22 Feb Interview with Kathryn Bertine, Founder of the Homestretch Foundation, Author of STAND and TeamTrak’s Newest Advisor
Kathryn Bertine started her career as a journalist for ESPN, when the company put her on assignment to find out what it takes to become an Olympian. So, with no prior experience in road cycling, she took up bike racing and wrote about her journey to get to the 2008 Games representing St Kitts and Nevis. Although she never made it to the Games, she got hooked on cycling and raced for five years on the international pro circuit with several UCI domestic and World Tour teams.
She discovered along the way that inequality in women’s racing existed at many levels and was a topic that she believed needed attention. ESPN didn’t want to delve into that controversy so Bertine left in 2012 to produce her own documentary, Half the Road on a shoestring budget with a rag tag crew. It won worldwide acclaim, enough for her to build a legion of supporters with the clout to convince Tour organizers to give them a race day in Paris before the men arrived on the last day of the 2014 Tour.
Bertine is the author of four nonfiction books, All the Sundays Yet to Come, As Good As Gold, The Road Less Taken and now STAND that was published this month. Her unrelenting quest for women’s equal opportunity in cycling and determination to disrupt the status quo resonated with the owners of World Cycling Limited who believe that traditional cycling needs to change in order to appeal to modern sports fans. A central premise of TeamTrak is male/female equality in team makeup, scoring and financial reward. Bertine has agreed to add her voice in support of this cause as a Velodrome Development Foundation board member and advisor to WCL.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview she did for the TeamTrak Newsletter from her Homestretch Foundation headquarters in Tucson, Arizona.
Q: What motivated you to challenge the organizers of the Tour de France to add a women’s race? What was your objective and how did it work out?
The most effective change comes from the top down, so it made sense to focus on the pinnacle event in cycling, which is the world-renowned Tour de France. While I started reaching out to them individually in 2009, it wasn’t until 2013 when I created a social pressure group of women cyclists —Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Chrissie Wellington and myself—that we really made an impact. We petitioned ASO in July 2013 and nearly 100,000 people around the world rallied in support. ASO finally caved to our request for a meeting, and together we created La Course by Tour de France. The race debuted in 2014, and has been going strong every year. Of course, ASO still needs to keep their promise and elongate the number of race days, but we’re keepin’ on them till they do.
Q: 5 star reviews of your new book STAND, contain words like raw, inspirational, heartbreaking and triumphant. Sounds like you opened up about a lot of things!
Yes, you could say vulnerability is a key component of STAND. When I wrote the first draft, I left out the private struggles of activism. It was a terrible draft. Didn’t read authentic or true to what really happens when we stand up and fight for change. So I tossed that draft and wrote the real story of life as an advocate for change. I’m honored that truth and vulnerability is resonating with readers, and they feel a connection to the human side of STAND.
Q: Your experience in cycling is almost exclusively on the road but you are now serving on the board of the Velodrome Development Foundation and are an advocate of TeamTrak. Why?
When Dave Chauner approached me about getting involved with TeamTrak, and explained the originality and awesomeness of everything it stands for, I jumped on board immediately for two main reasons. First, innovation and equality are the only things that will successfully move cycling forward. TeamTrak nails both of these factors. Second, the board members of TeamTrak and VDF were a huge factor, particularly since they all have deep roots in cycling culture but are willing to reshape the sport’s archaic traditionalism. It gave me so much joy to see their vision for cycling is for gender inclusion, diversity, visionary change in the sport…it makes TeamTrak far more evolved than UCI or ASO. I’m so proud to be part of TeamTrak’s fresh, innovative plan for cycling’s future.
Q: How do you see TeamTrak developing, the challenges it faces and if gender equality will be readily accepted by the cycling establishment?
I have great respect for cycling’s fandom and athletes. The fans and athletes of our sport want equality and inclusion. I’ve seen their support come through in my projects—both emotionally and financially—so I firmly believe the fans, athletes and patrons of cycling will stand behind TeamTrak. The only challenge we face is securing the initial investments to get TeamTrak off the ground. When we rise over the fiscal hurdles, the media will be our ally, as will the fans and athletes. TeamTrak is a win-win investment all around, and I know we can make it happen. If cycling’s “establishment” doesn’t see the light of progress, it will ultimately be their downfall. TeamTrak as an incredible, necessary instrument of change that should be embraced. We’ll prevail in the end and change this sport for the better. Of that, I am very confident.