Welcome to our year-end Favourite Stories series. To pick the best of our over 1,000 stories published this year, we assigned each of our staff and core contributors to write about someone else. Today, Kate Wagner offers an appreciation for Abby Mickey’s writing on women’s cycling, as passionate as it is knowledgeable.
I had the pleasure of covering the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift for the first time this year, and I don’t know if I would’ve made it out alive if it wasn’t for Abby, who is like a walking encyclopedia of all things women’s cycling. The women’s world is smaller than the men’s but I have to say, covering it is definitely not easier. Having someone like Abby who is not only a great journalist but also someone who knows the whole thing from top to bottom is one of the pleasures of working at Escape Collective and also of reading it. Here are a few of my favorite pieces from Abby this year.
Alison Jackson calls her shot
The crazy thing about sports is that if you’re in it for long enough, you start to develop a certain clairvoyance. That’s especially true the closer and closer you get to it, but still it takes an extra edge to pick a winner when there are 100 different athletes riding on a given day. If that day is Paris-Roubaix, well, then you have to factor in what can only be described as total chaos – mud cobbles, punctures, crashes, and, quite frankly, exhaustion.
Abby called the race for Alison Jackson before the race even started. She just picked up on the sheer vibe Jackson had and did a long talk with her about how exactly the Canadian thought it would go down. “We have to ride it like cowboys,” is such a great quote about what really is the wild west of cycling even if Jackson didn’t win one of the most memorable Roubaixs in the last five years – and that’s counting the men’s. And ride it like cowboys she did. If I were Abby, I’d be bragging about this get for weeks.
Read “We Really Have to Ride it Like Cowboys” here.
Crossing the line first isn’t the only victory
The Tourmalet stage of the Tour de France Femmes this year was a real barnburner. I remember being there on the mountain myself, watching in the fog from outside the press room where I was camped out for the presser while Abby and Matt de Neef were up on the mountain. I think one of the hardest things about being a journalist is doing those mountaintop finishes because truly when they’re over people can’t be fucked to talk to you, and you kind of feel bad asking the questions.
Abby’s lucky that she has a great bedside manner and also because everyone is genuinely happy to see her there since she’s been in the sport for so long. It takes a lot to coax out as much as Abby coaxed out of Kasia Niewiadoma, who finished a remarkable second on the stage. This piece is a mix of interview and recap from the perspective of a single rider, which is a form that is hard to pull off for a same-day turnaround especially if you are stuck up on a foggy mountain with no signal whatsoever. Kudos.
Read “When Second Feels Like A Win” here.
A PhD dissertation in Taylor Swift
Sometimes covering cycling should be fun. Especially if you are braving hotels that feel like God is testing you and, if you’re in France, a country where dinner is not served past eight. Asking what every rider’s favorite Taylor Swift song is on its face a pretty good ice-breaker. I admit in these pages that I am not a Swiftie, and in fact, I think I learned just as much about Taylor herself as Abby learned about the riders who had opinions on her music. I also learned about some of them too – I find it deeply funny that someone as nice as Emma Norsgaard picked a song like Anti-Hero and also Pfeiffer Georgi admitting to being deep into the remix of what is probably one of the saddest Taylor Swift songs out there (All Too Well) is honestly a moment of great vulnerability on her part.
Most writers, if you ask them, have a deep-seated interest that they whittle away at and obsess over when not writing about the thing they’re paid money to. One thing me and Abby have in common is, thanks to how free-form Escape Collective is (we like to have fun here), mentioning these other hobbies in stories. My hobbies are much less relatable (Slovenian castles). Abby, on the other hand, has a legitimately encyclopedic knowledge of Taylor Swift, and honestly if they taught Taylor Swift at the doctoral level she would be the first professor in Taylor Swift studies. We are watching a master at work here.
Read “What Your Favorite Rider’s Favorite Taylor Swift Song Says About Them” here.
The gritty determination of Emma Norsgaard
Cycling is one of those sports where season to season riders evolve pretty elastically, though for some, the journey and its adaptations feel longer or more frustrating than others. Emma Norsgaard is a great character in the pageant of women’s cycling – she’s fierce, outgoing, and fun to watch – and that’s as a sprinter. As she’s evolved to win in other ways, especially after some pretty big crashes, her story has become more nuanced and reflective.
One of the hardest things to do as a journalist is to keep checking in, to really follow someone throughout their career. I think this piece by Abby, written after Norsgaard won the sixth stage of the Tour this year, is a testament to those kinds of relationships – it’s informed by so much knowledge of that person, the ability to fill in all the history so much better than someone just writing up the stage.
Read “No Emma, You’re Not Dreaming” here.
The rise of one of the sport’s greatest champions
This is Abby’s longest piece, one that tracks from the very beginning the long road Annemiek van Vleuten had to take to get to be where she is today – arguably one of the greatest bike riders in history by palmarès alone. Written after Van Vleuten’s last Giro win, the piece is almost an archive of all that she’s done, which is amazing considering it opens with the fact that she was getting 39th in time trials 10 years ago.
Van Vleuten has so dominated women’s Grand Tour racing that a peloton without her feels very strange. The sheer magnitude of that dominance is on display here, but with the nuanced lens of a real human being rather than a living statistic, which is how a lot of retrospective pieces come off. I find Van Vleuten to be an elusive character, very much a doyenne, but Abby relishes her long career with a familiarity that is the common theme in her writing, just the sheer knowledge of having been in the sport, and an eagerness bursting forth, ready to be shared with others.
Read ” From Domestique To Doyenne — Tracking Annemiek Van Vleuten’s Transformation” here.
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