Momentum is building in the fight for the equality and increased participation of women in sport. Campaigns such as #TaketheStage fronted by Liv’s Marianne Vos, #LikeAGirl from Always and British Cycling’s #WeRide have all seen viral success over recent months.
Encouraging women to take part in sport is so important – the physical and mental benefits are endless – but how do we connect with ladies that don’t find time for exercise and inspire them to lead a more active lifestyle? Let’s take me as an example. I have never been sporty, was never on any teams at school, I’m a terrible runner and have spent most of my life being what I like to call ‘curvy’.
After I moved to Dubai in 2008, I threw myself in to the social scene and quickly found myself wearing an extra few stone, ballooning from a UK size 14 to an 18. I was too self-conscious to go to the gym. When my lovely dad died quite suddenly, my health deteriorated and my weight continued to rise. I was smoking and drinking too much and couldn’t pull myself out of it.
It was at that point my husband decided drastic action was required and he went and bought me a bike for my 41st Birthday – and entered me in to the Spinney’s Dubai 92km cycle challenge that was taking place just 14 weeks later. We’d raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Trust, the disease that stole my dad away. It was the motivation that I needed to finally make the change. It was a struggle, but after a couple of weeks I braved the local cycle club. I wasn’t a pretty sight in lycra, but actually no one seemed to care. What mattered was that I was out there, doing something about it.
I found my peace on those early morning rides with my husband. In the dawn light, listening to the whir of the tyres on tarmac, it’s like a form of meditation in motion. It gave me an hour of peace before the day started and helped me recover from the grief of losing my dad.
That December, I rode 92km around the sights of Dubai with my husband by my side. I can’t say it was easy, but with his support I made it. It was probably my greatest achievement and I have never looked back.
I’d met some amazing women while out on rides and we formed a really strong bond.
In 2013 we started a women only cycling club called the Velo Vixens. We rode together every Monday and those rides were the highlight of my week.
My husband was away working in Saudi Arabia, but I had this phenomenal support network of healthy, vibrant, fun women. It made a huge difference to my life and I wanted to share that with others.
It can be lonely being an expat, but it really doesn’t need to be. Luckily, word soon spread, as the Vixens invited their friends to join. Two years later and there are now 500 Velo Vixens in the UAE.
Receiving that bicycle for my birthday was a real pivotal moment. It provided me with new perspectives and opportunities to change my life.
I’m now a proud Brand Ambassador for Liv cycling, the first and only women’s specific bike shop in the Middle East. Liv is committed to the female cyclist.
Liv Cycling is the new women’s cycling brand from Giant; now a stand-alone brand completely dedicated to women, with its flagship store located on BOXPARK Jumeirah.
Offering the only comprehensive product collection designed specifically for female cyclists, ranging from beautiful apparel to premium bicycles.
Our shared passion is making cycling more approachable and appealing so that it can become a mainstream sport and fitness activity for women.
From complete beginners, through to the elite cyclist, Liv provides the best products to help women discover new possibilities through cycling.
We run regular free workshops and clinics, from teaching women the basic mechanical checks, to giving them the skills they need to ride confidently.
Liv runs a number of free women only rides in Dubai and Abu Dhabi every week, for all levels of ability.
Safety is a big concern for women who have jobs, houses to run and children to look after. Cycling on the roads here is not an option for many. However, since the cycle paths opened, there has been a huge increase in the number of women out on bikes.
You can cruise in complete safety around the hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths with your friends, enjoying the scenery, the company and the coffee, or you can push your limits on a fast paced group ride.
You may not have a fancy bike, or be dressed top to toe in high end cycling gear, or go very fast for that matter, but you are still a cyclist.
There are so many women of all abilities out riding now, that you’ll never be short of a bike buddy. I love cycling. I love the natural high it gives me, the sense of freedom, of confidence.
Above all, I love the women I ride with and the fun we have. It’s hard to remember how great riding a bike made us feel when we were little girls, so you’ll just have to come and join me and find out for yourselves.
