TALKING ABOUT FEMALE CYCLING WITH MONIA BACCAILLE
Cycling champion from Marsciano, born in 1984, now Technician of the Umbria Region.
Since she was 7 she dedicated herself to her passion, cycling, making sacrifices and facing many difficulties, but her tenacity has always pushed her to stay in the saddle, reaching great satisfactions.
She won various titles nationally and internationally, she took part in European and world competitions and London 2012 Olympics.
We interviewed her in the frame of the Erasmus+ project “Sport Power: Promoting Sport for Women Empowerment”; we talked about her experience, the world of female cycling and the satisfactions obtained by sport.
Tell us briefly about yourself. What are you currently doing?
I am a former cycling athlete at national and international level. My bestmemories are related to London Olympics in 2012, the victory of the European championship and the 3 podiums. I participated in 11 road world championships (4 of which were won by the Italian team) and 9 on the track, twenty European championships and I was 17 times national champion, I also participated in 10 Giri d’Italia and over 60 World Cups trials. Currently I am a penitentiary policeman, I entered this force thanks to cycling, with the sports group of the Fiamme Azzurre. I currently work in the Department of Juvenile Justice of the Community in the General
Directorate for External Criminal Execution.
What sports did you practice and at what age did you approach cycling?
I started cycling at the age of 7 in the society of Marsciano U.C. Nestor and I grew up in cycling in Umbria, then I went to national and international teams once I turned professional. I stopped my sport activity in 2016.
My mother had tried to direct me to dance but I think I only did two trainings, and then I got to cycling thanks to a friend of mine, a neighbour of mine who was practicing this sport and was going to trainings. We were always playing together and I started to go with her; it started in this way, for fun.
Have you encountered difficulties or obstacles in practicing this sport? Did you have to make sacrifices? Do you think you have encountered more difficulties as a woman?
I started cycling in ’91 and continued uninterruptedly until the 2012 Olympics. After the Olympics, I took my first break when I had my first baby Aurora. Then I started again the activity for a few months, I played the Italian championships on the track and then I took a second break when my second baby Vittoria was born. I then started doing activities both nationally and internationally: I went back to competing in the national championships and doing international races such as the Tour of Flanders, Grand Priemio Liberazione or other races of absolute level. On April 25, 2016 after having made many evaluations, I decided to go to work and therefore I made the choice to abandon the sport for the many sacrifices requested, since they were no longer compatible with my current family situation and in any case because I had already had many satisfactions.
I think I have done and seen everything, from Italian, European and world competitions and even the Olympics, there was nothing more to discover in this world. Furthermore, unfortunately, in recent years cycling has become a very dangerous sport, especially in training on the road: car drivers run too much, are distracted and there have been accidents that have involved colleagues who made me think. I myself have had very serious accidents of which I still bear obvious signs.
I was torn between continuing in cycling and the family, in 2016 I had a 2 year old daughter and the other one slightly was older, it was very difficult to reconcile family life and sport with a calendar of international activities. I had already returned to high levels and the schedule of international commitments required very long trips, which involved staying away from the family for many days and especially with young children it was difficult to reconcile the two.
How did you manage to reconcile sport with your family and work life What studies have you done, what is your job? Were you able to support yourself with the remuneration for sporting activity?
I finished the high school in 2003, the year of the diploma was complicated because it was also the year in which I entered the Italian national team participating in the World Cup the first week of October. So I started going to school around October 15th. From 2004 until 31 December 2008 I was hired by the Municipality of Marsciano as a surveyor in the technical office and then I was training in the afternoon. I used my rest and holidays to go cycling in the competitions.
When I started working I was already in the professional world, my trainings were lasting about 4/5 hours. I was used to work from 8 to 14, I usually ate a sandwich in the office so that as soon as I got home, at 14:30 I was already on a bike. But in summer is difficult to ride a bike at 14:30 with 40°C, while in winter at 16:30 is dark so I wasn’t always able to do all the necessary things for a high level athlete like I was.
In Marsciano there is a small circuit where children usually train, I used to go around it for two hours to finish the training because at least I didn’t risk being run over.
