It was cooked up as an idea between two Manitoba sportswomen as they stood around a parking lot.
Kim Mitchell from Sanford and Moni Robertson of Winnipeg, had just finished coaching the Kids of Mud program that teaches children basic bike handling skills and race techniques. It was then they decided to create a series of bike races for women only.
The Dirt Skirt is just in its third year as Manitoba’s women only series of races, but the racer list keeps on growing.
“Moni had the race organizing know-how and it just happened,” says Mitchell. “Karin McSherry came on board to help out. That year we only ran the one mountain bike race.”
For the inaugural mountain bike race three years ago, the number of participants was 47, with 37 of them being new racers. The success of the event since then has proven that women in Manitoba desire a female only race series.
This year’s race was Wilma Fehr’s first mountain bike event, and she didn’t know what to expect, so she test rode the course with her son the Friday before the race.
“We quickly discovered that it was a challenging trail, so I was a little apprehensive when it came to race day,” she explains. “I chose to do the one lap, for I knew my legs and lungs would be done.
“It was a great experience,” Fehr adds, “and I look forward to the next women’s mountain bike race, although I just wished it was sooner than next season.”
Moni Robertson, commissaire and organizer for this race, has been involved with cycling for many years. She was excited about the turnout.
“It was a great race, and very well attended,” says Robertson. “Our largest mountain bike field yet. I love the fact that we had a lot of new women and especially girls come out to this race. It makes our jobs so much more rewarding.
“Last year we had a mountain bike race, a time trial, and a cyclocross race,” Mitchell says. “We are planning a similar three race series this year but the road race will be in a relay format and not a time trial. The date for the road relay race is July 30th.”
At this year’s road race portion of the series to be held at Bird’s Hill Park on July 30th, each of the teams entered will have to complete three laps of the 11-kilometre loop of the park.
Road relay teams will each be made up of two or three riders, and the lead group will start as a group.
Drafting will be allowed if the racers choose to do so. A transition will be set up for relay exchange at the start/finish line. Racers will have to dismount at a line, run with their bike to their next teammate, tag off, and the next racer will have to then run to a mount line to start their next lap.
Racers who choose to draft and who practice their hand-off technique will have the advantage. A clinic will be held on Tuesday, July 22 for any riders who would like to learn how to draft prior to signing up.
“We wanted to encourage fun and participation during the races,” says Mitchell. “If you wish to go as fast as you can, and be competitive, you can, or, if you wish just to ride your bicycle and meet some new people, you can do that too.”
The format for next month’s road relay race has been changed so that it’s more of a team effort.
“Riders can come with a team or form one on-site and each team member will do one lap of Bird’s Hill Park,” explains Mitchell. “We thought this format would bring more camaraderie with the women. A separate girls race (under 13) will also be set up.”
Mitchell adds, “The races are open to females, and they are encouraged to bring their families. If they have girls, the girls can race in the children’s class, and it makes for a fun event. The significant others can brave mosquitos for only one evening while cheering them on.”
The next two Dirt Skirt races will be on July 30th at Bird’s Hill Park, and on September 17th at the Canadian Mennonite University on Grant Avenue. The CMU event will be a Cyclocross race, comprising of a mixed dirt path and cycle path asphalt surface. Cost is $15 per rider if you pre-register.
Other races for the summer and fall can be found on the Manitoba Cycling Association’s website.
All photos by Gregory McNeill