Domenica Cresap on pioneers of women cycling

Did you know this is Women’s Cycling Week?

I didn’t.

Luckily, I stumbled across a great article, “The Pioneers of Women’s Cycling” on CyclingNews.com and saw that the editors have been celebrating the influence of female cyclist on the sport all week.

As an avid cyclist (I’m currently training for the Ciclismo Classico), I enjoy hearing about how women are participating in the sport. Reading about the female cyclists from long ago reminded me about the women on whose shoulders we stand and in whose memory we ride. Here are just a couple of the notable “pioneers.”

Hélène Dutrieu

Dutrieu starting cycling because her brother was doing it. She was only 14 when she left home to pursue her dreams and when she was 16 she broke the women’s Hour Record. At 18, she entered the  women’s speed track world championships–and won! She would repeat her victory again the following year.

When you Google Dutrieu you’ll see that not only was she a cyclist, she was also an accomplished pilot.  According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, who features Dutrieu in its “Women in Aviation” gallery, Dutrieu was known as the “girl hawk” and she “thrilled the world in September of 1910 by flying non-stop from Ostend to Bruges, Belgium and she became the first Belgian woman to receive a pilot license on November 25, 1910.”

Alfonsina Strada

Strada played by the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” rule when she joined the men’s Giro d’Italia. She frequently participated in men’s races, sometimes winning them. She rode the Giro di Lombardia twice in 1917 and 1918, finishing 21st on her second attempt, according to CyclingNews.

When she was invited to ride the Giro d’Italia at the age of 24, she was enlisted under the gender-neutral alias of Alfonsin Strada. Her identity was uncovered before the race but she rode anyway. Unfortunately, she had broken handlebars during the race and wasn’t able to get mechanical assistance during the ride until a spectator gave her the broken handle of a broom to use. By then, she’d been missed the time cut. Still, she pedaled on. She wasn’t an official finisher, but she completed the race around 30 hours behind the winner.