Issue of male domestiques in women's gravel races

I’ve been hearing a bit more grumbling going around about one female gravel racer in particular, Lauren DeCrescenzo and her use of male riders to help her gain victories (most recently SBT GRVL). There might be others, but she has clearly had the most success.

What do others think about this topic? It is interesting that most athletes want to continue with the mass start so there will always be men and women working together, but I guess what people are most upset about is the use of male domestiques in the female competition. It is kind of a fine line, they’re not against women sitting in a bunch with male riders but questions do come up once there is a whole team of men dedicated to support a female rider.

I watched Unbound 2021 and saw that DeCrescenzo teamed up with one to two other male riders about 3/4 of the way through the race, from what you could see on film she did very little pulling for quite a long time (I could have the wrong perception here but that is what I could see), then near the end of the course she sped up and biked on her own to a win. It looked like she really benefited from that happenstance of finding a couple of strong men to ride with but it also just seemed like it was just happenstance, in an interview afterwards she admitted that she didn’t even know the fellow’s name who had helped her to victory. I’m not sure how this could be monitored or if other female cyclists would have done something differently.

At SBT GRVL, I was not watching what happened but she was with a whole team (all men) who at different parts of the race assisted her, by stopping at the water stops for her so she could sail through, and by cycling with her at points to help her out. I assume this is what makes most women upset, if she had all female teammates that could do this that would potentially be awesome (although not sure how many women could keep up who weren’t also interested in winning themselves), but to have men involved in the women’s race feels weird.

I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on this, I don’t think she has broken any rules but it has made people unhappy which suggests this might no be ok for much longer.

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Water bottle stop, continuing on, think I’ve heard that on the men’s side too at a different race. Someone got roasted for that. Slightly different, I guess, but also not.

“But I had like 3.5 liters of water and then I had a sip out of my friend’s bottle. I actually didn’t stop. I kept rolling.”

And Pete Stetina is putting on an event later this year, Stetina’s Paydirt, where only the women have a cash purse — $4,400 split among the top five — and the event is saying that male domestiques are not allowed to help the women.

I don’t know if this event will take place, with the fires and the AQI where it is. It could be interesting.

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Rules are rules.

This is the whole issue with “unwritten rules”. It turns into a popularity contest between who says what. If someone has a lot of internet clout, they can flame you, and win the popularity contest, even if you did nothing against the rules. It’s super catty and worst than high school.

Can you imagine Formula 1 where a team got roasted for exploiting a rule that doesn’t exist? No, because that’s a dumb stance. I’m not sure why this is such an issue in gravel racing when every other racing in existence applauds stuff like this as being tactically genius. It’s amazing it’s taken this long to blow up despite it happening well before Lauren.

At the end of the day, the front of a gravel race is a pro race. You have World Tour and Pro riders, equipment not available to the public, people with signature series Rapha kits you can buy, cash purses, RedBull athletes, etc. Of course people are going to do whatever it takes to win, and without rules, you can do just about whatever it takes.

Also, the men’s Cinch guys were at the front for most of the race. It was a combination of some of them falling back and Lauren moving forward. Many of the other women also rode the wheels of other men (and admitted it) and have in the past. There are men (like the author) who ride the wheels of strong women riders. I have in the past in mixed fields… there are some badass women riders out there.

How do people feel about Isabella King (QOM influencer) using male pacers ? I’m not sure how some of the women riders can be upset at Lauren, when their friend does the same thing. But again, it all turns into a popularity contest “are you a cool kid or not?”

I’m sure most of the other 3000+ riders had a good time.

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If Cinch wants to support Lauren to a win, then they should bring a team of badass women to support her on the course.

I think SBT GRVL’s response on IG was premature and makes it sound like they have no desire to listen to their community.

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Interesting, so you think it’s a case of Lauren DeCrescenzo not being popular?

