The Red Hook Crit 10th Anniversary in Brooklyn, NY was an electric weekend for all of us. I was lucky enough to have been able to join Brian and Koen (the guys behind FGC) there to help them cover the race. I met so many inspiring people during during my time there, but I was especially impressed by a band of six women in indigo blue jerseys. the Maloja Pushbikers Fem team, who I haphazardly stumbled across at Gorilla Coffee shop right next to the number pick-up for the Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn no.10.
Interview and text: Julia Wittman (juliasets)
Photography: Drew Kaplan
Initially impressed by their stunning indigo blue kits, and their incredible positive energy, I was also stunned by the sheer number of ladies representing this team! Six in all, I began to speak with them and I was pleased to have been able to secure an interview with a few key members this past week.
Though some members of the team have already participated in Red Hooks past, the woman’s division of Maloja Pushbikers is a new addition to the Red Hook Crit line up. Predominately road bikers by experience, these girls have jumped right into a grand adventure, committing to both fixed gear crits and road races alike this season.
It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to speak with this group of inspiring ladies. In fact, they may have even convinced me to race in a crit myself, later in the season!
Maloja Pushbikers Fem is: Sofie Mangertseder, Sabina Ossyra, Janine Döring, Marion Dziwnik, Lena Vogl, and Betti Eder (guest rider) in Brooklyn and Maloja employee.
I spoke with three of the ladies:
Lena Vogl, 21, is currently a trainee at Syntace in Bavaria, Germany, a company that develops and distributes bike parts.
Sofie Mangertseder, 20 is a trainee in office Management in Arnstorf, Germany.
Marion Dziwnik, is a post post doctorate mathematical scientist, specialising in physics. She lives in Berlin, Germany.
JW: When did you ladies start cycling ?
LV : I have been cycling for many years. I’ve been doing road races for 5 years and track races. And it’s only been since this year that I have started fixed gear crit racing. Red Hook in Brooklyn was my first crit.
SM : This is my 8th season, so I started 8 years ago when I was 12. I started with road cycling, then two years later I started track cycling. I have done a few races.
MD : I started cycling when I was 4 or 5 years old, but I became really passionate about it about 5 years ago. I got into fixed gear through a friend who had a really beautiful fixed gear bike. I loved how minimalistic it was and I wanted to get one for myself. Before that I was more into running, triathlons, and rock climbing. These are my sports, but I got really passionate about cycling once I got into the fixed gear the scene in Berlin.
FUN, first and foremost.
JW : How and when did the Maloja Pushbikers Fem team come together?
LV : So about one year ago, Sofie and I had the idea to make a woman’s team because in Germany there are really only teams of professional riders that are expected to train everyday, and with all of the pressure that comes with that sort of discipline, for us, it takes all of the fun out of cycling, which is something we all love very much.All of the girls on the team work or study full time, so this kind of training schedule is not always possible for us. Besides, for a lot of us, cycling is first and foremost a passion, but it remains a hobby.
Clearly a woman in this world needs to think about her career, and so we cannot only think about cycling, we have to think about our futures as well. We girls like racing of course, but the most important thing for us is to have fun when we cycle. There really is no team with this approach in Germany, so Sofie and I got to thinking,and we talked to Christian Grasmann, the manager of the Maloja Men’s team about our idea and he said « Yes, do it ». So this project started one year ago, reuniting girls from all around Germany.
SM: Yes, it’s all about enjoying what we do. For example I did years and years of road cycling and I was REQUIRED to train a certain way, and to go to certain races with the team, no matter what else was going on in my life. This for me is the most important thing, to encourage other girls to not give up cycling, and to remind them that they love cycling and there are ways to do it without any pressure. It is not all about the results of the race- it is about doing something you love, above all else. Basically we want to have a team where you don’t have to have pressure of the results. If you work, or study as we all do, obviously finding time to train might be more difficult. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be on a team.
JW: Aside from this aspect of highlighting the fun of cycling, and never losing sight of that, what inspired you to start fixed gear crit racing ?
LV : Well it really is our goal to expand the network of female riders. We really want it to continue to grow. So as we also all do road cycling, we were inspired by the Red Hook Crits and we thought why not try that as well, in an effort to really represent women, and get the word out about our philosophy of fun.
We really want to show another side of German Women’s Cycling.
MD: Actually, for me, this whole bike-racing thing has become much bigger than I could have ever imagined. I have been doing it for a while, but I never thought that I would be training as much as I am at the moment.
I got into it just because I was in the fixed gear scene in Berlin. RHC10 Brooklyn was my seventh Red Hook, But I have done many other crits in Berlin and around Germany. I did the very first Rad Race, and I have competed in almost all of them since.
When I won my first race, The Rad Race Last Woman Standing on the Karting Track in 2015, I became really passionate about fixed crit racing. Then I won another race, then another and people started asking me if I was going to race in Red Hook. At the time I really wasn’t sure, but then I decided to do it. The feeling of winning a race is just amazing. It’s a pure drug and I somehow got addicted to it.
