When you think of cycling, you might automatically think of men in Lycra cycling outfits. But in Flanders, nothing could be further from the truth. Ever more girls and women are getting on their bicycles here. This has resulted in an incredible boom in the number of female cycling tourists who enjoy our Flemish hills and cobblestone roads every week.

When the Flemish online TV programme Koers zkt Vrouw started, over 3,000 women took part in the hope of winning the main prize: Living for a year as a cycling pro with the professional cycling team Starcasino CX Team. In six episodes, they had to give their best to prove they were ready for the real work. It says a lot about how the popularity of women’s cycling is growing. This is also demonstrated by the figures for cycling tourists, the lowest threshold level for getting on board. Forty percent of Belgian cycling tourists are women. In just five years, we have seen a 45% increase in women cycling tourists in Flanders.

Robbrecht Desmet

There are several reasons for this. The time when cycling was seen as a men’s sport only is behind us. In the meantime, many people know a female friend, colleague or family member who likes to get out on her bike. This is how the “cycling virus” spreads ever more easily. The organisers and the media are also paying increasing attention to women’s cycling. In 2004, a Tour of Flanders for women was organised for the first time. In the meantime, the most important spring classics also have a women’s section (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad since 2006, Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen since 2012). Every year, these races also receive more media attention, and in the meantime a large number of them are even broadcast live.

WM racing WC 2021

The achievements of our female figureheads at track cycling, Jolien D’Hoore (bronze at the 2016 Olympics) and Lotte Kopecky, who became European and world champion in 2016 and 2017, naturally add a little extra shine. And they inspire even more women to get on their bikes.

Evolution in the field of equipment also plays an important role. In recent years, the women’s range has developed greatly. If you wanted a women’s racing bike ten years ago, you’d have to look hard - if you even found one at all. Meanwhile, various bicycle brands have joined the movement. Because the contact points such as the saddle, the handlebars and the cranks must be adapted to a woman’s body.

WMN ride
Robbrecht Desmet

And then corona happened. So many activities were limited, but cycling was still possible. That gave women another boost. But despite the rising trend, there is still a high threshold to take that first step. That’s what Julie Borgers experienced. She is the founder of the WMNride platform, which focuses solely on women. “Many women are looking for companionship or guidance, but sometimes the step to a cycling club is too big. I was also in a club that was composed mainly of men. If you’ve only come to take a peek, it can be overwhelming to ride immediately at a higher pace in a peloton. That's why I felt the need to create an low-threshold platform where we connect ladies of different levels on cycling. In this way, our goal is to get more women cycling, but above all to focus on tips and tools to keep them active in the sport. It started with an after-work ride in Brussels. In the meantime, we are active in several cities and we also ride on weekends.”

In addition to WMNride, there are other communities that focus on women, sometimes with fun names like Madam Vélo or The Women Peloton. One thing is clear. “Gentlemen, depart”, the announcement by the first organiser Karel Van Wijnendaele at the start of the first Tour of Flanders in 1913, is in need of an update.

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