The final rosters have been announced, things are already underway in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’re looking forward to lots of epic women’s road racing in 2019. With upcoming stars emerging and some veterans trying out a new team, we’ve no doubt that we’ll have plenty to talk about this season. The community support and fan base around women’s cycling continue to grow and with some positive announcements last year, it looks like things are headed in the right direction. That being said, we shouldn’t lose sight of the issues that still need our attention. Here are four topics that we want the media and professional community alike to keep top of mind going forward.
By building unions and organizations specifically around professional women’s cycling, female riders are able to leverage the power of numbers and an institutional framework to make bigger asks. Since 2017 The Cyclists’ Alliance has played a trailblazing role, working tirelessly to help professional women cyclists negotiate better contracts and get better treatment. Moving forward, they’re expanding their mission to include access to more resources that can help riders take care of themselves and excel in their sport.
They recently announced that they will partner with The Mind Room, an organisation dedicated to sharing psychological knowledge and tools to bring attention to everyday actions that can enhance wellbeing and performance. The mental health toll of being a professional athlete is no joke, and we’re glad to see TCA taking this step for the riders they represent. Here’s to women continuing to come together to strengthen these organizations and get access to the resources they deserve.
Money, money, money!
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, half the female peloton earns less than €10,000 per year, and a quarter receives no wage at all. It was announced last year that, after seemingly endless stagnation on the issue, female professional cyclists could have a minimum salary, and a tiered system comparable to the men sometime this year. Alessandra Cappellotto, head of the new women’s division of the Professional Cyclists Association (CPA), has been diligent about working on the minimum salary rule and it seems like they’re getting close to implementing something concrete.
Recently, the UCI further outlined plans to increase prize money at women’s races, a change that will commence this season. Let’s keep the momentum going and make sure we pressure these organizations to make the changes they have promised.
As they’re quick to point out in their press releases, since its creation in 2016, the UCI Women’s WorldTour has seen its audiovisual coverage develop at a very high rate. The number of television viewers for the series grew from over 80 million for the 2016 season to 124 million in 2017 and the number of broadcast hours has more than doubled to reach 650 hours, compared with 310 hours the year before.
The number of broadcast races was up to 15 of 23 in 2018 and we continue to see some events taking the extra step to bring in live television coverage and live streaming for their women’s events. Unfortunately, there are still many events that have not. Fans are proving they want to watch and with a gut-wrenching plea by Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig searing itself into everyone’s memory at the end of 2018 La Course, there are plenty of reasons we should insist of seeing those numbers grow.
Although women’s cycling is often seen in opposition to the men’s model, it is important to understand that working together is what everyone wants and what is going to be the best for the sport as a whole. For the time being, it’s true that even the most obscure men’s races often find their way onto television screens, but many high-level women’s races don’t.
Likewise to how women’s tennis owes much to the promotional fuel offered by combined tournaments, jointly-broadcast races give the women’s peloton the opportunity to take advantage of the media exposure that already exists at the men’s events. This isn’t about being content to exist in the background, but by tapping into a wider audience and allowing these new viewership markets to propel the sponsorship towards standalone women’s races and promote organic growth within the sport.
At the same time, pushing to do things in an identical manner doesn’t benefit anyone. There are differences in how women’s cycling currently operates that should be appreciated, including how dynamic their shorter courses are. When looked at from this perspective, what the female peloton needs is not equal course distances, per se, but rather equal opportunities to showcase its talent.
As women’s cycling continues to work towards establishing its own professional model, it can learn from the mistakes that have already been made and develop something that is unique, innovative, and truly its own. Let’s keep celebrating the people who are working to make this happen and to support them in the effort to draw attention to the issues that matter.