5 big things that need to change... and one thing you can do right now!
Women’s cycling is starting to get the recognition it deserves, but there is still a long way to go. Cycling aficionado Sarah Connolly rounds up the things that need to change and how you can play a part...
1 Televise women’s races
Every time people get the opportunity to watch live women’s cycling, they love it. Perversely, because their races are limited in distance, there’s more attacking and the shorter time means it’s more TV-friendly than the long men’s races. The Olympic Games proved the huge crowds, and cyclo-cross has definitely shown that “if you build it, they will come,” with Belgian TV station Sporza loving the viewing figures.
Almost all the women’s races are filmed in full already and races with very small budgets – like WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe and Healthy Ageing Tour – have found innovative ways to stream live within the Netherlands. We just need media in the UK to take a chance and everyone benefits.
2 Equal prize money
When a cycle race is offering equal pay to women and men, it’s something to shout about – and that shouldn’t be the case. Women and men competing in the UCI World Championship road events now receive equal prize money under a new UCI Code of Ethics, but that doesn’t mean everything is rosy. The news that the female winner of the 1,472-mile R3GB endurance race around Britain was to be paid £15,000 and the male winner £50,000 is a case in point.
The excuse given is that women’s races should have smaller prizes because their races are shorter – but they still have to train just as hard for them.
No one would suggest that a 1,500m runner should be paid more than a 100m sprinter in athletics, so why does it count in cycling? And, with the UCI limiting how long women can race for to 150km, it’s not something we have any control over.
3 Listen to women
There’s plenty of positive chat about getting more women involved in cycling, but the powers that be also need to listen to women. The struggles of European sprint champion Jess Varnish within British Cycling to have her sexism claims taken seriously is not an isolated case.
Although not all female professionals have had a bad experience, the sport needs to do more to promote inclusivity and weed out the institutional sexism that leads to lack of support and opportunity.
4 Close the pay gap
There’s still the issue of minimum wages for cyclists. The UCI president was elected on a manifesto that set out plans for a minimum wage for female cyclists. It’s not happened yet and he was elected four years ago. Even the UCI Women’s Commission has failed to push the issue forward, saying the cost benefits didn’t add up. Then there’s Cookson, who said that forcing cycling teams to pay women a minimum wage could be counter-productive to women’s cycling. The only thing we think is counter-productive is his attitude.
5 Role models
Cycling is often described as “pale, male and stale,” due to the lack of representation of women and minority groups, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
To be fair to British Cycling, it has announced former Football Association director Julie Harrington as its new chief executive...
Obviously putting women in positions of power isn’t a cure-all for the ills of cycling, but by making women more visible it marks a step towards equality.
What you can do
If you have been roused or riled by anything you have read on these pages, there is one simple thing you can do to help support change, and that’s to watch a women’s cycle race. Tune in online or on TV (whatever is made available) or show your support in person to prove there’s an appetite for women’s pro cycling. And if you can't find a big race anywhere (Giro Rosa where are you?), follow Sarah Connolly's Pro Women's Cycling Twitter feed.
For more from Sarah Connolly, visit Prowomenscycling.com
Main image by Allan Stone. See more of his work over on his ‘gram.