Jo Celso Red Hook Crit
Winner of first Women's Red Hook Crit, California girl, and cancer survivor Jo Celso is an amazing cyclist. Winning races just a year after she started riding and staying on the bike all through chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, her story is truly incredible. With the second annual Women's RHC Brooklyn quickly approaching, we interviewed Jo to get our readers excited for the event and maybe even inspire a few to race!
What is your cycling background?
I bought my first bike back in 2010, but it wasn't a race bike. I was pretty unathletic for my life previous to cycling-- I just kind of liked the alternative crowd that bikes seemed to attract. It took me riding around with guy friends to realize that I wasn't as slow as I thought, and that I actually kind of really enjoyed going fast. It was nice kind of finally finding my niche.
Were you ever a spectator at Red Hook Crit before you raced in it?
Never-- I had no idea what I was even in for, to be honest. There was some buzz in LA because Dave Trimble granted the podium winners from some of the Wolfpack Hustle races free entry to his races and vice versa a couple years back... but I wasn't entirely sure what it was until I pretty much just showed up for Navy Yard with WPH back in 2012.
What made you decide to race RHC? What makes it special?
I'm passionate about women's cycling, so I felt like I wanted to get involved if only to make for a big women's field and show other women that racing is an accessible thing. RHC scares me a lot, to be honest-- it takes a huge skillset I felt like I never really mastered, between technical, flat courses and the brakeless bikes. In road racing, I got pretty far just pedaling really hard up hills or attacking criteriums until I got off the front of some of the beginner women's races, so some of the finesse required for Red Hook kind of escapes me at times. I like challenging myself with things I'm not good at, too, and that was a big part of it because it's such a unique and demanding race. I did a lot better than I ever would have thought.
What do you think the significance is for having a full women's field with an equal pay out?
Equal payout is huge. It's like saying, "yes, we see you, and your bravery, and your dedication, and we recognize that you want it just as bad as the men do." When we get smaller purses at women's races, it basically feels like the promoter just appraised your race as being worth less than the men's race. I always hear things about the "numbers" and how our fields are smaller, blah blah blah... but for a lot of developmental women who are on the fence about racing, when you look at what women's racers are doing and see how they're less appreciated, it's really discouraging.
Do you have any special/specific training for RHC?
Not exactly. I'm totally out of practice right now after crashing so badly last year, so I'm forcing myself to do a lot of local road criteriums, and doing a lot of sprint work on my track bike.
What do you wish other women racers and spectators knew about RHC?
It's doable. It's not easy, and it's incredibly challenging to win, but there are a lot of women who could be really great at it that sabotage themselves by thinking they could never do it. That applies to a lot of women's athletics.
How would you like to see RHC grow?
More women, haha! Other than that, I'm not even sure. Every time I go it's an incredible experience. I've been racing road for going on 5 years ago, and even the domestic pro-level road races I've done can't hold a candle to RHC in terms of production.
What are the next, most crucial steps for gender parity in the sport of cycling?
More financial equality is a must, both in terms of prize money and salaries. It's embarrassing that some of the top women in the world bring in under six figures annually. There's a lot of weird backward rules and customs we need to ditch, too... for example, the way we utilize podium girls in a lot of world-class races is atrocious, and we need to stop trying to get female cyclists naked.
When you come to NYC, where are your favorite places to train? eat? your favorite local bike shop?
I keep meaning to see New York more but it always rains buckets on me when I show up so we don't venture far from where we're staying! My first RHC, I stayed at Times Up last minute, and ended up checking out Williamsburg.
Will you race in the other Red Hook Series races?
Yes, I should be in for the whole season barring disaster.