As the year wraps up, it’s a natural time to reflect on all the ups and downs of the past 12 months and take stock of what we’ve witnessed. The push for gender equality is something we talk about a lot at We Love Cycling and with good reason. From drawing attention to the way advertisers exploit women’s bodies to the lack of parity when it comes to paychecks for the pros, there’s no doubt that there are many topics we’ll need to continue diving into and turning a critical eye on in the future.
With that said, there is also a lot to celebrate about the advancements being made in women’s cycling and the fearless leaders who are persistently pushing for change. As 2019 draws to a close, here are a few of the big gains that we saw women’s cycling make this year.
A women’s only race proves game-changing
On August 22, 2019, the Colorado Classic kicked off for the third consecutive year. But this year marked the first time that it did so as a women-only event, making it the sole UCI–sanctioned professional stage race of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. A significant shift for the race, which began in 2017 as a four-day men’s race and two-day women’s race, it’s definitely a step toward equality in road cycling. The 2019 women’s standalone featured longer, harder, high-altitude routes, competitive stipends, substantial prize money, and last, but certainly not least, live coverage.
In addition, they also demonstrated that a sustainable model for a women-only race does exist. As race CEO Lucy Diaz told We Love Cycling back in May: ‘We want to build a blueprint that other events can follow and show the world that a sustainable model for women’s racing is possible. 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.’
Impressive breakouts from the next generation
The future does indeed look bright for women’s cycling and 2019 also brought us some truly outstanding breakout performances. In addition to Demi Vollering and Chloe Dygert-Owen, the stunning success of Dutchwoman Lorena Wiebes bears mentioning. At just 20, Wiebes claimed no fewer than 15 wins for the year — only her compatriot Marianne Vos won more, with 19. In doing so, Wiebes has established herself as the emerging sprinter on the world stage and given us plenty to look forward to in 2020.
Going into Esports on equal footing
Late this year, Zwift signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UCI and, together, they will be responsible for the governance and development of cycling esports as a new discipline. With the prospect of real change on the horizon, Craig Edmondson, the CEO of Zwift e-sports, reflected that, “the beauty of creating a new cycling discipline is that we have a blank slate and no limitations. We will set the standard for fair play and equality.”
It was definitely refreshing to see that applying the same rules to both men and women appears to be at the top of their priority list. Edmondson continued that, “parity is incredibly important to us at Zwift and this means the same number of races, the same coverage for races, and of course, equal prize money.” Let’s hope this is a sign of other changes to come!
Women step into leadership roles
One of the oft-lamented shortcomings of the structure of women’s cycling is the lack of women in charge. In 2019, we saw a step in the direction when two powerhouse former cyclists were named to lead Trek-Segafredo’s new women’s team. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, a two-time Olympian cyclist, and Giorgia Bronzini, whose prolific professional cycling career included 80-plus victories on the road and track, served as both directors and role models. With the team’s successful season and third-place finish overall, it’s safe to say that the formula of women leading women definitely works.
Women from 93 countries raced on a world stage
Another very cool stat worth mentioning is the fact that women from 93 countries raced in the 2019 UCI world tour. From Canada to New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago to Kazakhstan, more nationalities raced in 2019 than ever before. The world tour itself spanned 3 continents and with increased coverage and representation, women’s cycling was able to reach an ever-growing global audience.
When you think about where women’s cycling was 20, 10, or even 5 years ago, everything mentioned above is a huge achievement that resulted from a lot of hard work. The women and men committed to bringing equality into the world of cycling continue to prove relentless in their mission.
It’s true that we still need more women making decisions at the top, we still need to see UCI put their money where their mouth is, and we still need to support the people working at the grassroots level to get more girls and women onto a bicycle in the first place. But as we continue to see landmark achievements being made, it is clear that we have a strong community of people working hard to bring these changes about. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come and work to make 2020 an even brighter year in the history of women’s cycling!