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How the Colorado Classic Is Breaking the Rules of Women’s Racing

By Megan Flottorp

‘We want to build a blueprint that other events can follow and show the world that a sustainable model for women’s racing does exist.’

The Colorado Classic, a high-profile professional road cycling stage event, has decided to do something pretty unprecedented in 2019—drop the men’s race and let the women be the stars of the show. This brand-new all-women’s standalone will feature longer, harder, high-altitude routes, competitive stipends, substantial prize money, and last, but certainly not least, live coverage. In a bid to address what the professional women’s cycling community has been begging for for years, the Colorado Classic organizers decided to deliver, offering two hours of live coverage for each day of the race. Available on Facebook Live and other streaming services, this is women’s racing on a global stage like never before.

© 2019 Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation

One of the key figures making this ground-breaking event happen is Lucy Diaz. The Chief Operating Officer for the race since 2017, Diaz talked to We Love Cycling about her vision for the race, the community support it has received, and why she believes the Colorado Classic will prove that an all-women’s race can, and will, be financially sustainable.

Empowering women

Diaz is an athlete herself and has long been involved in women’s advocacy, especially when it comes to sports. In terms of her vision for the Colorado Classic specifically, one of the turning points came at last year’s race. She was watching the event with her family when her 8-year-old daughter turned to her and asked, ‘Why do the women only do 4 stages when the men are doing 8?’ She obviously didn’t have a good answer and it only solidified for her the discrepancy in opportunities for women in cycling. Naturally, she was excited to do something about it. ‘When the option of switching to an all-women’s event came up, I was all for it. This has been an incredible opportunity to meld the personal and professional and I’m so excited about what we’ve accomplished so far.’

Overcoming skepticism

Lucy Diaz, the chief operating officer for the race since 2017

Of course, the decision to switch to an all-women’s event certainly raised some eyebrows, and the onus was largely on Diaz and her team to justify their decision and prove they could make it work. She explained that, ‘there was definitely some skepticism from the broader cycling community, but honestly that just served as stronger motivation to work harder and prove them wrong. I know what these women are capable of and I know they won’t disappoint.’

Creating a sustainable model

The fact that they received so much support off the bat didn’t hurt either, and shows that Diaz and other organizers are looking to do more than just provide a spotlight for women at this year’s race. ‘We want to build a blueprint that other events can follow and show the world that a sustainable model for women’s racing does exist. It has been a long road to get to where we are today, but I really believe this is something that could work elsewhere too. The sponsorship is there.’

And indeed it is, for the first year since the race started, they’ve found a title sponsor in VF Corporation. The umbrella company of The North Face, Timberland, and other major brands, a sponsor of this calibre is nothing to scoff at. Diaz says, ‘we are thrilled to have secured this kind of sponsorship. We knew from the start that we only wanted to do this if we could take proper care of the riders and create a positive experience for everyone. This allows us to do just that.’

Providing a platform for the riders

Although riders are undoubtedly happy about the substantial stipends and prize money up for grabs at this year’s race, Diaz explained that what everyone is most excited about is the live coverage. ‘We’re simply creating a platform for the riders to do their thing. I have no doubt that once people get the chance to actually watch women’s racing, they’ll be hooked.’ She also explained that live coverage provides the opportunity to do more than just showcase the race, but also to generate interest in the lives and personalities of the women riding. ‘These women all have incredible stories and they do more than just live and breathe cycling. We want to put them in the spotlight and let fans see who they really are.’

© 2019 Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation

Highlighting women’s strengths

The Colorado Classic is also a standout for the fact that they are putting on a race that is specifically designed to highlight women riders and showcase their strengths. Unlike many races where the women’s event is simply a shrunk-down version of a course designed for men, this year is all about creating something that will really allow the women to shine. As Diaz said, ‘This course will focus on the women and will do it right.’

Building a community

The Colorado Classic has always been known as a progressive race, rejecting the tradition of podium hostesses and featuring an all-female cast of commentators in years passed. Diaz has felt major support going into this new model. ‘Since we made the decision to go to an all-women’s event, nobody has had any regrets. The community that has emerged has been phenomenal and people are jumping to get involved.’

© 2019 Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation

This year’s event will also include a series of inspiration events featuring women from across the world of cycling and other sports. Diaz explained they are looking for their ‘Billy Jean King moment,’ where they can really show the world what women cyclists are capable of. ‘We want to rally the cyclists that are participating and also bring other groups of people together under the larger umbrella of women’s empowerment and advocacy. Inspiration and education are main goals of this year’s race.’

In what is likely to be a game changer in the way we think about women’s racing and how fans can engage with it, the Colorado Classic looks poised to impress. Courses and teams will be announced over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned to see how this first-time event is coming together. Most importantly, don’t forget to tune in to live coverage once the race kicks off on August 22nd. Best of luck to Diaz and her team—here’s to seeing a lot more coverage of women’s racing in the years to come!