can be the sunshine on a rainy day and be exactly what I need to be put in a good headspace.  It can turn a tough day into a good day. It makes a good day even better. The fresh air gives me energy. While riding I feel content and connected and present with my feelings. I feel able to take on the world. My mind is open and wanders freely. It makes me feel strong and empowered.

 

But just like life, I have also found that there are other days that are tough. Somedays it’s simply just hard to get on the bike. When on the bike, my wandering mind takes me to a place of loss and grief. It’s crazy how the same thing that makes me feel like I’m

on top of the world can make me reflect about the people I care about and miss so much.  The bike gives me time to feel uncomfortable feelings and process them. I think it’s a blessing to have something that can make me feel so many things because it reminds me that I’m human and that it is completely normal to feel happy or sad or angry or excited or vulnerable or joyful.

This is where cycling is more than just being on a bike. It’s about the community of people that choose to be in cycling. How we can use the common interest of bike riding to build a connection with each other that goes beyond the actual bike riding. Charlotte was of those people who was able to use her love for the sport to shine her beautiful personality on so many people to build up the community.

I think the Dutch are on to something. I think the simple act of riding a bike is more than just getting from A to B. It’s part of what makes the country so connected and cozy and gives people an outlet to feel whatever they need to.

I’m so grateful to be a part of this community.

No Rain, No Flowers By Erica Leonard