My problems with current women’s cycling situation and how to improve it
Today I would like to jump into the hot moment thanks to UCI weird decision to ruin men’s ITT World Championships deciding that Men Elite and Women Elite should run the same ITT kms, even against their rules, and buried it without any discussion behind the usual “equality” – magic word that keeps everyone silent if posted as reason and don’t you dare discuss it.
I can’t stand it anymore and I want to broke the wall of silence behind and want to speak out loudly about the problem, according to my opinion, of the women’s cycling situation, the current point and what we can do to improve the movement for the future.
DISCLAIMER: These points are my only and doesn’t represent the point of view of the other people managing LFR account (blog is personal).
It’s unclear what is UCI direction now because they are trying to make actual men’s race having a women’s version but making them co-existing with already existent races. You get so a mirrored calendar in spring, then you lose tracks in the summer until ECs and Worlds brings them back together. From this point of view it’s indeed clear that the women races creating under the brand of the men’s races are the most followed because they are on the same day of that and it usually are bigger classics.
We then in Calendar the Tour de France Femmes following the Tour de France, Ceratizit challenge in the end of Vuelta but still Giro d’Italia Donne is not related to the main Giro and this caused it to be in a terrible spot of the calendar because whatever is running at the same time of Tour de France will not get enough attention.
Stage races are indeed a problem because after the cancellation of California there isn’t a good quantity of mountain battles that is what makes cycling epic. Waiting to see Itzulia Women at the moment true mountains are provided only by Giro Rosa – the same faced by Giro d’Italia. Tour de France Femmes in first edition brought in Vosges, that are hard but aren’t Alps or Pyrenees. Tour de Suisse and Romandie are finally adding stuff on the field in 2022, honestly something in earlier season is missing (UAE/Tirreno period) but level seems definitely improving.
The real problem – at least for me – come when I noticed that this year I barely watched them in comparison to the classics. Sure, got a 2nd screen on Giro Rosa and even the Suisse, Burgos and Ceratizit stages – but the rest? While for other is surely different I noticed that I struggled a bit in following copy-paste races with sprint and punchy stages. Timeslots are also important and the rest got basically overlapped a lot with Romandie or even Giro d’Italia making it difficult to follow both at same time.
Would like to have numbers to see if the number of this races are good in absolute terms or there are other people having the same problem.
We covered this aspect two articles ago – situation is now increasing with almost every race covered. I am still of the opinion that the most important aspect is to bring a decent coverage to Girodonne being the most ancient Grand Tour and the only one featuring difficult and iconic mountains that men did. 2021 coverage suffered all the problems of a 4g TV coverage including spectator not being able to see the mountain finish of Prato Nevoso or the Climb Time Trial. Giro was indeed the race that did most for women’s cycling, being there since 1980s before everyone jumped on the virtue signaler / politically correct bandwagon and now going to be slashed by Tour de France.
Today we have essentially a good TV coverage for classics and a terrible TV coverage for Stage Races even if situation improved from the time these races existed only on livetext. Tour de France Femmes can be a game changer for both because will surely bring more attention to the movement. More Paris-Roubaix, Giro Rosa and a general increase of the rest of stage races are surely the main priority.
Lack of data
That’s terrible if you are used to do live-tweeting of the races. For almost every WT race you got a live tracker from the organizer, possibly with distance, breakaway composition, gaps and so on updated in real time. For women races there is nothing like this and you have to do all on your own from the TV. It has a terrible impact on the real time narration and doesn’t help the spectator also. It can be maybe secondary – but a personal appeal here is: improve your real-time data.
Field situation and governance
People in charge of the women’s cycling development are in my opinion now doing more harm than good: token gestures of the UCI like the ITT length are a problem because it doesn’t help the development, it just helps some PR relationships and people obsessed with matching equality in every aspect, doesn’t matter if to achieve this you have an impact on men’s cycling.
Let’s look at the current number – at the moment according to UCI official riders list there are 569 World Tour riders, 119 Women World Tour riders, 451 ProSeries riders, 2013 men’s Continental Team riders, 651 women’s Continental Team rider. So there are more or less 3300 men vs 700 women in continental peloton. UCI acts like if these numbers are equal. They aren’t.
Problem is not only in numbers, it’s in depth. You can easily open a World Ranking and check – for example – riders around position 50 in both rankings and you’ll realize how much more deeper men’s field is. It’s so correctirating Colbrelli’s Roubaix victory as more difficult than Deignan’s one. Comparison is a problem because at the moment it harms women’s development and it focuses on the outcome rather than the current situation.
While men’s movement is pretty much settled, women’s movement needs to improve the depth and not going immediately demanding from equal outcomes like if it’s settled. At the moment women’s cycling started mainly from money of men’s races but it’s not sustainable in long terms. As Van der Spiegel (CEO of Flandersclassic) reported on Twitter earlier in the season, for example, media should start to pay for TV rights now being offered for free.
The right step is so to increase the WWT teams in number and in number of riders thanks to different races being added in the calendar year by year, add a ProSeries level and hoping to have a comparable depth. Then you can act like today. Sad reality that people doesn’t want to read or hear is that currently field is like men’s were in the 90s with really few riders that can win a race and that there are differences.
