Director of dRMM Sadie Morgan reports from the 300-mile all-female pedElle women in property cycle ride
Before the AJ Women in Architecture campaign came along, female-led property and construction events were few and far between. Now, with awards aimed at the industry’s female practitioners and serious discourse aimed at securing equal opportunities in the architectural workplace, things are changing. But while awards and serious discourse are both laudable improvements, they do miss something critical: it’s a girl’s prerogative to have fun.
Enter 33 women from different corners of the property industry gathering at Gatwick airport on 3 June, full of excitement and anticipation for a 300-mile cycle through the Italian countryside. The ride is an event called pedElle, now in its second year, organized to raise funds for charity as well as bring like-minded individuals together for an endurance-testing good time.
I arrived in Milan amongst a swarm of other women and checked into a 5-star hotel, where over a fantastic Italian pasta supper we had our first chance to say hello. pedElle is championed by Jennifer Ross, director at Tibbalds, and Claire Treanor, former partner at DP9. In the past they have both taken part in the Cycle to Cannes ride. Having completed the British Council for Offices (BCO) Cycle challenge twice myself, I found it to be a joy to be in the company of two women who share a similar zest for adventure and physical challenge. The greater group was comprised of planning consultants, urban designers, architects, interior designers, surveyors, solicitors, and business development executives. So we all had a lot in common, not just our gender and a pedElle kit, or need for sun (and bum) cream.
The following day we were all ready on time, nearly, and after the requisite photos, set off to ride through the centre of Milan. This was a pretty challenging task in itself with 33 women, some of whom were riding in a peloton for the first time. After 34 roundabouts and innumerable traffic lights, a horrible circumnavigation (twice – oops!) of the equivalent to London’s Hyde Park roundabout, we eventually hit some green and had a taste of the beautiful scenery to come.
With 90km under our belts we stopped for lunch, an oddly Christmassy offering of turkey and sponge pudding. At least the weather was summer-like, a good 35 degrees all day. It was during these moments that we got a chance to swap stories, catch up and find out more about our fellow cyclists. And what a thoroughly friendly and interesting bunch they turned out to be.
After 170km was completed there were many weary but energized women. The euphoria of completing the first day was palpable; a carpet of women doing stretching exercises lying on the ground was one of the funniest sights of the day. Beers and a little too much wine lined the route to a well-deserved sleep.
Day two again brought beautiful weather, with temperatures due to reach the high 30s. Everyone was preparing for the first big climb, so shirts packed with gels and jellybabies. The official shirts were off, and the cyclists appeared sporting their best Rapha outfits.
It was a marked change from the BCO ride (which I completed a week before), where the big spends were on the bikes. Boy, did we all look glam. The confidence that comes with the peloton experience and a clear day’s riding meant that we started stronger and more together than before.
We left Brescia with a less stressful and easier ride - in fact we were surprised at how quiet the roads were. After that our journey was marked by deafening, traffic-stricken tunnels, stunningly picturesque climbs, and equally striking descents – although some riders were slower to come down than go up, meaning a long wait at the bottom for others.
The next major stop was Verona – an unforgettable experience, not for the Romeo and Juliette balcony we had all hoped for, but the 30-storey pink hotel we arrived at. I’ve rarely seen such an outright expression of 1980s bling. Full of bewildered Chinese tourists it was a tour de force of naff. Architectural snobbery however could not compete with comfy beds.
Day three and our tired legs and aching backs were numbed by the thought of ‘only a day to go’. I was particularly looking forward to a good climb, desperate for a change of riding position.
A hot day ensued, over 38 degrees and so plenty of water and suncream. Our fuel was Italian cappuccino – just the thing to get you over the first 50km.
Unexpected road works meant we had to climb the backside of a steep hill. With a relentless sun beating down and a climb much harder than expected, many of the team abandoned bikes and pushed. Eventually we all made it to the top to be rewarded with more magnificent views, and food.
A rolling peloton descending down the hill, pulling everyone along was one of the highlights of the entire ride. Those last few miles encompassed a mix of emotions; relief but regret that it would be soon be over.
The camaraderie and the sense of achievement were tangible. Throughout the ride, whether it was to stop in a field of swishing hay for a moment of relief, or chatting openly about fears and ambitions, the impact of being together took on a kind of power. I found myself unwittingly mentoring the younger riders on how to run a business whilst raising children, how to promote oneself within the industry, and how to overcome the lack of confidence many women experience in a male-dominated industry.
Riding together, sharing experiences and generally mucking in gave us a sense of parity and took away any barriers to easy and meaningful conversation. I felt honoured to be part of a forward-moving team of women, both intellectually and physically.
What a wonderful, fun, experience.