La Bruguera: 'We want to be a force for change for the better'
Tackling the inequalities facing women’s cycling whilst simultaneously fighting the climate crisis – Mike Duff and Michelle Wilson face any challenge with passion and enthusiasm.
Mike Duff and Michelle Wilson are passionate about cycling, gender equality, and living an environmentally positive life. How do they stitch these seemingly disparate subjects together?
The short answer is “women”. Women are amongst the populations most vulnerable to climate change, and at the heart of solutions to the climate crisis. Women experience discrimination in every sphere, including sport, and in particular cycling. At their La Bruguera de Púbol guest house near Girona, they work to support women in cycling and raise environmental consciousness and behaviour.
Surely cycling is an environmentally friendly sport, you say? In itself yes, but – and isn’t there always a but – think of all of those gas-guzzling vehicles involved in cycling races, the single use bidons and food packaging, among other things.
‘Slow down a bit’
“Our feeling is that people should start from where they are, and work on manageable, tactical changes to their behaviour towards the environment, and rather than working from a position of guilt, move forward towards a positive improvement. Even small changes are better than no change, and things like driving less, eating a plant-based diet, growing your own food, or voting with your purchasing power are great ways to live an environmentally positive life,” say Wilson and Duff.
“This might not be a very popular statement, but just because something is about riding bikes, it is not automatically ‘eco’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’,” Mike goes on. “Cycling is an industry, made up of businesses selling products, and 99% of businesses are convinced they have an economic growth imperative, to get bigger and bigger and sell more and more”.
What can we as cyclists do? “Slow down a bit, take some time to think systemically about the knock-on impact of your actions, breathe a bit, and enjoy the journey, instead of rushing to the next experience, or the next purchase, before heading back to focusing on productivity and generating income. Maybe turn your old Mavic R-sys wheelset and yoga mats into a ‘chicken tractor’ instead of throwing them away – obvious, no?”
“But please, don’t get us wrong, we drool over bikes like the rest of our beautiful sport’s acolytes do – we are only human – but we feel it is important to remember that whilst we might all feel like cycling is a religion and there-fore exists on an astral, heavenly plane, it actually rests firmly down here on Earth, at ground level, within the finite confines of a planet which has tipping points and limited resources, many of which we have already passed, and the rest of which we are rapidly approaching”.
”It is our belief, that what is needed, across cycling, the economy as a whole, and humanity as a species, is a broad re-connection with, or return to, nature,” he says, explaining their philosophy. “If this kind of foundational philosophy, a rallying cry for our species to be well, whilst in balance with nature, was a driving force for everything we did in sport, product design, and even tourism, we would produce a radically different type of economy, and therefore world, to what we are experiencing now”.
‘We want to be a force for change for the better’
What better way to put this philosophy into action than by being involved in pro cycling? And not just any cycling, but women’s cycling, which has been neglected and discriminated against for so long.
What issues need to be addressed? “Salary parity, prize money parity in more than a few races, improvements to the race calendar, more quality races, more media coverage, non-gendered (sexist) media coverage, and more resources, opportunities, and support to create more routes from junior cycling to the top levels,” just to name a few.
Supporting women’s cycling teams
How do Mike and Michelle help this situation? By gifting stays at La Bruguera for training camps and teambuilding events to professional, elite and development teams. They tell us this does not feel like much in the scheme of things, but every cycling business needs to do their part to change the system. “We never miss an opportunity to campaign for equality in cycling. We want to be a force for change for the better”.
They sponsored the first Catalan UCI-level team, Massi-Tactic, for three years, until the team was able to attract another hospitality industry sponsor, with more cash. Now La Bruguera continue to support its “sister squad” Catema.cat. They also support Bianchi HUNT Morvélo, and the UCI Continental team InstaFund.
This Canadian team is the perfect fit for La Bruguera. “They are the world’s first zero-single-use plastic cycling team, and are working hard to become the world’s first carbon neutral cycling team (and not just by buying loosely-defined carbon offsets). We are collaborating with them this year sharing knowledge on carbon saving tactics, and offering them a team training camp here in Girona, during which riders will receive various different environmental education workshops at La Bruguera, on tips and tricks for a planet-positive lifestyle, some-thing which the team management see as critical to the experience riders on the team receive”.
Mike and Michelle’s wishlist for Catalan women’s cycling include the all-important salary parity, seeing more Elite teams moving up to Continental status, seeing Massi Tactic move up to World Tour level, and for there to be more and better media cover-age of women’s cycling, and of course seeing the ReVolta race becoming a stage race, hope-fully to be won by a member of a team they sponsor.
But there is more. Young female cyclists must have more opportunities and fewer bottlenecks as they move up the ranks. Commercial financial sponsor-ship must be found. And they insist that a critical step towards this must be “more women in leadership roles in federation, team, allied sport services, government sports departments and agencies”.
“It is a slow process, like planting a tree to get fruit, but like they say about trees, the best time to plant one was 10 years ago, but the second best time is now, so let’s get on with it!”