By Becca Schepps
On August 24th the USA Pro Challenge Stage 6 finishes in Fort Collins. Just one stop on a gruelling, 7-day stage race, for men only. Yet, just just hours before, the top professional male cyclists come racing towards the Fort Collins finish line, some of the top professional female cyclists will be racing on the same streets, in the first annual Fort Follies Grand Prix.
Consider it a double feature.
Unlike the mens race, which consists of long road races, many of which, if you head out to watch on the side of the road, you’ll only catch a glimpse of for a quick second, before they blow by and are gone. The women’s race is a criterium. This style of racing is fast paced, aggressive, and promises to be action packed: Picture women diving bombing into corners, riding elbow-to-elbow, on a closed, short course, for an hour. This means you can actually watch the race unfold right before your eyes.
There has been a lot of debate this year about women’s racing, and its role within such a male dominated sport. Women have banded together to demand more equal prize money and representation at races. Just this past month, Marianne Vos asked to bring back the now discontinued women’s version of the Tour de France. And now, with the US Pro Challenge, another men only race, right around the corner, local Coloradan Whitney Schultz, founder of the Fort Collins Follies Cycling Team, a women’s only cycling program meant to inspire and develop women racers, and a rider on the Colavita-Fine Cooking Professional Women’s Cycling Team is making sure the women have their time in the limelight.
Schultz, along with immense help from a core group of passionate Follies, are working in conjunction with First City Cycling to hold the first Fort Collins Follies Criterium. The criterium races on the same streets as the US Pro Challenge, even using the men’s finish line as their own. It’s easy to see, once home to Olympian Georgia Gould, National Road Champion Meredith Miller, and recently Professional Cyclist Amanda Miller, Fort Collins has emerged as a leader, triumphing the women’s scene.
At 8am, on the morning of the race, the Follies are holding a “Ride With The Stars” hoping to inspire, develop and recruit new female riders and racers. They have enlisted the help of professional cyclist Alison Powers of NOW Novartis, along with a core group of other pro-women, to lead a 20 mile ride, on August 24th. The ride will be fully supported with sag from State Wheels, and is an excellent opportunity to meet and ride with top-notch pro ladies, right before they set off to race. If you can’t make it to the morning ride, catch them at the after-race party celebrating women’s cycling.
That said, it wouldn’t be women’s cycling without a few setbacks. With so much infrastructure being used for the US Pro Challenge, The Follies are looking to the local community to help support them - especially when it comes to prize money. Prize money is the number one way to make sure the race attracts the best of the best, ensuring the racing is filled with top notch talent.
So show your support. Help The Follies with their GoFundMe campaign: www.gofundme.com/FortFolliesGrandPrix. Every dollar counts and every penny is worth racing for. Stage six of the US Pro Challenge is going to be hot, attracting up to 100,000 out-of-town visitors, giving Fort Collins and Colorado a stage to show the world they care, support and value women’s cycling.
See you out there.
And at the after party.