Fernie Gravel Grind might be one of Canada’s newer events but, rolling into its third year of in-person racing, it already has a lot to brag about. A beautiful course in the Kootenay Rockies, rapidly-growing registration numbers and an afterparty, with live bands and all, that’s also gaining some notoriety. But the achievement the young event’s organizers are really excited to talk about is the 50/50 gender split in participation.
Seeing beyond the status quo
Anyone that’s been to a cycling event, be it a race or an organized ride, has likely noticed the glaring difference in the number of men participating compared to women. With the exception of select women’s-only events, male participants generally greatly outnumber the number of female riders.
“It is painfully obvious how far behind numbers in women’s cycling really are,” says Carter Nieuwesteeg, part of the trio of FGG organizers that includes Katie de Bruyker and David Bennison. Still an active pro gravel and mountain bike racer himself, Nieuwesteeg is on a start line most weekends. When he started organizing his own event, the Fernie Gravel Grind team decided to do things differently.
“When we started organizing the first in-person FGG in 2021, we wanted to be at the forefront of change in cycling as the gravel scene exploded,” recalls Nieuwesteeg. After being forced to run FGG virtually in 2020 by the pandemic, the team set a goal to hit a 50/50 gender split in registration when they hosted their first in-person even in 2021. “It was a lofty goal and we faced a fair amount of criticism and doubt, but were confident and passionate about what we were doing so we let our numbers speak for themselves.”
Fernie Gravel Grind sold out its first year, with a perfect 50/50 split in its 100-rider cap. Two years later, one event has expanded into the AGES series (Anything Goes Event Series). While the event is growing in popularity, the core goal hasn’t changed. Nieuwesteeg expects between 400 and 500 riders when the 2023 Fernie Gravel Grind rolls out. With over 300 registrations as of March, 42% are women.
“If we did it, any event can.”
Increasing women’s participation is something race organizers have talked about for decades. What did Fernie Gravel Grind do to now only hit parity, but maintain it as the event grows?
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