Try out track racing at Kissena or T-town. I thoroughly enjoyed the two seasons I raced on the track in New England, and the opportunity to practice sprinting and tactics over and over again paid off on the road.
Go to Wells Ave. I haven’t been there in years (perhaps the weekend car traffic is excessive now?), but I remember it as being pretty supportive and safe. Even better, go with your whole team. The best races I had with my teammates on IF happened after we had been together for years and had stopped trying to come up with race strategies before the race started. Instead, we were so familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses that we could key off each other (and communicate) during the race and know when to attack, counter-attack, and start a leadout.
I don’t think that racing with men is a great option, based on my personal experience. (Aside from Wells Ave. and the track.) Men’s racing tends to involve a lot more incidental (or purposeful) contact than women’s racing. After one terrible experience getting leaned on in a corner by a guy with 70+ pounds on me, who starting yelling misogynist insults at me when I asked him to stop, I decided it wasn’t a good option for me. (At first I thought I had done something wrong by getting upset. Later that day, I told the story to an official who said I should have reported it right away and that she would have DQ’d him.) Unfortunately, I know that my experience wasn’t unique, though I hope things have changed in the 10 years since it happened. Of course your mileage may vary, and racing with men may be a great option for you if you’re training for a top-level women’s race with a huge field like the Liberty Classic. Or if you’re braver than I am. Or if you have more physical mass and strength than I do. (I do know some women who don’t mind or even enjoy racing with men.)
Here’s what Laura S. had to say (in a discussion on Facebook) about contacting promoters: “My suggestion when contacting promoters is to be professional and courteous. I always hear from promoters that ‘women whine for races and then don't show up and race.’ If you ask for a race and they offer it, you had better be there!” I haven’t had much success personally contacting promoters, so I gave it up. And I try not to complain too loudly about promoters. They’re mostly doing the best they can and I realize it takes a lot of time and money to promote a race. I have no interest in doing it myself. When a promoter does offer a field that includes Cat 1/2, support them with your attendance and race hard.
Serve on the NEBRA board or offer to help them as a non-board member. I served in 2006 and learned a lot. I ran a women’s racing summit. We posted a list of female-friendly clubs and also included rules in the NEBRA ranking system standards for promoters to follow regarding women’s races. I know NEBRA continues to work hard to promote women’s racing in New England.
Here’s something that Amanda Lawrence (now Rossolimo) and I did in 2004 that seemed to help: we ran a New England Cat 1/2 women’s series. We kept things pretty simple. Hincapie Sportswear donated leader’s jerseys. Serotta donated a custom frame for the winner. We gave a restaurant gift certificate to the first place team. We contacted 15 promoters who were already planning on offering 1/2/3 fields and asked them to be part of the series. It cost them nothing and helped encourage attendance at their races, so they were happy to participate. 71 women from 30 teams raced in series races. Keeping track of series points is now easier than ever, thanks to Colin Reuter, whom my friend Emily recently described as tied for her “favorite Internet male feminist.” It’s not too late to try this again for the 2014 road season if someone wants to take the idea and run with it.
I was lucky enough to get my start in New England racing through the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. By percentage of overall racers, they have 2-3 times the number of women racing than USAC racing in New England. Collegiate cycling teams tend to train together and have (usually volunteer) coaches – this really helped me improve a lot in a short period of time. Shortly after I graduated, the ECCC took a top-down approach and led the way among all collegiate conferences by instituting equal series points for women (which was highly controversial at the time). They also added more fields for women (the number of women’s fields are now equal to the number of men’s fields – the hope being that if the ECCC builds it, the women will come), including an “intro” field that features experienced racers mixed in to instruct the beginners in a race situation. This sort of thing is possible because with all the travel involved in collegiate racing, everyone who is racing tends to arrive at the venue at the same time and then stay all day long. There are some factors unique to collegiate cycling that can’t be duplicated in senior/master’s racing, but some that can.