This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Kathryn Bertine, purchase your first edition in our shop.
Kathryn Bertine is a retired professional road racer based in Tucson, Arizona. She rode at the highest level from 2012 to 2017 on four UCI Women’s WorldTour teams, including Wiggle-Honda in 2014. As a dual-citizen, she is a six-time national champion of St Kitts and Nevis. Bertine is also a driving force behind the push for equality in cycling and was heavily involved in the lobbying for change that brought about the creation of La Course by Tour de France. After eight years, 2021 saw the final edition of La Course, as it segues into the long-awaited 2022 Tour de France Femmes. But the pressures of her decade-long equality campaign were immense. The following excerpt is from her book STAND: A Memoir on Activism. A Manual for Progress.
‘The most pivotal day of my journey in activism went by way too fast, no matter how hard I try to slow the incalculable speed of memory. July 27, 2014. Flashes of colour, noise and blurry people as crowds pressed against the cycling barriers lining the Champs-Élysées. Wind in my ears and the whir of gears as we encircled the Arc d’ Triomphe. Pounding heart and burning lungs in sync with the peloton of women around me. We were racing at the Tour de France. A race that once banned women. For the last five years, I’d taken up arms – alongside fellow athletes and supporters around the world – against the discriminatory regulations and the bureaucratic dinosaurs that barred us from the roadways of France while men competed in the most iconic cycling race in the world. Finally, on this momentous day, here we were. 125 female professional cyclists in the heart of Paris, racing down the cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées. I revelled in every moment of our prodigious, triumphant day. Inside, though, I was cracking.
A photographer snapped a picture of me on my bike that day – appearing invincible, victorious, joyful and as though I had my shit together as I rolled towards the start line of the inaugural La Course by Tour de France. All smiles! All strength! All confidence! All lies.
What cannot be seen in that photograph are the tears streaming down behind my glasses. Beneath my glove, the wedding ring I cannot bear to take off. The fractures and fissures deep within. My body, strong. My soul, lost. I am weak, empty, scared, scarred, scripted, rehearsed and acting triumphant, fulfilled, confident, collected. In the fleeting pause between each cobblestone, despair seeps through the cracks of stillness and movement. On the outside, I am a warrior for justice. Inside, stone-cold fucking broken. That day, the weight of worthlessness consumed me. Hiding it seemed better. So I wore the historic victory of our presence at the Tour de France like mask over the private, ugly pain of advocacy.
When I sat down to write this story – about what we achieved for women’s equality that day – I thought: People don’t want to read about worthlessness. The Brokenness. The Empties. Better to skip that stuff. Vulnerability isn’t important. Took me five years to find the courage to disagree.