Let’s start a revolution! www.facebook.com/groups/vvdxbwww.facebook.com/ livcyclingME
They are only a two-month-old outfit but Al Nasr Pro Cycling Team are already making a name for themselves on the international stage and have been racking up the victories this week at the Grand Tour d’Algerie.
The newly-formed Emirati professional cycling team, that aims to drive UAE talent towards the highest echelons of the sport, are currently contesting the gruelling tour in Algeria that is comprised of 10 different stages races and one-day races, taking place from March 4-28.
Al Nasr’s Jesus Alberto Rubio won the Circuit International d’Alger, a 105km one-day race that kicked off the action last Friday, before the UAE outfit pulled off a podium sweep in the three-day Tour Internationale d’Oranie, with Luca Wackermann winning the General Classification jersey on Monday, Essaid Abelouache placing second and Tomas Vaitkus coming third. On Tuesday, Vaitkus won the 120km one-day race Grand Prix de la Ville d’Oran.
The team consists of a mix of European, North African, and Emirati riders and the goal is for the local UAE cyclists to learn from their team-mates who have been on the professional scene much longer than they have.
Wackermann is a 23-year-old Italian who used to ride for WorldTeam, Lampre-Merida, while Vaitkus rode for GreenEDGE and Astana, where he competed in Grand Tours with cycling giants like Alberto Contador.
Al Nasr’s exploits so far in Algeria have seen them claim six victories, which ranks them in the top 10 amongst all professional teams worldwide in terms of race wins this season.
“I was surprised we won all those races,” team manager Vitor Carvalho told Sport360. “We’re a new team and these victories, which give us a lot of UCI points, will help us get invited to bigger races, it’s great that we can show that we have all these points.
“I have a lot of confidence in the guys. They allowed me to choose the riders that would join this young team and I recruited Tomas, Jesus and Luca.
“Jesus and Luca are young riders, I had been following their careers for some time now.
“They’re 23, they still have a lot of developing to do but they are high quality riders. I know they had some internal issues in their previous teams, so we’re trying to give them all the comfort at Al Nasr, so they feel free, with no pressure. We want them to take their time, so there is no rush and automatically things will work out.
“Those three riders will allow locals like (UAE No1) Yousif Mirza and the others in the squad to follow their lead in the professional races.
“It’s the first year for the locals to compete as professionals so there is still a long way to learn, how to train, how to work in the peloton… Riders like Tomas and the others can guide them.
“We are seeing the progress already.”
Mirza, who is the UAE’s top-ranked cyclist, and Majid Al Balooshi joined their team-mates in Algeria on Tuesday as the squad will be swapping some of the riders for the individual races within the 24-day tour.
The Grand Tour d’Algerie resumes on Thursday with the Tour International de Blida, a three-stage race with a 2.2 categorisation.
Australian Michael Matthews took the overall leader’s yellow jersey at the Paris-Nice stage race after winning the opening prologue.
Orica Green-Edge rider Matthews, 25, blitzed the 6.1km course at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, to the west of Paris, in 7min 39sec to beat Dutch timetrial specialist Tom Dumoulin by a single second.
“First day back in the grid and first win. It’s really a great start to the season,” said Matthews. “I was thinking a top five was possible on a course like this. It was hilly, with lots of technical corners, which suits me.
“The next few stages are flat sprints so I should be able to keep the jersey. We’ll see how far I can go. My climbing form is quite good so it will be nice to see how long I can keep it. It’s an amazing jersey and an amazing race. This is Paris-Nice and I know most of the climbs on the course this week.”
New Zealander Patrick Bevin was third at 2sec while Australian defending champion Richie Porte came in 11th, 10sec down. Team Sky leader Geraint Thomas was seventh at 7sec while Alberto Contador came in a lowly 27th at 16sec.
Monday’s first stage will take the peloton 198km from Conde-surVesgre to Vendome and is expected to finish in a bunch sprint.