During the 2022 World Cup, no women will race bicycles in the men’s competition. The decision has been widely condemned and has already been reversed. Reuters
When 16-year-old Lara Schmidt became the first woman to sign up for an off-road motocross race in the Middle East earlier this year, her reactions as her entry was recorded could perhaps be best described as ones of quiet astonishment.
“She looked at me and said, ‘That actually looks exactly like me,’” says her coach Mark Darden, who added that she was also impressed by Schmidt’s reaction at the sign-up.
“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Yes!’ It was a feeling that nobody had come through in a while, and we’re all delighted she’s here with us.”
This is the story of a quietly confident young athlete at the epicenter of a developing sport. It was far from obvious that Schmidt would be riding again after undergoing a double fracture in April. “She had only done a lap of the dirt track once [before suffering the injury], but it felt like she wasn’t there anymore,” said Darden.
“She was never competitive before, and then all of a sudden it just became her thing. But it’s not like there’s a burning fire there — she’s just enjoying being out there.
“I don’t think there’s anything special about her. All we need is a little push to get her on the track, and I know she will make it happen. I just think she’s going to be an incredible athlete.”
Although amputee cycling, sprinter cycling and tennis — events which are predominantly dominated by men — have all seen female participation rise, motocross is among the sports where the numbers remain relatively low. And Schmidt is part of a fledgling wave of young riders doing their best to change that.
This summer, Schmidt’s primary school teacher, Mike Purdy, suggested to Darden that she might consider entering a motocross race at the first opportunity.
“If she wasn’t in the school the school would probably beat her up,” said Darden. “She’s been out there for the last six months and she’s probably done more than every male riders combined.”
Schmidt is a keen basketball and tennis player, but according to Darden, motocross has been the driving force behind her potential to compete in that sport. He says she excelled at the best European and Asian motorcross championships she entered. It wasn’t long before she signed up for the motocross circuit in Dubai.
“Motorcross is a hyper-fragile sport. Lara’s done that perfectly, because to enter a 200-mile race, you really need to have really good riders and a lot of practice. For Lara, I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t seen her do well in the classes she did for kids.”
As Schmidt said in a recent interview, the off-road category was her favourite due to the simplicity of the racing and the novelty of its nature. “From the first time I stepped on a motocross bike, I just knew I loved it,” she said.
Ironically, it was due to her motorbike riding that Schmidt was also forced to abandon a sporting career. She had signed to drive a MotoGP-type bike for a toy sponsor and had raced over 10 races. The company eventually withdrew its sponsorship, and the contract was never renewed.
Despite her setback, she quickly recovered, and is now in talks to ride MotoGP or Superstock bikes. She also confirmed that she is training for the summer motocross season, which includes the World Cup in China next year.
But she says that motocross remains her main focus. “I definitely think I can make it at a national level,” she says. “It’s all about discipline, it’s all about keeping your head on your shoulders when things go wrong.”
Schmidt will need a lot of that patience this summer. It will be a men’s racing World Cup for the first time in the sport’s history, and one with very little chance of anyone from the female side doing well. But Schmidt seems to understand it all too well.
“When I first met Lara, she seemed confident,” Darden said. “But she’s a lovely girl, and it’s going to be tough not to be doing the sport I’ve loved