Women’s cycling’s biggest fan

April 11, 2013

Chris Rivera is one of women's cycling's biggest fans—one you might not have heard of. Residing in St. Paul, Minnesota, the 29-year-old Rivera works in banking and is a dedicated cyclist himself. But he's even more dedicated to promoting women's cycling. Here's why Chris Rivera wants you to fall in love with women's cycling.

chris rivera
Rivera on a ride near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Why are you a huge women's cycling fan?
Women’s cycling is exciting. It’s a collection of individual personal stories constantly unfolding. Every person has a story, and following stories in action has a captivating humanistic appeal. We can all relate our own desires, triumphs, and shortfalls; we can all appreciate the feeling of wanting nothing more than to succeed at a personal goal. Whether it’s cheering for the women of Rêve Tour as they completed the entire Tour de France course last year or a friend completing her very first century, wanting nothing more than to succeed is a feeling I often relate to women’s cycling.

What fascinates you about women's racing?
I am fascinated by everything that makes the sport what it is: the heartfelt passion, sportsmanship, the hardship, determination, athleticism, striving and sacrificing for personal goals or a teammate’s goals; all of these things and more give women’s cycling its thrilling personality.

Why do you follow women's cycling over men's?
I especially am such a passionate fan and supporter of women’s cycling because I care deeply about it and want it to grow and succeed. I have realized that, like anyone else, I can do my own part to contribute, and I definitely see the need for support. I am upset by the discouraging struggles female cyclists experience at amateur and professional levels such as lack of media attention, sponsorship difficulties, prize money/salary disparity, and cultural undervaluation. I am bothered by the possibility that a strong, highly-educated, successful woman that I greatly respect could encounter a social or financial impasse that would prevent her from succeeding in her goal or perhaps even attempting it in the first place. I imagine my friends and family being impeded by those barriers, and it becomes clear to me that I must do something.

I want to do my part to support and celebrate women’s cycling. Celebrating a sport grows that sport. Although there are the struggles, there are so many fantastic positive qualities about it as I said earlier, and these are characteristics that I hope people see, enjoy, and share with others.

womens olympic road race
Riders battle it out in the rainy 2012 Olympic Road Race. (Image: Flickr user Peter G. Trimming)

What makes women's pro cycling different from men's?
Women’s cycling is more expressively passion-driven and personal than men’s cycling. At the professional level, the women are generally more willing to engage their fans or the media; across all levels, there is a social culture and psychology that motivates women cyclists to share their experiences and inspire others. This is certainly a generalization because I could easily name male cyclists that do exemplify all of these traits, but from what I have heard from the media and others in the sport, there is a lot of truth in this contrast; this is also true from my experience with female cyclists that I have interacted with via social media and in person.

Pro women’s cycling is so passion-driven partly because of the disparity in extrinsic benefits such as prize money, salaries, and sponsorship; making a financially profitable career out of cycling is currently difficult for both genders but especially for women. Women that enter the sport often are well-established in their outside careers, and female cyclists at the elite and pro level often hold master’s degrees or PhDs; this level of education in pro men’s cycling is less common perhaps because men are likely to make more money from their cycling careers directly. The fact that so many women hold high-level careers while cycling or even walk away from their career completely to focus on cycling shows a genuine love for the sport and also the remarkable ambition that resonate with many fans.

Men’s and women’s cycling do have a lot in common, and that is important; despite their differences and because of their similarities, one is neither superior nor inferior to the other. I won’t discuss the similarities specifically now, but I do want to point out that all of my descriptions here of women’s cycling subtly show characteristics of cycling that are not necessarily exclusive to one gender.

How did Click-Thru Thursdays begin? 
Click-Thru Thursdays started as Amber Pierce’s brilliantly effective answer to cycling fans frequently asking her how can cycling fans better support women’s cycling? What can we do to help? Amber is an American pro cyclist currently riding for Team Pasta Zara-Cogeas-Manhattan. She is one of the most friendly, eloquent, and passionate ambassadors for the sport.

With just a few clicks each week on Click-Thru Thursday, we can meaningfully support cycling, and especially women’s cycling. It does sound ridiculously easy, but that’s one of the best qualities of Click-Thru Thursday: it is remarkably simple, and it gets results! The most concrete benefit is that it shows sponsors and the media with real numbers that we follow women’s cycling and that we want to see more coverage and sponsorship; everything, including click-throughs, is counted in online media. Our individual efforts collectively make a powerful statement about how much we support women’s cycling!