Women are not men: Men’s cycling is currently tailored on that market and that field, copy-pasting doesn’t work. You have to tailor the suit to what you have in front creating a value with your field instead of continuing with useless comparisons. Worlds ITT is the perfect example: while in men 30 and 50 km ITT have different type of riders winning it, in Women you get what you get after 30 km with more gaps. This is basically because top field is much stronger than the rest now, but situation can (should) be different developing the movement in 4-5 years.
The social justice warriors fans…
Fans sometimes are a plague, in the women’s cycling narration especially. If you disagree on Demare or Sagan deviating in a sprint you get some complaints and then is over. If you disagree on UCI making men and women’s ITT the same length you get aggressed by the Women’s Cycling Talibans. I’ve done my idea of these people being prevalently from a certain culture that for unknown reason judge everyone and everything with that standards.
These aggression are unfortunately tolerated but are not normal as it was not normal what happened to Van der Spiegel last time he tried to talk on Twitter about why Flandersclassic prize money aren’t equal and why TV is a priority over it, getting aggressed by sjw screaming it to take it from men. The whole logic of “if we can’t get it, at least the others shouldn’t get it“ it’s honestly terrible also in life, but that’s another stuff.
Roubaix case I think it’s also the most evident and ungrateful at the same time. ASO finally put a race with the second best WWT TV coverage after Plouay and was basically got slaughtered because it doesn’t match what men had instead of thanking them to have put it and said it’s a good beginning for the first year. At the same time Lombardia Women and Sanremo Women, for example, doesn’t exist and get 0 criticism. How do you think an organizer will plan to open a race if every time there is the run to the wailing wall by the social justice warriors creating a bad image and basically spitting on what they got?
Races aren’t earned by any right, they are organized if there is a market – and market is fortunately free because we don’t live in a communist country (thank God). Also, market for women’s cycling is mainly composed by the “white males” (not used as a dispregiative like ignorants) that also watch men’s cycling and that are accused by the “fans” above. To improve it you should convince them to watch it – more audience, more revenues into the sport – and whining on them doesn’t help.
It’s also not normal to get aggressive with Lefevere for expressing his opinion about not wanting to risk to run a business in loss and for that ask for sponsor to leave and making the team close, leaving riders and staff without a job (did you think about that when you ask sponsor to leave, right?) while there are other teams that have more money, doesn’t have a women side without providing any motivation about it and for that 0 criticism.
It’s honestly sad seeing a part of the fans living this as politic matter and not as a sport and using it to show that they are “on the right side”. Following a sport isn’t mandatory, investing in a sport isn’t mandatory and politicizing it in my opinion risks to keep more people out than in the sport. It’s even more sad that you can’t even have a talk with people speaking for slogans – but fortunately for that Twitter has a block function. For the rest of normal twitter users: don’t be afraid to stand up – you are the silent majority.
My appeal to the fan is so to be positive and propositive. Don’t blame and insult who freely chose to not watch the race – try to persuade them to watch it. Give them the background of the riders they ignore. Don’t be aggressive to organizers who decide to invest in new races just because they don’t immediately match your standards – and so on.
… and media feeding them
Narration of women’s cycling is terrible on mainstream media. There is no doubt on it. I would take two example over all the rest: Van Aert / Evenepoel in worlds and Van Vleuten / rest of the team in Olympics. While we know everything about the first we barely know something about the second because all we got is some statements after San Sebastian and barely someone searching for the athletes.
Dualisms are good for cycling. Polarization bring audience, it always was like that, it will always be. We had the same for Pogacar-Roglic for example in 2020 with backgrounds on the two riders but we barely get these things in women’s cycling articles. I want to know what’s Van Vleuten’s background, what is her relationship with Van der Breggen, what brought Wiebes to start professional cycling and so on. Lorena Wiebes, the best sprinter in women’s peloton by far in this moment, has barely 1300 followers on twitter. Something isn’t correct here.
Then you look at the media and what you get are all clickbaiting articles for the social justice warriors. Giro d’Italia put a chairlift of Zoncolan winners and didn’t put women. Nokere-Koerse matching prizes. Some criterium in USA that we don’t even know it exists put equal prize between men and women and so on. I am pretty sure these articles are written to cause easy indignation between the subjects above, generating clicks and revenues for who writes them but doesn’t help anybody the movement in development itself.
My appeal is to stop calling out people from your workplace as free hobby and go interviewing Cecile Uttrup Ludwig or Emma Norsgaard. Give more background, write about the rivarlies, give fans reasons to get closer in riders knowledge and support them. There is nothing bad if there is some beef between riders – it’s actually even good for the movement. And of course give tactical insights about races and how they were won – on that of course I strongly reccomend Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast to find out good points about the racing.
This article was written as a positive contributes from my points of view to develop women’s cycling as a thing on it’s own, less dependant from the men’s side and as a thing that ideally gets a market value and lives on it’s own. Women’s cycling is amazing if you live it as an addition to what we always have and not as a political stuff in competition with men. Let’s get rid of the toxic crap surrounding it and develop it as it deserves, without shortcuts. Having a chicken tomorrow it’s surely better than having an egg today.
Co-Founder of LFR account. Cycling lover since early 2000s. Say no to short stages.