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A Celebration of Bicycle History PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jill DiMauro   
Thursday, 09 February 2006

There is so much history about women and bicycles. Wonderful history. History to make us all proud to be women, to be cyclists. History that we already know, history that we’re uncovering and history that is in the making as we speak. It’s hard to know where to begin. To celebrate our first Artemis newsletter, I thought I would feature a racer - the very first U.S. racer, man or woman, to compete in a European stage race.

While women cyclists have had a social impact since the 1850’s when Amelia Bloomer of New York introduced "Bloomers," it wasn’t until 100 years later that a female racer was taken seriously in the sport itself. Women cyclists were not included in any national cycling championship until the ABL (Amateur Bicycling League of America) nationals in 1937. Doris Kopsky of Jersey City, New Jersey, daughter of the 1912 Olympic bronze medallist Joe Kopsky, won the first ABL (women’s) championship. Women typically entered the sport through their families or by joining local clubs.

Nancy Neiman Baranet of Detroit began cycling as a tourist in 1951. After a trip touring Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard she joined a local club coached by an Italian named Gene Portuesi. He was a very strict trainer and Nancy trained right along with the men. By April they would be riding more than 300 miles a week. Baranet points out in Hearts of Lions by Peter Nye "The level of women’s racing in this country in the 1950’s was as good we could get. The drive was there, but we had no facilities to take advantage of like there are today. We worked regular jobs from nine to five, and trained after work. I was a secretary. We lived for the sport, but we had to put food on the table. Nobody took care of that for us."

When she started racing, national championship divisions were men’s open, juniors (boys 14-16), and girls division. When Baranet won the national girls’ championship for the second time in 1954 she was 21. She told the League that she was no longer a girl and that she wanted the name of the division switched to women’s. From that point on it was called the "National Women’s Championship."

In 1955 Nancy went to Europe to race for the summer. She wrote to Eileen Gray of the British Cycling Federation, who set up racing engagements for her in England and France. Baranet paid her own way from savings and could not even dream of any reimbursements. She raced for 3 months and tied the world record (14.4 seconds) for 200 meters at the Paddington track in Leicester. In 1956 she returned to France to compete in the eight-day stage race, Criterium Cycliste Feminin Lyonnaise-Auvergne, billed as the women’s Tour de France. Baranet was the sole U.S. entrant in a field of 87 starters from England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The race officials would not let her wear a silk jersey for the 20-mile time trial stage. They claimed that the reduced wind resistance of the silk jersey gave her an unfair advantage. She had to borrow a wool jersey. Nancy ended up 14th out of 40 finishers. Nancy Neiman Baranet led the way, for both men and women, as the very first American to compete in a European stage race. We celebrate the history she made!
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 27 February 2007 )
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