New film highlights ‘unheard of’ 50/50 gender split among UK’s toughest long-distance cycle race finishers

Women riders comprised an “unheard of” half of the top finishers in a gruelling 1,200-mile cycle race from Land’s End to John O’Groats that has been captured in a new documentary by Edinburgh film-maker Markus Stitz.

Sunday, 26th December 2021, 4:55 am

They numbered five of the first ten of this year’s GBDURO competitors to cross the finish line after up to eight days in the saddle, including Aboyne-based Alice Lemkes.

The UK’s toughest endurance race was won by round-the-world record-breaker Mark Beaumont, but Jaimi Wilson came third, Philippa Battye was fifth, Lemkes finished seventh, with Emily Harper eighth and Victoria Peel in tenth place.

The strong female showing came despite women only accounting for a third of the 60 riders who started the race.

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The August event involved four 300-mile stages – a scale reminiscent of the first Tour de France in 1903 – taking in Snowdonia National Park, the Yorkshire Dales and the Highlands.

Only 14 of the 60 riders reached the finish – eight men and six women.

Inverness cyclist Jenny Graham, the fastest woman to ride round the world, said in the film: "I love what GBDURO are doing to push this event for women.

"[In] most bikepacking races, you’ve got a tiny percentage of women.

"It’s great, it’s incredible – the more events like these that are shouting about women doing this stuff, then the more women see it and then the more women imagine it for themselves.

"I think it’s all visual representation.

"Whoever’s shouting about it, making it accessible, that’s what’s going to bring more women into the sport.”

Lemkes, 29, who has just moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeenshire and has four years’ experience of long-distance cycling, said: “My high point was on the last day – I rode from Fort Augustus to John O’Groats - over 380km (236 miles) and my longest single ride - in one go.

Alice Lemkes, left, at the John O'Groats finish with Philippa Battye. Picture: Markus Stitz

"I rode through a sunset, watched the moon rise on a perfectly clear night, and saw the sunrise again in front of me.

"I was so impressed by the way my body responded to the purpose of racing.

"However broken I felt, I was able to draw on something which kept the pedals turning.”

Aneela McKenna, founder of the Mòr Diversity consultancy and chair of British Cycling’s diversity and inclusion external advisory group, said: “An almost 50/50 gender split is unheard of in bike racing.

Alice Lemkes completed the race in seven days, one-and-a-half hours. Picture: Markus Stitz

"The results shows that women are just as capable as men, and if actively encouraged and invited to participate, can excel in this sport.

"It’s positive to see that race organisers acknowledge the disparity in racing and are taking action to improve the gender balance.

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Hannah Dobson, managing editor of mountain biking Singletrack, said: “Ultracycling and long-distance bikepacking events are offering men and women the chance to compete side by side on the same route, and we've seen women win the overall title in a number of these races in recent years.

"Ability is not the barrier to entry, and if you give women the opportunity, they're perfectly able to meet the demands of these types of events.

"You have to wonder how those race organisers and teams still not offering professional women riders equal pay or equal chances to compete can continue to justify their position.”

Stitz, who made the MAIDEN RACE documentary, and has also cycled round the world, said: "The percentage of women is very unusual for bikepacking races, but the tide is turning for other races too.”

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