JW : I have to say that I was really impressed when I saw you ladies- you all just had this incredible positive energy. It was really palpable, and infectious. Plus, there were six of you girls ! I think that you were one of if not the biggest woman’s team this year at Brooklyn!
LV : Haha, yes, that could quite possibly be the case. Actually there are 5 girls on the team, but there were six of us racing because one of the girls, Betti, works at Maloja, our main sponsor. And so we said « Hey Betti, ride with us ! ». She’s actually more of an alpine skier than a cyclist.
The best practice for a lot of us was the day before the race, riding in New York rush hour traffic.
SM: Yes, Betty actually got her bike one day before the race, and she still did it! It was her first time ever in a bike race . We got along great with her and we just really wanted her to come to New York and race with us, for the fun of it. This is exactly what we are trying to encourage: just a big community of girls that like to race and ride and have fun with bikes.
JW : That’s unbelievable ! That’ really inspiring. That takes balls ! Or boobs as the case may be.
SM : You should come join us ! We are interested in having guest riders ! We really want to build this community, and if girls want to come join us for a race or two that is great. And then for next year, we’ll see…. but we would like to build the team even bigger. Right now there are 5 of us, but we want it to grow.
We can get you a maillot.
JW : Why not !
LV : Yes ! This is our whole dream, our whole philosophy. As a woman’s division team, we love it! We just love cycling. When we booked our trip to New York, we had no idea what was waiting for us with the Red Hook Crit, as a race. We just planned the trip like that, on the fly. All of us ladies together with no outside help. Then we all saw Brooklyn together and we said « Woah, this is crazy ». It was such a great time.
Red Hook Reflections
JW : How did you feel about the Red Hook Crit 10 in Brooklyn ? For those of you for whom it was the first time ?
LV : My goals were not to be nervous and not to crash, but then once I was there in the place, I was still a bit nervous. There were just so many people… It was a lot to take in.
Those were my main goals on the starting line. In the first 5 seconds of the women’s qualifier there was a crash, but at that moment I was already in 5th place in the first heat, so the crash was behind me. I told myself “ride in the front, ride in the front”. So that’s the mentality that I continued with, and that’s where I stayed. Then in the first women’s heat I placed 6th, which was not too bad! I don’t really know how I did that. After that, in the Superpole, it was pretty good for me. I don’t know, I have never done this before, so…
Even the final was great for me I guess, it was very cool. I finished 16th. I think maybe I did this because I, and my team, we have no other goals than to have fun. I never told myself that I had to finish in the top 20. I like to race, but when we all decided to do this, we decided that our goals were what we said before: To have fun, first and foremost, then to spread our message of fun and encourage other female cyclists. So for me, I was able to meet my goals.
As for the team, effectively, there were many crashes. I was actually the only one from the team to have been lucky enough to be spared from that. But anyway I think that despite everything, for the team, for all the girls, it was a great experience. It was new, and I don’t think that our placement is ultimately that important for us. We came to have fun, and we achieved that.
SM : I was really overwhelmed, and maybe a bit lost. There were so many people and I have never been in an atmosphere like that before. The whole time I kind of felt like I was on drugs or something! I had so much energy, I was so excited. I was never tired.
At the race itself, I think that I was too overwhelmed to be nervous anymore… And normally I get pretty nervous. But not at Red Hook. I’ve travelled a lot, and done a lot of races but… Red Hook is like nothing else, it’s amazing. So many people approached me to compliment my jersey, and even after the race, people told me that I did well and that it was too bad that I got lapped. The support was incredible.
Before I left on the trip I wrote down a few goals for myself to read later. One was to keep going no matter what, and so when I was caught up in the crash and had to stop in the qualifier, I thought of this and I knew I had to keep going. Then in the Final I was behind the crash and I got stuck in the back at the restart, but again, I just kept going and little by little I started to pass one girl and then another, I realized that I could move up in the peloton. Even though I got lapped in the final lap, I am still happy with how I did.
MD: I crashed in the big pileup in the final right at the beginning. I have never seen a pile up like that before in a race, I am still a bit shaken up by that. I dislocated my shoulder in the crash and I had to go to the hospital to have it put back into place. It was horrible. It will be a few weeks until I can get on the bike again.
Brooklyn was different for me this time because I was also in the qualifying heat behind the crash at the beginning. I managed to avoid it but… This time was strange, it is true that there were many crashes, but that is the risk. I still like racing Red Hook, but obviously with my experience this time I am a bit still in shock after Brooklyn.
JW : 16th place is pretty amazing Lena! And yes, the crashes for the girls were very unfortunate.
I feel like many people are focusing a lot on that, when in reality, the guys had crashes too! It just seems to me that the crashes, which are of course to be expected in this sport, are much more exaggerated for the woman’s races.
