In February, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme proclaimed that holding a women’s Tour congruent with the 115-year-old men’s multistage race would be “impossible.” Certainly, organizing a second race to be held alongside what has to be one of the great logistical feats of humankind would be a challenge indeed. But when I asked Martin Bruhn, race director of the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix, his thoughts on the subject, he reminded me of the Muhammad Ali quote:
Martin knows a thing or two about bicycle racing, both the endeavor itself as well as its long history and the many personalities that compose it. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Martin moved to Massachusetts the same year NASA put a man on the moon, and in a bit of foreshadowing, the same year as the music festival known as Woodstock. He got into bicycle racing early, and grew up with the sport. By 1976 Martin was racing full time and consistently finishing in the top ten.
Raced in Holland for Alcmaria Victrix 1977
Junior Road Club Champion 1977
Won Mt. Washington Hill Climb 1978
Nominated Canadian National Cycling Program 1978
Olympic training camp in BC 1980
7th place Fitchburg Longsjo Classic 1980
4th place Montreal Grand Prix 1980
26th place Tour of Ireland 1984
4th place Quebec City International 1984
6th place Grand Prix of Bermuda 1984
Champion Empire Games Criterium 1984
Long listed for 1984 Olympics in L.A.
Right out of the gate, Martin was not only a participant but a promoter and booster. He started his first bicycle race, the Dog Bone Special Road Race as a junior in high school. The Dog Bone Special was later called the Myles Standish Road Race, and is one of the one of the oldest road races in New England. When his parents had enough of driving Martin and his brother, Michael, around the region for races, Martin and some others managed to convince the ranger at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham to allow them to get a training series going, which still goes on today.
Clubs And Races
Martin promoted, started, or helped to start a number of races and clubs:
Dog Bone Special Road Race (later the Myles Standish Road Race) 1975
Mass Bay Road Club 1974
Boston College Cycling Club 1978
Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club 1982
Euro-Velo Sport Camp (racing program for young cyclists)
Woodstock Cycling Classic
Ossining Grand Prix
In 2012, Martin founded the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix in Woodstock, New York (yes, that Woodstock). Woodstock is where Martin and his family have made their home since 1988.
When Martin approached the powers that be in 2012 to propose a women’s cycling road race, you can imagine his trepidation. Would this small, conservative municipality have any interest in a women’s only race? Would they be leery of creating another situation like the music festival held in nearby Bethel 50 years ago?
“I walked into the meeting,” says Martin, “and they kind of had an inkling what I was going to bring up. In three or four sentences I said what I wanted to do, to bring a bicycle race back to Woodstock.” When Martin got to the part about the race being for women only, conversation stopped.
“They looked at me. They looked at each other,” Martin pauses. “And they said, ‘absolutely.’”
Right from that beginning, the community has fully supported the event in a way that is hard to convey in words. It’s something that is evident to participants, like bikekitz’s Jen Barden, who did the race in 2018 and said the community is “just amazing.”
Speaking of the devotion and care the local officials and first responders put into making sure the race goes smoothly and that every rider is safe, Martin, who is never at a loss for words—not for nothing do people refer to him as the “Vortex of Martin”—gets a little tongue-tied. “I’m not worthy,” is how he puts it.
Originally a one-day road race, this year WWCGP is a three-event race. Saturday morning is the time trial, Saturday afternoon is the circuit race, and Sunday is the road race. Athletes can register for all three races, or only the ones they want. The highlight of the road race is the two-mile ascent up Meads Mountain road to the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery. It’s a stiff climb, and riders who top out justifiably feel a sense of accomplishment. Martin tells the story of a rider who participated one very foggy year. She said that as she reached the top, out of the dissipating fog appeared eight monks with flags, cheering riders on. “I thought I had just died,” she said.
The thing about a women’s only race is that the women who compete, who have maybe traveled for hours to get there, who train all year and are as committed to their sport as any man, these women athletes are the main event. They are not an afterthought or side show, squeezed in early in the morning before the “main event” or late in the day when many spectators have gone home. Every athlete who comes to compete at the Women’s Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix is, in Martin’s words, “a rock star.”
So how did a died-in-the-wool men’s bicycle racer end up running a women’s only event? Many men, after a successful career as a competitive athlete, go on to be involved in men’s events, or perhaps they leave it all in their past and focus on a completely different career. So what made Martin different?
“I could be chauvinistic and say women deserve it. I could be philosophical and say that the doping scandal with Lance Armstrong really corrupted the image of bicycle racing for a lot of people. But I just feel, whether it's being Canadian or what, I'm pretty feminist-minded. I’ve seen the impact that women who are focused have. Women are special. They’re great. As athletes they're remarkable.”
Women athletes put the same blood, sweat, and tears into their sport as men, and they deserve dedicated events equal to men’s competitions. When it comes to a race like the Tour de France, Martin put it like this, “Why should women align themselves with the historically male-focused Tour de France? Why not try to run it at a different time of year and do a Tour de Feminin?” Why not create a race solely dedicated to women cyclists, where these incredible athletes are no afterthought, but are treated like the rock stars that they are?