Womens’ Road Racing

The other day, I read this interesting article over on Road CC where Lizzie Armitstead criticised the lack of action from the UCI in establishing a proper womens’ professional road racing circuit and called on professional teams to be forced into developing female riders as well. I think she has a legitimate gripe. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed watching the likes of Jess Varnish, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott on the track, and I see no reason why I wouldn’t enjoy watching a proper road racing calendar as well.

While I can reel off many male professional teams from the top of my head – Sky Procycling, BMC, Orica GreenEDGE, Omega-Pharma Quickstep, Movistar, Euskaltel Euskadi, etc etc, I can only name just one professional womens’ team – Wiggle Honda, and it is only through a bit of internet research for this article that I’ve learned of Team TIBCO. Even then, I only know of Wiggle Honda because they are based here in Britain. To my knowledge, none of the big teams I’ve just named have got female development squads and they are some of the biggest names in the sport (Orica are also a co-sponsor on one female team, Orica-AIS, but they are different teams). Only Argos-Shimano in the Netherlands have a direct female equivalent team, but they’re a second-tier outfit relying on wildcard invitations to get into the really big events. As can be seen from the list in this link, there are very few female pro teams.

There are some womens’ sports I don’t enjoy watching, such as football, cricket and boxing – they just don’t capture my attention in the way that the mens’ game does. Football I find too slow, the cricket I find lacks the big hits of the mens’ game and boxing I just don’t like, despite being a fan of the male sport. Yet I do enjoy tennis, athletics, swimming and cycling – so far confined only to the track – immensely. There is no valid argument that can be made to support the position that:

  1. Women can’t compete in endurance sports: they can (ask any marathon runner, biathlete or swimmer)
  2. There would be no audience to watch it: there is (look at the crowds for London 2012)
  3. There isn’t enough money to develop a women’s team: there is (cycling makes more money now than ever before – Armitstead estimates that Team Sky make over £10m per year)
  4. There isn’t enough room in the calendar to accommodate a womens’ schedule: there is.

This fourth point, to me, seems easy to address. Why not simply have a womens’ race set off an hour before the mens’ race in any professional event? The infrastructure would already be there, the planning has already been done – all that would be needed would be some more outriders and a slightly longer period of road closures. For an even braver decision, it could even be possible to have a combined start and mix the female riders in with the men, albeit they should be classified separately, much like happens in the Touring Car championship. Wouldn’t this also give the crowds at road races something extra to cheer and enjoy? I’ve stood out on Guildford High St before for 4 hours just to catch a 2-minute glimpse of some of the world’s best cyclists. If there had been women on the Tour of Britain last year, I might have doubled that.

At present, the situation for womens’ professional cycling is completely unacceptable. Recently, most of the peloton withdrew from the Giro della Toscana on the very final stage of the race, including the overall leader Marianne Vos, because they were expected to negotiate the course in amongst the general Italian traffic. Would we consider making women run the London marathon on a Monday rush hour? They are also forced to ride different courses, different routes, participate in different events (by which I mean classifications) at the same championships and scrabble around for funding – yet when it comes to track cycling, I would argue that Laura Trott is probably the biggest name going right now. This cannot continue for much longer, and I’m not the only one saying so.

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