I then did the competition for entering in the Penitentiary Police in the sports group of Fiamme Azzurre and in 2008 I was hired in the sports group of the Penitentiary Police. This was fundamental, in Italy there are not many athletes who are part of the military teams who can afford to devote themselves to sports during their competitive career and then be invested, at the end of the same, in the institutional tasks of their administrations.
As for the remuneration, it is not possible to keep up with the salary of women’s cycling. There are societies that even ask athletes to bring a sponsor. In Italy about 70% of girls participate in competitions by receiving only expense reimbursements. Just this year the international cycling union has approved professional teams for women too. Until last year the name of category was not professional but it was Elite, this meant that there were no insurance companies or pension funds, INAIL and INPS. Female professionalism has been recognized since this year (even if there are only nine teams worldwide), the result of a struggle that we have been pursuing for many years. Especially in the years 2006 to 2012 there was a strong change and there were many meetings, many meetings with the leaders of the federation, to try to equate the remuneration of men and women. For example in Italy the difference in the compensation for the victory of a world championship until a few years ago was more or less one in eleven: the victory of a world championship at a male level was paid by the federation about € 100,000, for us women an eleventh of this sum. We carried out protests, also because in those years women won much more than men, obtaining many more results both at European and worldwide level; it was women in Italian cycling that led the federation and this was understood by the federation itself. Now there is almost a balance, even if we have not yet managed to reach the same budget and the same rewards compared to men.
How much time were you spending on training and competitions?
Our races are between 120 and 150 km, so the time varied from 3 and a half hours to 4 and a half hours, depending on the various routes. I was used to train 7 days a week, with average 5-hour trainings when doing distance, usually twice a week; there were also specific workouts where instead you went to work for example: on strength, speeding up, etc. Once the part on the bike was finished, you then continued the activity at home with abs and stretching.
How do you find yourself in your current role as a technician and how did you deal with the transition to this role?
I am a technician for the Umbria Region regarding road activities and track activities of all categories. During the year I follow the trips with boys and girls. I am especially busy in the summer months: usually the activity starts in April and ends in late September, with the national championships in July. We do trainings where we gather athletes from the regional committee, do evaluations, tests and then we go to national championships with the best team.
What were the motivations and abilities that you believe made you continue to pursue this path?
I believe in work and sacrifice. I am a very stubborn person, who never gives up, my character has certainly affected a lot; often you can be tempted to give up for all the sacrifices that must be made, especially when you are a girl, you see all your companions who go out on Saturday evening, while you have to go to sleep early because you have a race on Sunday morning.
The sacrifices have been many, especially from 13 to 18 years old, however sport has always given me a great grit and a different world view, because you grow up with other girls from other countries, from other regions; you have a wider view. You are also driven by the desire to self-realize, to follow a path, to train and grow to achieve your goals. I had to make many sacrifices which, however, allowed me to realize the dream of the Olympics and to reach the pinnacle of sport. However sport is a cross section of life, by doing sport you have to accept shared rules. This attitude also helps you in other moments of life, in other situations, to grow.
I must say thank you to cycling for having formed my character and for allowing me to see the world.
What changes/improvements would be needed to encourage sports for a woman?
We sincerely need many. Even today, top-level women’s cycling is not like men’s. The first step has been taken with the introduction of professional societies, but the road is still very long, there are many differences both on a salary level, on an economic level, on the level of society and what a society can give you.
Often it is also difficult to find the support of sponsors, who often prefer the male world also for a matter of coverage of the media of men’s cycling, clearly higher than that of women. Furthermore, in Italy we are still behind because no professional Italian men’s team has a women’s club.
What do you think about the topic of women empowerment?
Sport shapes your character, helps you, makes you see things differently because you still have to face sacrifices, you have rules to respect, all factors that make up a better woman.
Practicing high level sports allows you to travel the world, knowing many places and many different cultures. I have visited all 5 continents, travelling in New Zealand, Australia, China, Qatar, South Africa, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and of course all around Europe!
However, it is often more difficult for a girl to experience certain environments, certain situations. Often, especially the smaller clubs, they do not have adequate spaces or structures to support girls: maybe you have to change your clothes in your car or look for a bar to use the bathroom for this, you may not feel comfortable if there are no suitable spaces. Travelling the world can also be more difficult for a girl than for a boy.
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