Meet Kirsti Lay
With a bronze Olympic medal earned at the Rio Games in the team pursuit event, Canadian Kirsti Lay is best known for her exploits on the track, but this season Kirsti is focused on the road. The former professional speed skater is ready for big results at the early season classics where her power and determination are sure to pay dividends. We sat down with Kirsti at the Rally Team presentation in Torrance, Calif., to get her thoughts on the progression of women’s cycling and learn where she draws her inspiration.
What’s it like to be on the Rally Cycling Team?
It’s pretty motivating to have this group of girls and having this much support backing a women’s cycling team, so it’s definitely special and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
When and how did you start riding?
I was a speed skater for 14 years before cycling, and I got an injury and that’s how I transferred over. They initially recruited me for track but then I found my way to the road... so I’m still doing track and road.
Who’s your favorite rider of all time?
Oh jeez, that’s a big question. Evelyn Stevens for women’s cycling. She keeps cycling fun and she is so determined and motivated and is such a great role model for girls. And for men, I like Cancellara, but that’s the typical answer, right?! [laughs]
Can you tell us something that no one knows about you such as a favorite hobby?
Everyone knows that I love to cook and bake and I like being in the kitchen when I’m not on the bike, but I don’t know, I’m pretty basic I guess.
Besides your riding gear, is there something you always take with you when you travel to races/camps?
My yoga mat, for sure. You are always on your bike, so it’s nice to switch it up and take time for yourself and carve that out of your training schedule.
What is your favorite food and drink?
Burgers and fries, for sure. And for a favorite drink, probably a chocolate milkshake. That’s my go-to after a big stage race. I think, ‘Yes! You deserve this!’
Who inspires you?
I would say my husband because he was also an athlete in speed skating and initially we were training partners. I just really admire his work ethic in sports and in work, in normal life.
How has women’s racing changed since you started your career?
In women’s racing the depth has really increased. When I started racing there were very few girls and when we raced we’d be lumped in with the guys and now it’s a priority to have women front and center. Obviously it still needs a lot more work. But the races we are invited to are a lot better and girls are asking us questions on the street about how to even get into racing, like it’s not just a side thing anymore. It’s an actual sport, an event.
What’s the biggest challenge currently facing women’s racing in your opinion?
I would say access to the same level of racing that the men have. I think in order for sponsors to jump on board with women’s cycling you need to be seen and you need to give back, so I’d say that’s the biggest challenge. It’s having that equal playing field of competition and then I think everything stems from that.
Where do you see women’s racing going in five years?
I hope women’s racing is the equivalent of the men’s race, where if there is a men’s race, the question is, ‘What time do the women go?’ And people should be able to make a career of it, too, so it’s not something you just do on the side. In five years it would be really cool to see that.
How can sponsors better support women’s racing?
Sponsors give really great product, but it’s about putting more into marketing the women. If other girls see, ‘Oh there’s a women’s pro team out there.’ It’s going to create more depth and that’s going to increase the level of competition. So I think it’s just putting women also in magazines and marketing them the same as men. We’re often forgotten about.
If you were not a pro rider, what would you do?
I have a business degree so I would probably use that. I love sports so it would be on the business side of things of sports for sure, but I’m not really 100 percent sure. I’m still thinking about it because obviously that’s the next big question after I’m done racing.
Where is your favorite place to ride?
I love riding in British Columbia. I’m from Canada. I also really love Arizona.
What is your favorite race on the calendar?
Probably Tour of California in North America. I’m excited because of the level of competition and all of the girls that it brings from overseas. It’s definitely fun.
What was the best moment of your 2016 season?
Winning a bronze medal at the Olympics was the highlight for sure. I worked quite hard and quite long for that. With Rally, it was probably my first stage race with Rally in Redlands. It was really exciting to see all the girls come together and work really hard to accomplish team goals.
What are your goals for the 2017? Are there specific races you are targeting?
I’ll put more emphasis on the road this year because I was so track focused last year. I would like to place in the top five for the one-day races; I think I’m totally capable of that. And just be a team leader and give back to the team.
Tell us about your equipment. You are on SRAM RED, what do you like about it?
I love that it’s so reactive to what you are doing, you can go into any situation and I’m not worried that it’s not going to respond, so I would say that’s my favorite part about it after coming from other systems.
All photos courtesy of Sam Wiebe/Rally Cycling.