By sharing links to articles on Twitter with the official hashtag #ClickThruThurs; “liking” pages or posts on Facebook by our favorite teams, athletes, and sponsors; commenting on articles; and simply clicking through to websites that support women’s cycling, we are demonstrating the potential Return on Investment for sponsors and media.

Amber Rais
Click-Thru Thursday founder and pro cyclist, Amber Pearce. (Image: Flickr user shortCHINESEguy)

Do you have any goals for women's cycling?
I have so many goals for women’s cycling to grow and succeed that I could spend all day discussing them! Above all, I want women’s cycling to achieve greater appreciation and respect in cycling culture and in the general sports world because this will generate genuine desire to contribute sustainably to the sport. Two major goals are increased media coverage (e.g., live Internet/television race coverage, news articles) and financial contribution (e.g., sponsorship of events and teams, prize money parity, salaries to team athletes); improving these areas of the sport will drive the culture forward and provide opportunities for growth in other areas, such as creating/sustaining events, developing teams, and welcoming new women and men to the sport.

I also hope that all cyclists, both men and women, can know and feel that our cycling culture will welcome and support them in striving for their next challenging cycling goal whether it is to enter a race, charity ride, or even their local bike shop simply to ask questions about buying their first bicycle.

How can other fans help?
I do thoroughly understand that achieving these goals is not simply a matter of someone deciding to put more articles or live race coverage on a website, contributing more sponsorship money to an event or team, or telling more people to ride their bikes. There are tremendous opportunities for governing bodies, media, sponsors, and fellow fans to grow the sport and to dismantle the barriers that women at all levels of the sport currently encounter, but changes are unlikely to occur abruptly and still be sustainable. Progress needs to build upon progress. Most importantly, we can help drive that progress by growing our cycling culture and showing sponsors and the media that we support and celebrate women’s cycling.

A personal goal I have for all cycling fans is to realize this: everything that you do to support women’s cycling matters. You can positively influence cycling culture, the media, sponsors, and other decision-makers with even the simplest, seemingly insignificant actions. Just months ago, I was feeling frustrated with the state of women’s cycling especially because I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to support the sport; I didn’t fully appreciate and understand the positive impacts of things that I was already doing or considering to do.

Individually, we cannot do everything, but we can each do something; our collective and cumulative efforts to celebrate and support women’s cycling will make a lasting difference.

If you could recommend one female pro to follow, who would it be?
Marianne Vos. Her personality and riding style is remarkably humble and elegant yet dominant and fiercely competitive. She genuinely loves the sport and often expresses a youthful pure joy for riding while in the heat of competition or when she crosses a finish line. Her passion for cycling and desire to work and sacrifice to achieve her personal goals resonates with a wide audience, both men and women. Her attitude and ideas for improving women’s cycling and cycling in general are very positive and reasonable; she understands the disparities but focuses on goals and the means to reach those goals. Marianne doesn’t demand people to respect her; she simply earns it by the way she rides. She also wins races a lot.

Marianne Vos
Marianne Vos wins yet another race. (Image: Flickr user anMarton.)

If you could recommend one race or event, what would it be?
I highly recommend the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival for its exceptional values of supporting women’s cycling, giving to the community, and being an ambassador for all the great qualities that make bicycling the sport we love and share. (Note: Chris is on the planning committee for the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival and is the Women’s Team Logistics Liaison for the Nature Valley Grand Prix.)

What excites you most about the future of bicycling in America?
People discovering that bicycling is for them; becoming so passionate about it that they want to share their experiences with other people. I’m thrilled to see more people discovering the vast opportunities within bicycling and what it could mean personally to them: a sport, a career, a means to improve fitness and life satisfaction, a means to gain wisdom, a way to cultivate a community, inspiration to people they care about or even themselves, and so much more. I especially am encouraged by anything that promotes and builds a culture of bicycling in America, such as motorists being courteous to bicyclists and vice-versa, fans cheering for races and sharing their excitement with others, a newly-created bike lane, and people taking active roles to contribute to what bicycling means personally to other people.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @CRCyclist.

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