Lotte Kopecky chases a lone rider up the Muur during Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 2023.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all

Three women are showing us how to be our authentic selves in public; our response says a lot about us.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 12.12.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
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Happy Tuesday and thank you for (again) opening the Wheel Talk Newsletter! This week: Nordic skiing is awesome, commenting on other people’s bodies is not, and I’ve only just discovered Noah Kahan. But first! Did you know this newsletter can come straight to your inbox??

There’s barely any snow on the ground in Andorra but it’s still winter, which means it’s NORDIC SEASON. If you’ve not been keeping up with the World Cup season, an American legend is currently leading the WC standings. Jessie Diggins has been vocal about her struggles with eating disorders, her road to recovery, and the challenges she faced this summer after winning World Championship gold in the 10 km individual freestyle, the first American to win an individual gold at the Worlds.

Jessie Diggins holds her skis to her face after winning the 10 km individual freestyle in Finland.

She is the most decorated cross-country skier America has ever produced, with four World Championship medals (two gold, a silver, and bronze) and three Olympic medals (gold, silver, and bronze). Together Kikkan Randall and Diggins won America’s first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing in 2018, and in 2021 Diggins won the World Cup overall standings, another first for an American.

Going into the season Diggins was open about both her most recent fight with her eating disorder and how she hadn’t thought she would be able to start as usual, but a month or so in it’s been the Diggins show. Through three weekends of racing so far, she’s won two 10 km individual freestyle events, was second in the 20 km Free in Ruka, led Team USA to third in the team relay in Gällivare, Sweden, and finished fifth in the last Classic Sprint (which is technically not her best discipline). It’s really impressive, especially in a sport so dominated by Scandinavian countries. It would be like if Alison Jackson started winning the Classics and leading the UCI standings (that is a terrible comparison, but you may get where I’m going).

Still, one of the things I respect most about Diggins is her openness and willingness to lay it all out there, be that on the snow, on her social media, or in her book Brave Enough. She is an amazing role model for young people both as an athlete and as a public figure.

The next World Cup kicks off on Friday in Norway with a Free Sprint, followed by a 20 km Classic/Free Skiathlon on Saturday and a 10 km Classic (interval start … like in a time trial) on Sunday.


?️ Wheel Talk Podcast ?️

I had a blast this week chatting with Floortje Mackaij. A super-aggressive, really fun rider, Mackaij is equally as awesome off the bike. We chatted about her 10 years with DSM, her move to Movistar with her longtime friend and teammate Liane Lippert, working for Annemiek van Vleuten, and being Dutch in cycling. Plus, Bella! Her dog, who has become an honorary member of Movistar by attending races with her mom.

This episode is a members-only perk, so if you’re not a member of Escape Collective, maybe sign up. You’ll get access to this interview, all the great content we have on the site, plus so much more. A big thank you to everyone who has signed up to support us.

? Let’s discuss ?

Commenting on other people’s bodies.

It’s been a hot topic this week after Puck Moonen called out some keyboard warriors on Instagram. In her post, Moonen said, “It is baffling how much body-shaming is a thing in sports. Especially for female athletes.” She pointed out that weight is something that plays a large role in cycling success, but that everyone is built differently so “performance and health look different on different people.” And of course, she’s right, on a few fronts.

The internet can be awesome. It connects people with similar interests. (Why else would you be reading this newsletter about women’s cycling?) Still, it has also given people license to spew unfiltered hate towards others while hiding behind their screens. Someone once pointed out the comments under a post by Kate Courtney that were just horrible; not a single one of those people would have said the things they wrote to Kate’s face. I would put money on them asking her for a selfie instead if they were to meet her in person.

The response to Moonen’s post has been pretty cool to see. Women in every layer of the sport have come together, not only to support Moonen but also to talk about their own experiences. It’s been sad as well, to see how many women have been the target of online abuse, a phenomenon certainly not limited to cycling. A report this week from FIFA (PDF) found that one in five football players at the recent Women’s World Cup were subject to abuse, with racist, sexist, and homophobic language appearing in half of the abusive messages.

When commenting on someone’s weight or appearance, male or female, even if you think it’s a compliment, it’s not. “Oh you look so lean,” does as much damage as telling someone they look like they’ve gained a few.

“But she’s an influencer, she signed up for it.” Wrong. She signed up to share her life with the world, yes, to inspire others perhaps. But no one, just because they are in the public eye, has “signed up” to be bullied and harassed. Just because it comes with the territory doesn’t make it ok or right or less damaging not only to the target but also to the other people reading that comment.

