Before Leigh Ruston, 43, co-founded the new 901 Racing women’s team, there weren’t many choices for women in Memphis who wanted to cycle competitively with an amateur team. That is why she and Shelby Tucker joined forces in the fall of 2020 to add a women’s arm to 901 Racing.
Though the pair differ in experience, Leigh has been racing for seven years while Shelby has nearly two under her belt, their objective is the same. The co-managers ultimately aspire to get more women involved in the sport and interested in bike riding. “Cycling is predominantly male. We wanted to offer another option in the city for road racing and road teams for women, and enhance the women’s cycling community in general,” says Leigh.
The team now consists of Leigh, Shelby, Lindsay Sigler, Teressa Lang, and Claire Alexander, all of whom vary in age and riding background, yet are equally committed to that mission. Though it’s only a group of five currently, Leigh desires that the team expand organically and with intention. “Our goal the first year or so is not to have massive growth necessarily by adding women left and right,” she says. “There is camaraderie we must have because out there on the course, you have to work so hard for your team. And you may end up in last place, and you have to like these people. You have to be connected in that way in order to put yourself out there for someone else.”
One of the things Leigh loves most about how the team has come together is the fact that the bond they need to succeed has been built over time. When she and Shelby set out to recruit members, they were mainly familiar with Lindsay, Teressa, and Claire through their interactions with them at group rides around town. Logging 60–75 miles together each Saturday, team rides throughout the week, a training camp getaway, and constant communication—have all encouraged a true friendship to blossom between the women.
Jumping Into Their First Season
The team can draw on those relationships for strength as they tackle road and gravel races this summer and support one another during mountain bike events. They have already competed in the Mississippi Gravel Cup, Polecat Grand Prix, MTB Short Track at Shelby Farms, and UNBOUND Gravel to name a few.
As the season heats up, Leigh says the team looks forward to taking on Tennessee state races. She adds, “There are some of us that are individually hitting races. Like, I personally qualified for the USA Cycling Gran Fondo National Championship, which is something I have to do on my own.” The women also go solo for training throughout the week to supplement their group rides. A few of them, Leigh included, work with coaches while others manage their own workouts.
In addition to consistent conditioning and an outstanding group dynamic, Leigh says the team has benefited greatly from the support and knowledge of the men’s division of 901 Racing. “From the beginning, they have provided a welcoming environment for our success as a women’s team with them. They’ve been supportive and encouraging, and respected our uniqueness as a women’s team,” she says.
Spreading the Word
It was the same openness of other male cyclists that helped Leigh get into the sport herself. After lackluster triathlon performances, she decided to focus solely on cycling. “I had talked to a couple of guy friends of mine, and I showed up in tennis shoes and a tank top,” she recalls of her first group ride 11 years ago. “I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know people in my age category raced bikes amateurly,” she says. Based on her experience, Leigh knew that to get more women into cycling, information about it needed to be accessible, because the sport can appear intimidating from the outside.
This spring, she, Lindsay, and another cyclist Amanda Tacker created the WMN Cyclists of the 901 Instagram page to showcase female riders and groups in Memphis. That, along with the WMN Cyclists of the 901 private Facebook group are designed to inspire, educate, and foster relationships. Leigh also uses Facebook to schedule rides with group members.
She encourages those interested in riding or looking to be a part of the team to join the Facebook group and participate in those rides to familiarize themselves with the sport and members of the 901 Racing women’s team. “Come meet us. Talk to me if you want to know what racing is about,” Leigh says. You can also catch the team regularly at weekly Memphis Hightailers and Trinity rides, as well as charity events. The team always loves to see more women on bikes.
By Alexandra McCray
Photo by Tindall Stephens