LV : Oh, thank you Julia. And yes, I knew I liked you… Maybe a lot of people say “girls can’t ride bikes, they just crash.” I think that many people believe this to be true. But if you think about it, regardless of gender, we all did the same race. Things happen.
SM : And more than that, in our team we don’t have mechanics. A lot of girls from our team crashed in Brooklyn, we fixed our bikes ourselves. We planned the entire trip as well, so if at any time there is a problem, we are self reliant as a team. We can always find a solution if we work together. That is also very important to us, and it empowers us.
JW : Speaking of which, can you tell me how it feels to be a cyclist in Germany?
LV: In my country there are not a lot of women who ride. For example, there are not very many women that ride professionally in Bavaria. There are of course others that ride as a hobby, but in my region they are very few. That being said, feminine cycling is really growing in Germany. This is very good I think, and in my club there are plenty of girls that have been riding for 10 to 20 years, that have been doing competitions. So again, this is the reason why we are doing what we do with the team. There are so many ladies that like cycling, and racing and we want to promote this from a friendly, organic, no pressure point of view.
SM: Unfortunately, I would agree with Lena. Women’s cycling here is not considered to be “worth” the same as men’s cycling. I think it is similar almost everywhere. I don’t know if we will ever get to the point where women’s sports are considered equal to men’s. But I do think it’s getting better- And especially with Red Hook, and how brutal it is with all the crashes. We as ladies are definitely treated more equally in this event because we risk just as much. In some ways, I think that fixed gear crit women’s cycling is considered even more “legitimate” as a sport then road riding.. well at least in the fixed crit community.
MD: I am very proud to be part of this development. Women’s cycling in Germany is growing so fast right now. Though I don’t have a road racing background, I have been in the fixed gear scene for five years, and so in the beginning is was only 20 women competing in the Rad Race, for example. Even at that time that was a lot, but now we have at least 30 German women who compete in these races. As we grow as a community of women we are getting more respect and more attention, and I am just very proud to be a part of this development, and inspire more women to compete and to join us.
JW: So will Maloja be competing in all of the Red Hook Championship Series this year? What other races do you have planned this season?
LV: Yes so, we will be happy to race in all of the Red Hook crits, but with our schedules we cannot all be riding together for every race. For example, there is the biggest bike exposition in Europe in the beginning of the month of September. This is why I cannot personally attend Red Hook Barcelona this year because I have a scheduling conflict with my work.
We are focused, of course, on Red Hook, but not only. For example there is the Rad Race here in Germany. There are also many road and track races in which we will be participating, so it’s really according to everyone’s individual schedule. Some of us will even be competing in marathons this season so, we have a lot to look forward to!
JW: With such a big team, and with so many things planned for all of you this season, would you say that there is perhaps a strategy of “divide and conquer” in the Maloja mentality? I mean to say by dividing and being at different events individually, you still succeed as a team because you are in so many places at once.
LV: Hahaha this is definitely one of our goals. We hope to “conquer” mostly with our spirit of having fun and encouraging woman to do the same in the sport world, no matter what.
SM : Yes, and even in the world at large. For example our teammate Sabina is in Iceland right now, and then in a few months she will go to Taiwan for her studies. She will be racing in both places as a Maloja Pushbiker Fem. So we are hoping to go REALLY international. But there again, it isn’t forced… There is no schedule for the races that anyone has to do. This is how we hope to spread the word and grow our community of women racers, by being everywhere at once. It kind of just works since we are all doing such different things, but we are there to encourage one another. Besides, our studies and careers are important. It’s almost impossible to make a living being a woman cyclist.
MD : Also, I think it is important to remember that it is not always the “strongest” rider that wins these races. There is a lot more going on, like working together and tactics. Even if we are in the peloton as a team, it is essential to work with girls from other teams as well, to help one another in a race. In one of the German Crits for example, I found myself behind a girl who is much stronger than me, she trains twice a day and rides for the German National League. I was there next to a friend of mine, Johanna and we decided to stay about 10 meters behind her for a lot of the race, and then in the end we were able to overtake her because we worked together. I ended up winning this race.
It is important to do as well as we can in a competition, but we women riders need to also have each other’s backs and help each other out. That is the community we are building. This goes with our mentality as well because even if we don’t have the time to train as other riders do, if we can encourage other girls to work on their tactics and techniques, it is a way for everyone to try and get a good result.
JW: Anything to add?
We really want to thank our partner, Maloja Pushbikers, and all of our sponsors. Without their help, none of this would be possible.
Also, Thanks to all the spectators who were at the race. Thanks Alex Müller (World Champion / Maloja Pushbikers) for the “fixie crash course”. Thanks to all of the photographers.
Thanks to the organizers. Thanks to all the girls, it was really so much fun to ride with you!