They come from nine different countries, five different continents and vastly differing cycling backgrounds. But for two weeks they have come together at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, to participate in the combined Coaching (Level 2) and Mechanics (Level 1) course.
Hailing from Fiji, Egypt, Botswana, Trinidad & Tobago, Brazil, India, Estonia, Hungary and Spain, these women largely outnumber the men on the two-week course and nearly all benefit from an Olympic Solidarity scholarship. They have concrete ideas about how to develop cycling in their respective countries and their participation in the latest UCI WCC Coaching course is a sign of their #PressforProgress, the theme of this year's International Women's Day.
UCI WCC High Performance Manager Belinda Tarling explained that the women had been identified via their National Federations. The aim was to increase the pool of qualified female coaches, who could in the future also mentor other aspiring female coaches. She said:
“Female athletes in our sport now number very close to 50% but female elite level coaches are almost invisible."
“Although it is not necessarily essential to have 50% female coaches, women should have an equal opportunity to qualify.”
Belinda Tarling added that Olympic Solidarity had been very proactive in awarding scholarships for women attending the course.
UCI actions in favour of women
This latest offer comes on top of scholarships offered by the UCI each year to women taking part in the annual UCI WCC Sport Director course.
UCI President David Lappartient said the current course was part of the International Federation’s continuing effort to support women athletes and women working in cycling’s professions. In January, the UCI received an international award for its initiatives to empower women in sport.
“Tremendous progress has already been made to improve the position of women in our sport, and we will not stop there,” he said. “As President of the UCI, I will continue to focus on further increasing the professionalism of women’s cycling and ensuring that both the athletes and those working for the sport get the opportunities they deserve. It is wonderful to see these women coaches training here at the UCI headquarters.”
What the course participants have to say
Estonian Maaris Meier, now 35, was part of the first intake of mountain bike trainee athletes at the UCI WCC back in 2002. She competed in the Athens 2004 Olympic road race and won the silver medal at the 2008 World University Cycling Championships in MTB cross-country Olympic.
Now Maaris Meier is back in Aigle to train as a coach.
Currently residing in Portugal, the Olympian welcomes and coaches Estonian athletes for training camps of two to four weeks.
“I know how hard it is for young athletes. I really wish I’d had someone to look up to when training in Estonia." She continues:
"I don’t want to be `just a former athlete who coaches’. I want to have a qualification and work with my National Federation.”
According to the former athlete, women in Estonia needed to gain confidence and receive a boost to get into the sport. In my country, everything is done by men and it's hard to get your foot in the door. But once you have, you have their respect."
A relative late-comer to the sport, Gobona Mantle, 34, from Botswana, started cycling just seven years ago and quickly found herself on the podium of women’s races. Now that her 11-year-old daughter is showing signs of promise as a cyclist, Gobona Mantle has decided to take action. She has already started a training programme in schools and hopes to identify young talent that could give her daughter some competition.
“I didn’t have a coach, and it has been a struggle. I am sure there are a lot of kids with potential but a lot of them cannot participate because there is not the support, they don’t have bikes and there are no coaches. I hope that when I go back home I can help. A lot of the girls are just scared. I want to give them the opportunity to take things one step at a time and feel comfortable on their bike.”