Spin class, cyclocross racing, and the smiling imperative

I’ve been taking spin classes this winter, along with trainer classes. Mostly they all remind me how much I like riding my bike outside and how much I hate, as Tracy put it, the winter basement cycling tour. But the company is good and I like the music. It’s also tough and I kind of like tough.

(Wondering about your winter cycling options? See Spin, roll, or ride the trainer: What’s the best choice? and Seven winter cycling options.)

But my favourite thing about the spin classes has been watching women’s bike racing on the big screen while we ride. Cyclocross races are great for this purpose. They’re short and action packed and you can watch the race while you ride.

Most recently I watched the women’s UCI Cyclocross Women’s World Championships. See

Great race, lots of fun to watch. But I was surprised after about how much attention was paid to the women’s appearance on the podium. (Why? I’m naive, I guess.)

And I confess that even we’d noted that the winner was wearing earrings and looked like she had applied eyeliner and mascara.

But that’s not what drew the attention of the commentators, on twitter and elsewhere. Instead, they commented on Sanne Cant’s grouchy expression on the podium and her “emo” hairstyle. I’ve got to say I was sort of amused by her non-smile. I would have sulked too. Hey, she’d just lost a race. And I warm to women with short, sporty hair. (See Athletic hair, helmet head, and summer time curls.)

I was still thinking about it all and wondering what to say when this WONDERFUL commentary was emailed to me by a cycling friend and colleague. Thanks Andrew!

Can’t she live? Why Sanne Cant’s bitchface helps women’s cycling

Elite Women’s CX World Championship race itself was unpredictable and exciting, but on a symbolic level, it ended up as a predictable female rivalry narrative: a bubbly blonde versus a brooding brunette. As Sanne Cant sulked her way through the podium ceremony and post-race interviews, her expression was a bitchface that launched a hundred tweets. Many called her “emo,” referring to her blunt, asymmetrical haircut. One compared her to Adam Sandler in Little Nicky. Cycling insiders publicly called out Cant for her attitude as well as her comments. But is public sulking and hot-off-the-course critical comments to the press really that bad? Under the veneer of professionalism, we’re all human beings, soft and vulnerable after a crushing defeat. All the social media tut-tutting crowned Sanne Cant the sore loser of CX Worlds, but the contrarian in me says moping and complaining, however negative, are ingredients women’s pro cycling needs desperately to keep its story interesting.

To demonstrate how Sanne Cant’s bitchface helps women’s cycling, allow me to pull waaay back to a macro view of a woman’s life. One of the impossible, contrary demands placed on the modern woman is to be nice, sensitive, and congenial while chopping a clear path out the jungle of institutional patriarchy. In dating, we’re supposed to let a guy down easy or we get called uppity, high-maintenance, etc. In our careers, assertive attitudes are put down as bossy and bitchy. Women are expected to be independent, strong, successful—like Beyonce standing proud in front of a giant FEMINIST sign—but not too independent, strong, nor successful to be threatening. (Not even Beyonce can stop you from switching channels away from her!)

You should go read the whole thing, really.




See lots more photos here.

2 thoughts on “Spin class, cyclocross racing, and the smiling imperative

  1. great post. seriously, who the f*ck is not a bit grumpy when you just lost a competition you intended to win? everyone should just get a grip.

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