Clare Holdsworth and Michelle Armstrong, Co-founders of High Country Women’s Cycling Festival
It started with a simple chat about the gender imbalance in road cycling, where less than a third of Australian cyclists are female especially in the cycle-tourism mecca of North East Victoria’s Alpine region, where the gender disparity is even more pronounced. Six months later, Clare Holdsworth and Michelle Armstrong, two women with a shared passion for getting more women cycling and taking on the challenge of mountain road riding, launched the High Country Women’s Cycling Festival (HCWCF) – a first for Australia.
The two women came together from different backgrounds but with a shared passion of cycling and in particular Victoria’s high country. Clare’s background is as a Physiotherapist in Intensive Care, but for over 10 years she has also owned and operated Wide Open Road Cycling Tours, offering epic journeys through France, Italy and Spain as well as multi-day road cycling tours in the Victorian High country. Michelle lives and works in north-east Victoria, where Mt Buffalo and the surrounding valleys and mountains are her backyard. Michelle is also an expert in the regional food and wine scene, working part time at Brown Brothers winery in Milawa. So both women know the region well had had a strong desire to share their love of cycling in the region with other women and encourage more women to ride in the mountains.
Clare explained that despite the organic growth in women’s cycling, in an alpine environment where road riding is more challenging, the gender imbalance is strongly evident in cycling and cycle-tourism.
“Many female riders consider hills and mountains beyond their capability. We wanted to share our knowledge, build confidence, push boundaries and help women discover new ride destinations with new friends."
"The simple concept was to organise a weekend we would enjoy too, a celebration of women’s cycling with a focus on fun, fitness and friendship. And at the same time - inspire, encourage and support more women enjoy the beauty of the High Country by bike” said Clare.
Defined by their love for exploring the open road on two wheels, women cyclists have shown that they love the concept, with the past two Festivals growing in numbers and audience reach across Australia and internationally. Now in its third year, the March 2020 event was postponed (due to COVID regulations) and organisers are getting ready to announce a rescheduled date for Nov/Dec 2020.
Designed by women for women, the hero event of the weekend program, the Buffalo Women’s Ride, involves over 150 women pushing to the peak together from the Alpine town of Bright to Mt Buffalo summit and back to Bright (70km). Experienced ride ambassadors provide lead-out support, riding tips and encouragement, and bike skills session in the lead-up equipped novice riders with the skills and confidence to take on the challenge of alpine riding.
“We know that women cyclists are especially concerned about safety on the road. For some women, it is one of the barriers preventing them from taking up this fun and healthy activity. From the outset we worked closely with VicRoads and local cycle safety group, RoadSafe North East, on traffic management protocols and messaging to ensure a safe, exhilarating and enjoyable experience for all riders,” continued Clare.
One of the key standouts for this Festival, is that it offers so much more than just cycling. The super fun weekend is packed with local foodie goodness, post-ride pleasures of great coffee and beverages, plus ride recovery and reward ‘After Parties’ at local pubs and breweries. Participants can power up their tech skills at bike mechanic workshops; join a ride technique session or refresh the muscles at an alpine yoga class. And for the fashionistas there are ride kit pop-up stores and lycra ‘fashions on the field’ prizes.
“And the best bit? We enjoy all of this against the backdrop of Victoria’s sensational High Country. Crisp air, magnificent rolling mountains, deep valleys and pristine national parks... all for our riding pleasure”.
“One of our proudest achievements has been the partnership with our Community Fundraising Partner, Ovarian Cancer Australia. We think this is a perfect fit for the HCWCF and are proud to support a great cause,” explained Clare.
HCWCF is a great example of what happens when women encourage and support one another’s ideas; harness their self-belief and embrace opportunities and challenges – no peak is too high when women keep pushing together!