Early in the documentary Half the Road, director and professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine interviews Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon — at a time (1967) when people believed that women who ran more than 800 meters would jostle their wombs loose.
As she puts it, “I can say, categorically, my uterus did not fall out.” In the ensuing decades, not enough has changed in the perception of female athletes, a fact Bertine aims to alter by profiling women cyclists who push their bodies to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance despite a lack of media attention, respect, and sponsorship.
Most compelling are Nichole Wangsgard, a professor of special education who lived in the closet with her partner in order to safeguard her racing career; and Olympian Kristin Armstrong, who came out of retirement a month after the birth of her son and quit a lucrative desk job to pursue her passion, winning races despite a broken collarbone. The mental and physical strength of these women belie the scorn they receive from male officials.
An hour into the low-budget, high-impact documentary, Union Cycliste International president Brian Cookson claims that a women’s Tour de France “would be devastation” because, “frankly, women are weaker.” Yet it appears he’s an improvement over former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, who advocated women be banned from racing while menstruating. Bertine’s occasionally dry film makes rare space for female cyclists to convey themselves with the seriousness and urgency they embody when they race.
Their arguments slowly accumulate into an enraging portrait of entrenched sexism in competitive sports that proves parity is worth fighting for.