New UCI regulations in practice
With UCI WorldTour licences having been awarded to 8 teams for 2020-2023 – Ale BTC Ljubljana, Canyon//SRAM Racing, CCC-LIV, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, Movistar Team Women, Team Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo, Mitchelon Scott – we should witness some serious changes. In addition to better conditions for the riders, the new regulations also mean that organisers of UCI Women’s WorldTour and UCI ProSeries events will be required to abide by improved organisational standards, particularly with regard to television production (more on that below). For road racing, it also means that the position of a UCI Women’s WorldTour Technical Adviser was created to improve the safety and quality of racing at the Women’s WorldTour road racing events. With more support for the riders themselves and a renewed commitment to ensuring that the courses and infrastructure are up to par, we can only expect the racing to get better.
Fiercer competition than ever before
Likewise, the battle to dominate the women’s peloton is only going to heat up as more athletes look to the sport as a viable option. The number of racing licenses for women granted by the Royal Dutch Cycling Union (KNWU) rose by 19 per cent between 2014 and 2019 and the number of female cyclists with licenses from British Cycling increased from 3,000 in 2008 to almost 20,000 in 2018. The pool for junior riders also continues to grow. As women’s cycling establishes itself as a smart choice for aspiring professional athletes, you can be sure that 2020 will bring some breakthrough performances from emerging young cyclists eager to make their mark.
The biggest year yet for Annemiek van Vleuten
That being said, the influx of young talent certainly doesn’t negate the fact that 2020 is also poised to be a year of career best for some of the sport’s established veterans. Annemiek van Vleuten, the current road World Champion, has already covered a staggering 2,636 km this year in training and is clearly motivated to take all the momentum she generated in 2019 and carry it into this season. Next month, the 37-year-old will no doubt be eyeing up a defence of her Strade Bianche title as well as the Ardennes classics in April, so expect to see her looking to claim a top spot in the standings early on.
More races on Television
As reported by the UCI, no fewer than 147 million viewers watched the Women’s World Tour on TV in 2018, with the races having produced a total of 1,430 hours of television. With numbers like that, it is safe to say that there is definitely an upward trend in media awareness and focus on women’s cycling. The new regulations now stipulate that race organizers must facilitate at least 45 minutes of live broadcasting for World Tour races – in order to maintain their accreditation on the UCI’s premier calendar. Although there has been some grumbling about how this new reality can be challenging for some races, it is important to remember that there are always growing pains if real progress is going to be made. And where there’s a will, there’s a way – as demonstrated by the initial resistant of La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège women’s race, which will now be televised live in 2020.
Watching Olympic dreams come true
The cycling at the 2020 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo, with the road cycling events taking place from the 25th to 29th of July. The Olympic road race is one of the most-watched events of the whole production, giving the wider sporting world an elusive chance to see the best women cyclists in the world go head-to-head for the honour that every athlete dreams of. Although there was some warranted criticism over the number of participants for the road races (130 for men, 67 for women), it’s a point worth considering that not every country can field four or five elite athletes and that it’s important for the sport to grow stronger not just bigger. Nevertheless, with so much growth taking place, let’s hope that we see gender parity in numbers within one or two Olympic cycles.
As we continue on into the exciting season ahead, it seems fair to say that women’s pro cycling is being transformed. As more and more fans discover the excitement of women’s bike racing, a dynamic calendar of traditional races and new events is starting to come together. More investment is being created organically through increased media focus and various opportunities for growth across all facets of the sport are developing each year. A new generation of young riders are being inspired to become part of the action and there’s no doubt that the future of the women’s professional cycling will continue to garner attention as new races and new personalities emerge.