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Commentary: Liv Cycling’s ‘epic’ commitment to women on bikes

Pro rider Kaysee Armstrong writes from South Africa, where she and three Liv riders are racing the Cape Epic, with the support of three female staffers.

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The Cape Epic you say? Want to know what is really “epic”? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the fastest or slowest person to the finish line of an eight-day stage race in South Africa. It’s the way Liv Cycling is supporting and cultivating women in the sport of cycling.

This year, for the first time ever, Liv sent two elite women’s teams to the Cape Epic. We’re accompanied by three other women — our manager, mechanic, and physio. I am lucky enough to be a part of that unique team. To be honest, it didn’t seem like a big deal until I was sitting at dinner in Cape Town one night and realized that I was surrounded by a group of women who are quietly changing the future.

Not a typical dinner table in the cycling world. (Photo: Troy Davies)

Liv’s unique team this week at Cape Epic includes Elizabeth (“Liz”) Walker our manager and the person who got us all here, dressed, fed, and to the start line; Paige Stuart, the team mechanic; Serena Gordon and Crystal Anthony racing as the Liv Racing pro team; and Sarah Hill and me, Kaysee Armstrong, racing as the Liv Factory pro team.

Let me tell you a little bit about everyone.

Liz Walker not only brings leadership and management to the table, but she also brings us all confidence.

She reminds us that we’re not “lucky” to be pros but that we’ve earned our way here. She also puts her foot down for us. After racing in an environment where we are always forced to sacrifice training and rest for videos and media, Liz advocates for people to accommodate our schedules. It’s a little thing that feels huge to us.

Personally, I feel if I don’t jump on every opportunity to talk to the media and go out of my way to get my story out I will lose my chance. Liz shows us our own power and tells us to stand in it. She tells us to ask for what we want and not what we think others want from us.

Walker giving a pep talk. (Photo: Troy Davies)

Paige Stuart is quiet and humble and seems to be in her element after a morning mountain bike ride followed by a day of wrenching on four bikes that get ridden hard.

She never complains about the time constraints and workload, and while the rest of us are recovering, she is in the garage with her headlight on doing her thing. Our bikes are always clean, they always work, and she never looks at me funny when I describe a problem on my bike with sounds and feelings because I have no idea what’s wrong with it.

Crystal and Serena are both over the age of 40, and it is very rare to find two women over the age of 40 competing in the women’s elite field at a world-class stage race. It’s not a bad thing — they beat most people that are half their age. If anything I can’t wait to be 40 in the hopes that I will be as strong as they are. They are fierce competitors and I believe they could be standing on that podium every single day. The theory that age means anything is smashed away when you watch these two race.

My teammate Sarah Hill and I both raced against each other in college, and even though we were on different teams at the time, we formed a friendship that included pushing each other downhill too fast and a realization that we both had the same outlook on life when it came to bikes. We both graduated college and had national titles under our belts. Sarah went back to South Africa and I stayed in the U.S.

Armstrong and Hill. (Photo: Troy Davies)

We both pursued a career in bike racing, and out of all the women we raced with and against in college we are amongst only a select few that have made it this far in our professional cycling careers.

Is it a coincidence that we are both on Liv, and does that also show how much Liv supports the profession for women cyclists? Maybe. We even joked last night as we stared and laughed at photos of us from eight years ago racing against each other that if someone told us we would be doing the Cape Epic together as professional athletes we wouldn’t be able to believe it.

A lot of the week prior to the race start was spent getting ready for the Cape Epic, and also utilizing the time for some team bonding. In the past, while traveling to races our dinner tables have been filled with men. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and I love my male teammates just as much as my female ones, but let’s face it, tables filled with women have a different dynamic. There is a true understanding of what each one of us has gone through and the challenges we have overcome to get to where we are.

We also all share the same fears. One night while sitting around the table we started discussing the statement that all of us hear quite often, from men: “There is less competition in the women’s field than the men’s therefore it has to be easier to become a pro female cyclist than pro male cyclist.” Huh?

The 2022 Liv Cape Epic squad. (Photo: Troy Davies)

It’s a cutthroat world out there for women to break into the sport of cycling. How many women never make it through the door? A ton, because the resources and the community aren’t there.

We live in an environment where most female pros have a second job and have to provide more than just race results to be worthy in their sponsors’ eyes. There are more spots on teams for men, and boys are often more encouraged to pursue cycling as a sport rather than a hobby. Therefore, start lines — at both recreational and professional races — are made up of mostly men.

I’m not sure how to fix this and how to make it better, but I do know Liv is challenging the status quo every single day. They create space where we all have more opportunities and we all feel more confident about who we are in this sport. With more confidence and less fear, we can then help grow the community and opportunities for other women.

For the six of us to be in South Africa together this week, that’s epic. The other epic thing, riding eight days in the heat, dust, and headwinds? With the support from Liv, that will be the easiest part.