Women who win

Founding members of Sacramento’s only all-female cyclocross recall what got them into the sport

Women go hard. And that’s true for those who participate in the world of cycling, a sport that’s been male-dominated since the ’80s. The simple truth is there are just more male riders than women who sign up each year to compete, whether it’s road, mountain or cyclocross. But times change, and a few Sacramento women are carving a path for future generations.

Kicking up dust as a professional mountain bike and road cyclist since the late ’80s, Stace Cooper recalls a time when she’d participate in Saturday morning training rides alongside about a hundred men as the only woman on the road.

“It was pretty much me for a long time,” Cooper says. “But training with the guys made me really strong and fit in the field. You’ve got to train with people that are better than you to be the best. But it seems like there’s more women participating now because there’s more opportunities and there’s more categories.”

Cooper says her biggest accomplishment in road cycling was placing No. 1 at the Nevada City Classic in 1995. Now, Cooper rides bikes because she enjoys the activity, and every year she participates in a variety of cyclocross races, including this weekend’s West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix.

Back when Cooper was training with the guys, cyclocross wasn’t even its own sport yet. Instead, it was something she and others did to stay active and fit during the winter season. Now, cyclocross is an internationally recognized sport with professional women racers carrying the torch.

Today, Sacramento’s only all-female cyclocross team is the Dirt Birds, a flock of 20 women strong that formed in 2015.

Darcy Hargrove, original member of the Dirt Birds, enjoys riding with her husband Matthew Hargrove, but says there’s just something special that comes from riding alongside her fellow birds.

“It’s nice to have a connection with people who you’re out there on the course with,” Hargrove says. “We ride hard. I just think it makes the whole thing more fun when it’s social on top of the fitness part of it.”

Hargrove says when she first started cyclocross four years ago and participated in a Sacramento Cyclocross series, there were only about 20 women total over three categories: A, B and C. Men’s categories were always much deeper competitor-wise.

“Now, [in] the biggest race I’ve been in, there were about 70 women,” Hargrove says.

She even recruited her neighbor and fellow Dirt Bird Christine Foster, who joined the team in April. Foster, who also likes to ride road and mountain bikes, says she enjoys cross because it’s not pretentious or “bitchy;” it’s fun for everyone. And with a steady increase of women cross riders year after year, it makes it that much sweeter.

“It’s in the same realm as skateboarding,” Foster says. “It’s an alternative sport. As long as you’re out there having fun and giving it your all, nobody cares.”