Unfortunately, every woman (and man, to be honest) with some kind of profile is automatically open to this kind of online hate, and I just want to know, what is the point? Because Puck Moonen or Kate Courtney might not see those comments, but other young girls might, and it will affect them.

As long as there is social media there will be this kind of online abuse. This rant is going to do very little to change anything. All I ask is that you think before you comment. Think about how your words are going to impact other people. If you see abusive comments on social media, report them. Don’t engage with them, it is the kind of response those people want. Just report the comment and move on.

I could probably keep going but I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.

? The joys of social media ?

Livigno, a hotspot for mid-season altitude training used by the likes of … well, everyone, is not usually a destination for cyclists this time of year, but SD Worx took advantage of the quiet season to get in some extra speed training.

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Speaking of SD Worx, I love this photo by the Grubers after Lotte Kopecky soloed to victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this year. Who would have thought at this moment that she would continue on to have one of the most impressive seasons by a single rider in quite some time? I love the smiles from Lorena Wiebes and Marlen Reusser upon greeting Kopecky at the finish, the pride for their teammate. The whole thing makes my heart happy.

Marlen Reusser embraces Lotte Kopecky while Lorena Wiebes smiles next to them.

? Taylor Swift trivia ?

Last week Time named Taylor Swift as its Person of the Year. Swift beat out names like Barbie, King Charles III, the Hollywood writer and actors strikes, and Trump’s prosecutors for the title and her win was met by elation, pride, and raw unfiltered hatred, which was unsurprising, given how people tend to respond to women with power.

She might be polarizing, and it always feels like people who don’t like Taylor Swift go out of their way to tell you that they don’t like Taylor Swift, but to say that Swift’s impact and influence on the world haven’t made her deserving of Time‘s Person of the Year is to disregard the happiness, love, and connection she brings to millions.

When asked why Swift was chosen for the honour, Time‘s Editor-in-Chief Sam Jacobs said, “In a year when the world is divided, there’s a lot of light and a lot of darkness, there are a number of different choices that could have represented 2023, but we picked someone who represents joy. Someone who is bringing light to the world, someone who has taken their own story and made it big enough for everyone.”

This year Swift has truly reclaimed her narrative. As a young woman in the industry, she was thrown around and manipulated, but she’s taken control of the script and is writing it herself, and it was never so clear as it has been in 2023. Her re-recording project is changing the music industry (for the good and the bad), her tour is the biggest in history, but more than anything she is inspiring young women, older women, men, and LGBTQ+ people to be unequivocally themselves.

I’ll tell you a story, an embarrassing story. When I was little I went to see a Disney movie in the theaters as part of a birthday party. I had received the CD before viewing and memorized all the songs already, so when the main character had her moment I stood up in the theatre and sang along with her. The girls I’d gone to the movie with didn’t stop making fun of me until we all had our driver’s licenses, and their moms as well. I never lived it down.

Flash forward however many years, after I’d learned to hide part of myself away, to dim my star if you will, and I went to see the Eras Tour film. We went a few weeks after its release so the theatre was pretty empty, apart from us there were three or four groups of girls aged six to 16 with their parents (one dad fully decked out in Eras Tour merch). Throughout the entire movie they danced, they sang at the top of their lungs, they cried, they laughed, and I found the young girl in me – the one who’d stood up to sing Colors of the Wind at the top of her voice – healing.

Because of all the things Taylor has done (boosted the economy in every city she’s been in, donated thousands and thousands of dollars to charities in those cities, etc.), what I love most is that she has allowed people to carve out a place for themselves. She inspires people to sing and dance, no matter who is watching. She encourages people to be themselves, loudly and with no fear of bullying, because she represents love and friendship and connection to each other. She changes people’s lives with her words and melodies, and everywhere she goes and whatever she does, she is the talk of the town.

And isn’t that what we need these days? To be a bit more compassionate towards other humans? To love and to sing and to dance and to smile?

Right now it’s Taylor’s world and we’re just living in it.

Anyway, have you heard of Noah Kahan? My goodness, he is amazing.

? Until next time! ?

I feel like this edition of the Wheel Talk Newsletter went a little off the rails, so thank you if you made it this far and sorry for the ranty-ness. I, for one, am really counting down the days to Aussie nationals. At least there are no crazy late-season coups on the women’s teams to discuss this December.

We’ve only got one more newsletter in 2023, so hold on tight, we’re almost to the finish line.

Oh! And in case you missed it, I wrote a feature dowsed in maple syrup on Magdeleine Vallieres Mill.

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