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Pro Cycling: Are Women Being Treated Equally Yet? 

By Megan Flottorp

By all accounts, women’s cycling is at a critical stage in its development as a sport. After years of fighting for minimum wages, equal rights, and television coverage, the sport is breaking through to a wider audience and is set to continue accumulating momentum. In fact, earlier this month, statistics from Dutch TV 1 indicated that the TV audience in the Netherlands for the Omloop Het Niewsblad women’s race was almost twice the size of the men’s—330,000 viewers compared to 170,000. Clearly, fans are showing up for women’s cycling!

Community support continues to grow

That being said, this moment is also significant for holding governing bodies accountable and making sure those in power fulfil the promises they made regarding gender equality and representation. As we saw a few weeks ago, when a fan initiated a GoFundMe campaign to bolster the women’s prize purse at Strade Bianche, there are still huge gaps that need to be filled. By setting up a crowdfunding effort, Dutch cycling supporter Cem Tanyeri asked fans to play an active role in drawing attention to the prize money discrepancy—and they did. Over a thousand people donated, and their contributions topped up the prize purse for the top five finishers by over €26,000.

The pay gap in cycling remains

What the success of the “Equal prize money for the Women’s Peloton” campaign says about the state of professional cycling should not be taken lightly. People love women’s cycling, and they want to see their heroes compensated. Following the victory of Tanyeri’s campaign, critics were well-positioned to draw attention to other lacking prize amounts. For example, Flanders Classics CEO Thomas Van Den Spiegel has responded to criticism about the lack of equal prize money at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which saw Anna van der Breggen earn €930 compared to the men’s winner, who took home €16,000.

Anna van der Breggen
Anna Breggen earned considerably less amount money than her male counterparts. © Profimedia

He emphasized the fact that the race has invested a substantial amount of money into moving the event into the 1.Pro category and providing live broadcasting. He went on to explain the goals of the Flanders Classics’ four-year “Closing the Gap” initiative that aims, among other things, to overcome the pay gap in cycling and achieve equal prize money by 2023. That’s a lot of ground to cover in two years, but hopefully, he can stay true to his word.

Steps in the right direction 

On the other hand, some powerful forces in the cycling world are stepping up to the plate and making things happen. As we look towards cycling’s readjustment to a post-pandemic world, it is important to draw attention to these efforts and take stock of where things are headed. Here are some organisations and initiatives that have proven that now is the time to take action:

Matching minimum wages

Earlier this month, Team Bike Exchange joined fellow trailblazer Trek-Segafredo in increasing the wage of their women’s team to the same as the men’s minimum wage. This is double the required amount set by the UCI and shows real dedication to putting their money where their mouth is.

Women racing
New teams are announcing their efforts to overcome the pay gap. © Profimedia

More women’s races

Likewise, the CIC – Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenges announced that a women’s pro race will be held alongside the men’s race from 2022. They no doubt felt encouraged by those viewership numbers from Omloop Het Niewsblad.

Funnelling money back into the community

In an act of solidarity with the broader community, Trek-Segafredo has announced that it will donate its share of the crowdfunded prize money at Strade Bianche to support various women’s cycling projects that help cultivate the sport.

Investment in women athletes is on the rise

The Corso Sports agency has recently announced a new project that aims to grow female athletes’ careers on and off the bike—while supporting overall equality in sports. Top women riders, including Emma Norsgaard, Coryn Rivera, Hannah and Alice Barnes and Franziska Koch, have already been named clients.

Coryn Rivera
Coryn Rivera (L) has been named one of the clients of the new project. © Profimedia

Long-term strategy development

The Cyclist Alliance’s Rider Council has laid out four steps (Watch – Engage – Commit – Speak Up) that give all interested parties a blueprint for contributing to a better future for professional women’s cycling. By providing concrete direction, initiatives like this play an essential role in ensuring that action and accountability don’t lose momentum over time.

Final word 

There is plenty to be excited about. Lots of dedicated individuals and organisations are fighting for overcoming the cycling pay gap and bringing a brighter and more equitable future for women’s cycling. With louder voices calling out discrimination, more sponsors and media standing up for what’s right, and more races stepping up for women’s pro racing, we’re getting closer to realising the goal of equal opportunity in cycling. Let’s hope the rest of the season sees more women’s cycling announcements worth celebrating!