This year has been huge for the advancement of women’s cycling. But it underscores the fact that women’s cycling has been neglected. The very fact that it still needs “advancement” is in and of itself indicative of the problem. That is why I have really mixed feelings about cyclingnews.com declaring “Women’s Cycling Week.“
Women’s cycling doesn’t need a dedicated week of focus. Instead, what it really needs are 52 weeks of equal focus – every single year. It is great that many media outlets are finally jumping on the bandwagon. But treating it like the “hottest new trend” is kind of, well… disingenuous to me. Women race a lot. And pro women race at the highest levels of competition, while simultaneously holding down other part time jobs because the vast majority of them can’t earn enough on their team salaries to support themselves. UCI rules continue to limit the duration – and thus media exposure – of women’s events in the medieval idea that women can’t ride as hard or as long as men. That limited media exposure directly equates to limited sponsorship potential, which leads to less financial support for teams, which means less money to pay the riders.
Cycling has a long tradition of allowing different skill sets to shine within a long stage race. We’ve got the King of the Mountains, the sprinter’s jersey, the most aggressive rider… all the races within the race. Cycling fans have been trained to understand that the overall winner is not necessarily the person that crossed the finish line first in today’s stage, and that the sprinter can be in the points lead after crossing an imaginary line somewhere in the middle of the stage. So why not extend that model to include women on the same course, at the same time, as the men, racing for women’s versions of the same jerseys? No more nonsense about not enough sponsorship dollars to support the women’s competition – because the logistics wouldn’t dramatically increase.
Unfortunately I can already hear the establishment complaints to this idea: “Growing the pro peloton to allow women would swell the number of riders in the peloton, adding to complications and expenses of running the races. It would create safety concerns that would endanger other riders.”
I would love to hear that statement made publicly, because what does it really say? It says what many of us suspect, and others fear: That the women would actually hang with the men, over the same courses, for the same durations. Because if they couldn’t, the wouldn’t be “part of the peloton” and thus those arguments would be invalid.
And even worse, given the chance to earn a living, they may actually be competitive against the men. Then what would would all do?
One might remind me that we’ve taken small steps, and we should celebrate those small steps as the foundation for more small steps in the future. OK. Fair point. Let’s just be careful not to stand around patting ourselves on the back for a “job well done” when the racing careers of women are still so vastly under supported and under funded compared to the men.