After three sold-out women's track sessions at Derby Arena, organiser Kate Samways tells road.cc the secret of her success, why she’s so passionate about getting women onto the boards – and why the men now want in, too.
Today was the third women’s track session at Derby Arena, giving women the opportunity to try out track cycling in an all-female environment and, as before, the 50-odd tickets were all gone in a matter of days, with attendees coming from as far afield as Oxfordshire. Two further sessions will be held in March and April (see below).
Samways tells road.cc about her own wobbly start in track cycling, why she wants to get more women involved, and how having a supportive environment has made all the difference to those who are new to the sport.
When Derby's new velodrome opened last year, Samways was keen to have a go. She says: “I got to go for the first time fairly soon after the Derby Arena had opened last March but I lost my confidence a bit.”
Although she loved the experience – and the adrenaline – she says she found the all-male environment intimidating, as the other riders seemed much stronger and more experienced than her.
Shortly afterwards, though, an all-women’s coached session was organised by British Cycling.
She said: “It was just the thing I needed...it’s just the most addictive thing I have ever done.”
Before long she was hooked, and through her work as director of local bike shop, Samways Cycles, she discovered a lot of other women also felt intimidated about starting track cycling in a male-dominated environment. Having only just taken up road cycling herself, and then track cycling, in partnership with local cycling club, Derby Mercury, she set up more women’s track taster sessions.
British Cycling then approached Samways in November to run a series of women’s and girls’ rider development sessions at the Arena. With only a week to organise the first one, 48 women nevertheless turned up.
The initiative has been transformative for many attendees. She says: “It’s brilliant when you watch the women’s faces who come off of the group one [the beginners’ group]. It’s just amazing to watch and it’s brilliant to be a part of it.”
She says: “We aren’t 20 anymore, we have got kids, and for me personally it is a great switch-off time because all you are thinking about is ‘stay upright, don’t go into the wheel in front of you, don’t stop pedalling’. It is a great way of keeping fit as well.”
Samways’ day job at the bike shop feeds into the track cycling, as she’s an approachable community figure people can talk to face-to-face about getting into the sport.
She says: “A lot of women who lack confidence they have a face, someone they can come and talk to. People who say they are nervous or they are too fat or they haven’t got enough stamina, I’m with them on that because I’m exactly the same.
“I will never be the strongest and I will never be the fastest but what I love is the skills and the co-operation and working as a team. A lot of women are becoming good friends.”
“There’s no competition, it’s just women working together and supporting each other and it’s done in a very sociable environment, learning new skills, and it makes you feel good about yourself."
Women now have the opportunity to race, and plenty are – for the last track league taster session, Samways says 22 women signed up. There are now 50 women in the team.
“It’s an opportunity for women to start accreditation and seeing if it’s for them and maybe going on to racing,” she says.
The model has proved so popular men are showing an interest in Samways’ programmes.
She says: “The boys were starting to feel left out, so one of the local track cycling champions, Will Perrett, is helping with the boys.
“If you aren’t part of a club it can seem pretty daunting to go into that environment, even for men. They just want to try it out without having to pelt around, to do it in a controlled environment. With such a fabulous facility on our doorstep we have had people coming from Oxfordshire, from Burton… from Sheffield.”
Hers seems to be a winning formula. As Samways puts it: “More and more women are coming into the sport at all ages and abilities and there’s no pressure to be the best, be the fastest, it’s about getting out there and spending time on your bike in a relaxed environment - getting fit, and doing it with like-minded people.”
There are two more upcoming British Cycling track sessions for women at Derby Arena, on 6 March and 3 April. Tickets will become available shortly before each event, and Samways will try to ensure those who haven't had a go yet get the chance to try it for the first time.
After that, she will continue to run sessions with local club Derby Mercury. More information is available on the events section of Samways Cycles Facebook page.