When female racers get a chance to shine, more women are encouraged to race!
Take BZR Ladies, for example. The Belgian Zwift Riders (BZR) group is a mixed-gender club that includes a Zwift racing team. But when the WTRL Zwift Racing League announced separate events and spotlights for men and women, it inspired the ladies of BZR to organize a women’s team. They successfully recruited more racers and now have a thriving community.
Since then, BZR has started a women’s version of its own racing series, The Ronde Watopian League.
“Flanders The BZR Ladies Ronde started in January with the first 8 races, and now the new season just started,” says Debbie Sanders, a team leader. “A lot of our Belgian ladies participate (some get their first experience here and that’s the purpose) but the interest is rising from foreign teams and racers, which is ideal!”
Debbie lives in Ghent, Flanders, where she stays very active. She started riding on Zwift in October 2019 as part of her preparation for La Marmotte, a strenuous gran fondo in the French Alps. Along with road cycling, she also participates in duathlon, triathlon, and indoor rowing.
We recently asked Debbie some questions about BZR Ladies, and here’s what she answered – with the help of a few teammates.
(For more information about Belgian Zwift Riders Ladies, visit the Belgian Zwift Riders Facebook page or join the BZR eCycling Club group. To join BZR Ladies, visit the women-only BZR Ladies Facebook group. Read on to learn about related events!)
Zwift: When did this group or club form, and who started it?
Debbie Sanders: The history of the BZR Ladies started only in October 2020 when I saw that the first season of the Zwift Racing League was promoted in the BZR community. I had no experience in Zwift racing whatsoever, but it sounded to me like a great idea to get some ladies in a team to participate. That was not easy as BZR is a pretty testosterone-driven group. But the founding father (Stephan Tytgat) knew Fran Bambust (pretty known in Zwift worlds) and introduced me to her. Together we were able to get a team together (we just missed the opening race of the season because we were not ready yet). Both of us started contacting Belgian women that were already racing on Zwift or had the potential to do so. In December we started the BZR Ladies to be able to get more women, of different categories, into Season 2. In fact, Fran is the creative mastermind, and I’m more the rational leader.
Z: What would you say the group’s core purpose and goals are? Why do you believe your group is important to the Zwift community?
D: The main goal is to get Belgian women into Zwift Racing, whatever their level and abilities. We like to perform but it is very much the ‘suffering together’ and ‘all for one, one for all’ that are most important.
Z: Who are the group’s leaders on Zwift? Are there any fun facts Zwifters should know about them?
D: Only on Tuesday there are group rides for ladies, and Fran knows more about that.
Fran Bambust: The two ladies who lead the Flanders Happy Women Ride are Dana Kaczmddarek and Kathleen Morren.
Dana says, “I started taking Zwift shortly after the testing phase. At that time you only had 2 simple routes and there were more ‘ghosts’ driving than real avatars. I was addicted right away! I found some nice group rides, like the one with Het is Koers in the Dutch Mountains on Sunday morning. Heavy but social and fun. After a while, they asked me if I might want to set up and lead a ladies ride from HIK. That was a success! Later I was asked by BZR to also lead the ladies ride here. Another success! More leaders were added which was great! Zwift has improved tremendously in recent years, became even more addictive. Soon one Tacx Neo was not enough at my place because my boyfriend also wanted to train now and then, haha! And so there are now two Neo 2T’s next to each other. And even though I’ve been Zwifting for a few years, I learn something new every time. For example, I only discovered last season that those blue things on the back of your avatar are not snacks but the ‘Ride On’! Better late than never, haha!”
Kathleen says, “I started Zwifting at the beginning of 2019, at the insistence of my friend. From ‘riding on rollers can’t be fun’ it turned immensely into an addiction thanks to Zwift. I also bought a second bike trainer so that I could ride at any time and no longer had to alternate with my friend. A year later I was asked to lead the Flanders Happy Women’s ride. I wanted to give it a try and was immediately sold. Because of COVID-19 more and more women have come to know Zwift, which means that the group is always growing. The chit chats and the group feeling make it very nice.”
Z: Is your group affiliated with a Zwift racing team?
D: We are connected with the Belgian Zwift Riders and aim for Belgian riders. For the moment we very much focus on getting Belgian women together to race.
On Tuesdays we participate to the Zwift Racing League (in season 2 we had 1 B-team ‘Cats 1’, 2 C-teams ‘Bullets 1’ and ‘Bullets 2’ and 1 D-team ‘Tigers 1’). Our A-team (‘Black Flames’) did not participate yet. In fact, the name of our teams originate from our Belgian National Women’s Teams of different sports, for example, the Cats are the name of the Belgian Basketball Team.
Z: Sport can be a powerful platform for equality. How do you think participating in cycling can empower and benefit women and girls? What are the benefits of being involved in a community of women who ride?
D: My experience, both personally and seeing the other women, is that we lack self-confidence about our own strength and potential. It is just great to see people getting stronger and start believing in their abilities. It not only reinforces our legs but also our brain! And we meet up with other women that love the bike which is very motivating!
Z: Are there any special memories or experiences with this group that you’d like to share?
D: I only want to genuinely thank Fran Bambust for her energy, support, and heartwarming personality. Without her, we would never have gotten the first ladies team together and the community as we have now.
Flanders Happy Women’s Ride
BZR Ladies’ Race
Flanders The BZR Ladies Ronde