I understand that rules are rules, but new rules can become part of the event in response to issues like this one coming up. It certainly feels unfair from a female perspective especially as it can affect who wins (rather than in the male race, if you benefit from women pulling it likely won’t affect who actually gets the spoils). But you’re right, it totally depends on perspective, it could become part of the women’s gravel race and people can just accept it, but by accepting it then we have to accept that male domestiques could become a necessary part of being able to win a women’s race.

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I’m not saying Lauren isn’t popular, just that the whole concept of “unwritten rules” turns into a popularity contest of who says what is what.

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I mean it’s not like anyone involved with Cinch has a history of cheating is it?

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Yea I have heard similar ideas being tossed around in the men’s race i.e. making water stops compulsory. I guess I’d question anyone who refused a water stop and then decided to bum water from other competitors just to get in faster. You’d hope that folks who run out of water along a race and then benefit from fellow competitors aren’t doing it purposefully as a winning strategy.

That has nothing to do with the argument, and there were no rules broken.

That’s the whole problem with all this “unwritten rules” nonsense.

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Valtteri Bottas ran out of water, but got a bottle from a competitor’s family outside an aid station so he didn’t have to stop and continued with the front of the 60 miler group.

Is that an issue? I doubt any of us would have been given one since we’re not celebrities.

I had the same opinion about Colin Strickland’s op-ed. Either put it in writing or it’s fair game. Colin vs. Adam on that one also turned into a popularity contest as Colin is the “cooler” of the two with more internet clout / fandom.

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Wouldn’t that be against the actual rules? No outside help allowed? Sounds like help from a competitor’s family outside an aid station is outside help.

I dunno, either way gravel racing is going to become more like road racing whether they like it or not. Either strict rules will be enacted or team racing will become the norm.

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That apparently was happening a lot throughout all the fields. Family / friends / teams giving aid outside the aid stations.

Apologies, I was being facetious

The rider guide says:

One of SBT GRVL’s core values is fairness, and that ap-
plies to our aid stations! As all of you know, there is
NO outside assistance allowed, and that includes re-
ceiving food or drink from anyone besides our volun-
teers in the aid stations.

So if DeCrescenzo took bottles and food from her team mates then she broke the rules. The Velonews article seems wrong on this point.

Would a team mate give her a wheel or help her change a flat and then pace her back to the lead group? To me that would break the spirit of the rules of outside assistance.

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Well, the argument would be “is it outside aid when it’s from someone inside the race”?

From a semantics standpoint, it technically would be fine.

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I think whining about who stops/doesn’t at an aid station, who attacks instead of stopping, who gets a snack from another person, or what kind of handlebars they should/shouldn’t use is just a really dumb waste of energy - and it says a lot about the person doing the whining.

But I really don’t want to see the rise of the male domestique towing women to their wins. If that’s their sole job, then they’ve theoretically taken spots away from women who could be riding as support.

And that idea seemed to have some strong support from some very recognizable names, based on the IG comments.

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I don’t think many disagree with the premise, just that if that’s what they want, then there needs to be a written rule aw such, and it also wasn’t just Lauren. The second place female finisher also rode male wheels (she admitted to having 5 of them at the end working with her) they just weren’t strong enough to pull her back to Lauren.

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Not really if the guide says you can only take food and drink from their volunteers in the aid stations.

I quoted the guide from their web site.

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You would have to disqualify a lot of people then.

Imagine the headline that Valtteri Bottas got dq’ed from a “no rules” gravel race for taking a water bottle outside an aid station.

The “and” doesn’t separate the two. It should be “competitors shall except aid only from aid station volunteers” or something like that.

I don’t disagree with the premise though, but it’s impossible to enforce

You’d only have to relegate people from the podium spots. And, it’s not a no rules situation. They provide a multi-page guide of rules. They could make the rules clear at the start, and then enforce them if they wanted.

In this particular case, I’d say that taking a draft from team mates does not break any rules. Now if they help you with mechanical issues and tow you back, then it’s a gray area and it has turned into a team sport. The complainers though can choose to sit on her team’s wheels and get a free ride.

Taking food and water explicitly breaks the written rules, so the complainers do have a valid point.