Femmes fire up for Grafton to Inverell cycle classic

It’s fair to say that women’s participation in sport in Australia is getting somewhat of a makeover, with the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic the latest high profile event that has made a move to encourage equality and diversity, with the support of Regional Australia Bank.

Brisbane's Vickie Burr and Rachael Edwards.

Brisbane's Vickie Burr and Rachael Edwards.

Regional Australia has been home to the 228km event for the past 57 years – and this year, it will feature a category for female riders, for the first time in its history. The inaugural Regional Australia Bank Grafton to Inverell des Femmes will see a team of women take on Australia’s toughest one-day cycling race, under the same conditions as the men.

“We’re proud to encourage equality and diversity in such a prestigious regional event – and it’s fantastic to be able to play a part in the evolution of the race in this way”, said Darren Schaefer, Executive Manager at Regional Australia Bank.

Event Director, Chris Thompson offered his thoughts on the new category: “We believe that women should be afforded the same opportunities in sport as men, and with the support of Cycling NSW, they have been allowed to take part in the last two editions of the race. This proved to be very popular, and Regional Australia Bank’s support this year has enabled them to have their own official category.”

For the women involved, preparation is key, as 41-year-old participant Catriona Newell from Gladstone explained.

“I ride 250-500km per week and try to get in at least one 150+km weekly ride on top of that. I also monitor my race nutrition in training, so I know how much I have to eat and drink during the event, to maintain optimum energy levels,” she said.

Catriona will join four other women from around the country in a ‘Des Femmes’ invitational team that has been assembled to commemorate the category-first.

Guyra's Holly Harris.

Guyra's Holly Harris.

For 21-year-old Gurya resident and race entrant Holly Harris, the new women’s category is an exciting milestone.

“I am very proud to be an ambassador for the Des Femmes team. Women's cycling is something very close to my heart, and it’s humbling to be part of a team that's promoting women in such a male-dominated event,” she said. 

“Women's cycling has come a long way, even since I started cycling, but I would love to see more women become comfortable enough to compete in races such as this one. I know so many women who have the capabilities – they just need the confidence to do it.”

For 44-year-old entrant Rachel Edwards from Brisbane, it’s been encouraging to see Cycling NSW and sponsors like Regional Australia Bank’s break new ground for the new event.

“We’re incredibly grateful for them helping to remove the barriers to increased participation in this race and cycling in general – which in turn is promoting healthy lifestyles and helping women to achieve their goals,” she said.

Event Director Chris Thompson concluded by saying “It’s great to see our event moving with the times, and being representative of cycling as a sport that is all-inclusive of gender. We hope to see female involvement in the event continue to grow across all avenues into the future.”

The 57th Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic will take place this Saturday, 13 May.