HALF THE ROAD: The passion, pitfalls & power of women’s professional cycling.
A documentary written & directed by Kathryn Bertine Filmed & edited by Kevin Tokstad
Modern society has long believed that women hold up half the sky in terms of equality and progression. So when it comes to the sport of professional cycling, why aren’t women receiving half the road?
HALF THE ROAD is a documentary film that explores the world of women’s professional cycling, focusing on both the love of sport and the pressing issues of inequality that modern-day female riders face in a male dominated sport. With footage from some of the world’s best UCI races to interviews with Olympians, World Champions, rookies, coaches, managers, officials, doctors and family members, HALF THE ROAD offers a unique insight to the drive, dedication, and passion it takes for a female cyclist to thrive. Both on and off the bike, the voices and advocates of women’s pro cycling take the audience on a journey of enlightenment, depth, strength, love, humor and best of all, change & growth.
In addition to the international race footage and athlete interviews, the film also follows director/athlete Kathryn Bertine’s quest to make the 2012 Olympics during her first year racing professionally for Team Colavita. Bertine, a three-time national champion of St. Kitts and Nevis, explores the issues faced when smaller nations try to make strides in a sport that has no history of tradition or support within their culture. The title HALF THE ROAD comes from a segment of the film where the president of a small cycling federation quotes the old adage, “Women hold up half the sky” in reference to equality. Our documentary explores the idea that, If women hold up half the sky, then the women’s peloton deserves ‘half the road’ of opportunity, growth, support & equality within professional cycling.
My journey into the world of women’s road cycling is a rather unorthodox one. In 2006, I was hired by ESPN to author an ESPN.com column called “So You Wanna Be an Olympian?” the basis of which was to see if I—a decently talented but by no means gifted athlete—could make it to the Beijing Olympics in just two years. In 2007, I switched from being a pro triathlete to a rookie road cyclist. I fell hard for cycling; figuratively and often literally.
During my quest for the Olympics, which took me from prestigious U.S. events to rural villages in Central America to bustling cities in Asia and to the narrow roads of Europe, I began to notice some interesting issues within women’s elite level cycling. Races were often shorter than the men’s events, prize money was pitifully lower, the female pros had no base salary nor any sort of union to protect their best interests, rarely were women’s events linked to the major men’s events, and the governing body of the sport treated the female racers like second-class citizens. Not to mention, the path toward Olympic qualification for third-world or less-than-wealthy nations was strewn with red tape and roadblocks that discouraged growth and prosperity for rising female cyclists. At best, present-day women’s professional cycling was stuck at the same level of women’s professional tennis in the 1970s. Quietly, I wondered “Why?”
Then the “Why?” got louder.
My ESPN/Olympic quest ended in 2008, but a new dream took shape. I kept riding, long after the articles stopped and the book–AS GOOD AS GOLD–was published by ESPN. Fast forward to 2012. My goal of making it to the pro ranks of cycling was finally realized, and I embarked on my first year of racing for Team Colavita. Simultaneously, as a journalist, I was working with a leading women’s sports website. Yet I often became discouraged by the media’s tendency to publish repetitive pieces on big stars of mainstream sports, without simultaneously highlighting the unsung athletes of all sports, whose unique and compelling stories begged to be written. Of course, advertising and corporate sponsorships have long held the reins in media and marketing. Not to mention, this was the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Not many news sources were willing to take a look at the harsh reality: there’s still a long way to go before gender equality in sport.
By that point, the “Why?” was deafening.
I wondered if any other female pro cyclists might talk to me about their obstacles, their ambition, and their unconditional love for a sport that was often thankless, cruel, and unresponsive to change. What is the true joy of cycling, and how do we fix the wrongs? I’ve always considered “sport” a euphemism for “society”– I believe by changing one, we affect the other. So I brought a $99 flip camera to my races and started talking to my fellow competitors. Their stories, thoughts and opinions quickly convinced me I’d need three things: an education in documentaries, a leap of faith and a professional cameraman.
I began this documentary with the assumption it was about women’s professional cycling. A few months in, I realized the film was about equality and society, as told through the medium of cyclists. Half The Road is my hope that someday the whole world will see sports not as “men’s” or “women’s” but as equal athletes on equal playing fields.