Media attention has brought more fans and better racing
I think the increase in media attention is the number one thing to highlight. Thanks to the exposure we have started receiving, our sport has grown rapidly from one year to the next. Back in the day, when I started, our races would not be broadcast or promoted in advance. You could only find basic race information on Twitter, thanks to some mechanics sitting in the back of the car, listening to a race radio. At the time, not many people were even aware that women were racing. I remember how much effort my parents used to put in just to find some information on how my races were going!
That has changed, though. The increased visibility has attracted more sponsors who have invested time and money into the growth of women’s cycling. Women riders no longer have to split their time between training and working part-time jobs. More riders can now focus on training and preparation, which has obviously done a lot to increase the level of cycling in the peloton.
There has been incredible growth in a short time
When I started racing, I did not imagine such quick growth in such a short period. Suddenly, we are racing the most iconic races, being televised, and supported by tons of fans on the side of the road or in front of the screens. It is so rewarding to get good energy from people you don’t even know, and it lifts me up every time I hear that someone enjoys my racing style and wishes me well.
I signed my first professional contract in 2014 when I was very young and inexperienced. Looking back, though, there was actually beauty in that. I was living in the moment and had no specific expectations. I was just thrilled to be able to race and compete with some of the best athletes out there. Of course, I wanted to improve with every passing year, and I never wanted to let myself down or give up, but I was not sure what the future held. I recognised that men’s cycling was evolving around Tour de France, and I could see and feel how important that race was for cycling.
Of course, I dreamed of being part of it, and last year, we made it come true!
The future is bright for young riders
The outlook for young and emerging riders has also changed a lot, and they are entering a fantastic era of women’s cycling. There are so many teams that guarantee proper development with full training, nutrition, recovery, and medical support. The new generation has options and can be selective when finding a perfect fit. Back in the day, only two teams could make sure their young female athletes were well taken care of.
Salaries have also changed massively over just the last couple of years. Until very recently, many riders were riding for free, just for the possibility of racing and owning a bike. These days that doesn’t happen anymore. Teams have become very professional and have started to merge with men’s programs. This speeds up development based on the research and wisdom the men’s peloton has already developed.
Women’s cycling deserves to be recognised in its own right
That said, I hope women’s cycling will remain women’s cycling. By that, I mean that our racing style is different, and I want it to stay that way. It is more dynamic, unpredictable and spontaneous. I believe this is mainly caused by the distance we race (around 120-160 km). That doesn’t give you much time or room to be making mistakes, so everyone wants to be visible, and everyone wants to be in front of the peloton, ahead of crucial race moments. On the other hand, the men usually race for over 200 km, which, in my opinion, can mean some boredom in the first part of the race.
Of course, I must admit that having races on the same days as the men benefits our growth, as all the media are already there, and they can promote our racing to the fullest while waiting for the men’s race to finish. I also think it is nice for fans to be able to watch both pelotons.
The road ahead
In addition to all that there is to celebrate, though, there are still areas where work and investment are needed. For example, the lack of the Under 23 Category makes it tricky for Juniors to transition into Elite racing. I can only imagine how hard it must be for a 19-year-old to start racing with us when just a year before, as a junior, she would only have been racing 60-80 km. The gap is enormous, and for the well-being of new riders, there must be a gradual step so nobody gets overtrained or overfatigued.
We will keep pushing for this, though, because plenty of young women are interested in racing! Even outside of a professional context, I love seeing more women on bikes and cities improving their roads for cyclists. I have noticed way more female cyclists on the road in recent years, from different age groups, riding for fun, suffering to improve or just enjoying being outside. Big bike companies have started to produce more female-fitted clothes and equipment with a woman’s body in mind, so we no longer have to adapt to men’s stuff.
Overall, there is plenty to be optimistic about, and I am thankful to be part of this blossoming sport!