Professional Cyclist Juliet Elliot On Getting More Women Involved In Races: 'Stop Overthinking It'

Action Pro-Cyclist On Why Women Should Enter More Races

If you imagine a race like Formula 1, but with bikes, you're some way towards understanding what Red Hook Crit is.

The cycling event is hardcore - high speeds using track bikes with no brakes on a crazy circuit, with pro-racers and amateur challengers in the mix. It began in 2008 in Brooklyn and has since spread across the globe.

It's not all about speed though - the nature of the track means you need a lot of guts to attempt parts of it.

Enter Juliet Elliot who decided to compete at the last minute. As the women's only event takes place on 11 July, we grabbed some time with her to find out how she became a pro-cyclist.

Elliot is also an ex-pro snowboarder, an advocate for women in cycling AND she founded female arts, adventure and action magazine Coven. So let's begin...

Action sports for women back in the day was pretty niche. How did you get into it?

I used to go skiing with my parents and one year I begged them to let me go snowboarding and I immediately loved it. That’s before anyone really did it. So I dragged my kit up and down the hill, and I couldn’t get enough of it after that.

I started going to the Sheffield ski village – to the dry ski slopes once a week, and as soon as I finished school I went snowboarding on my gap year. I got sponsored pretty much straightaway.

I do still love snowboarding but these days, not being sponsored, it can get a bit expensive!

What skills did you pick up from snowboarding that complements your cycling?

I really love going really, really fast. The other thing I love is jumps. So I ride BMX and I ride mountain bikes as well and I love going off drops and being airborne. That follows on from my snowboarding.

That sounds pretty scary...

I do worry about injuries – I’m not totally balls-out confident person. In fact I’m not reckless at all. I do weigh things up very carefully but basically I build up to everything.

So I start off really small and work up from there. I only recently got into mountain biking when I moved to Devon and I look at some of the stuff I was scared to do initially now and it’s tiny. The big things I jump off, I never thought I’d be able to do it. But you work your way up to it.

You wouldn’t go skiing and immediately hurtle down a black run, you start at the green and blue first. Every now and then you have to give yourself a bit of a push to get over your nerves but on the whole, just do it gradually and you’ll be okay.

Why did you leave snowboarding for cycling?

I was done with snowboarding and wound up back in London and started cycling as a way of getting around town. But it kept getting nicked or the parts kept getting stolen like the gear shifters so I decided to build the cheapest bike that I could with the most minimal parts.

I built it out of an old road bike and then when I rode it, I loved the bike. I got more into cycling.

How has cycling changed for women in the last few years?

There are more women cycling and that’s great for women who are new to cycling. When you get a bit more into cycling it gets trickier because there aren’t as many events for women to participate in so I think puts a lot of people off from progressing with their cycling. There is not as much infrastructure there.

There aren’t as many races and if you do turn up to one, there may not be as many people so you feel quite exposed. With men it’s quite easy to do a race and no one will really notice how you do anyway. So that can be a barrier to women getting into the more sporty side of cycling.

Having said that, women need to take more responsibility for getting involved, stepping up to the plate and signing up for events. That’s the first step we need, then those events will grow and participation will grow.

Do women cyclists get paid less than men, as in all other sports?

Oh yeah! There’s been a lot of talk recently about female professional cyclists needing a minimum wage. But someone at the UCI decided they don’t!

It is really difficult because on the one hand we are trying to build participation in sport and then on the other hand, there is no infrastructure there.

How long have you been training for Red Hook Crit?

Not long enough! About three weeks. I decided at the last minute that I wanted to enter so I thought I’d do some last minute intensive training. Some HIIT so sprinting bursts – sprinting for two minutes, recovering for two. It has actually been quite fun.

It’s too late to notice any real change but it has given me a boost of confidence at least. I am doing quite specific race training and that is about 75 minutes. I’ve been doing really hard weights for about 45 minutes.

I went to a Red Hook Crit series last year and watched it in Milan. It looked really exciting, really fun and challenging. But I thought I don’t want to stand on the side and watch it, I wanted to be a part of it.

What advice do you have for women who want to take up action sport but are a bit nervous?

Just get on with it. Stop overthinking everything. If you want to do it, do it, just don’t overthink everything. I always ask myself before starting something: how will I feel if I do it, or rather, if I don’t do it?

There might be a scary jump and I think: should I, shouldn’t I? And I then think I’d be really cross if I go home and I haven’t tried it. You just have to get on with it.

To read more about the Red Hook Crit series, click here.

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