With the UCI announcing the WorldTour calendars for 2020 and that women’s teams will enjoy minimum provisions with effect from next year, including minimum salaries and entitlements for riders, there is a feeling that cycling is moving towards parity for men and women. But is that achievable or is it just a pipe dream for the female riders in the UK?
Over the past few years, there has been a move to make the women’s racing equal to the men’s, with race distances being made longer as a consequence. In the UK, there has been a push to increase race distances for women, especially at a National Road Series level, with most races now over 100km, whereas perhaps five years ago, there were hardly any races that were over 50 miles (80km) in length. Whilst this can be called progress, we are moving towards a professional level of dedication, something for which perhaps the women’s sport is not yet ready. For example, there are not many teams that are able to pay riders’ expenses, let alone a wage, and this then means that many riders are effectively priced out of the market, especially when most national level events start at 9am, therefore meaning that an overnight stay is required, at a minimum. It should therefore come as no surprise if organisers are struggling to fill fields, as it becomes more and more costly to race at a national level without any significant financial support (whether that is from a sponsor or a family member). Is this sustainable, or do we need to find a –
And then we have the talent pipeline issue – we struggle to retain female riders after the age of 16, when riders make the transition from Youth to Junior, so it was hoped that the introduction of a Junior Women’s National Road Series would help bridge the massive gap from Youth to Senior. Unfortunately, probably to some degree as a consequence of coinciding with a major staff restructure at British Cycling, the Junior Women’s Series has not had the support from British Cycling that those involved at a grassroots’ level may have hoped to see, with organisers being given no guidance or support and races not being tied into the Series on the British Cycling website, therefore making it more difficult to find out what races were part of the Series. Those of us who are supposed to be in the know weren’t even told, so how riders are supposed to navigate the system to find the races does bring into question whether there really is a desire to see a push towards equality from a road racing perspective at British Cycling. We need British Cycling to be fully on board with the Junior Women’s Series and make sure that it is properly advertised, with organisers being given support and encouragement to promote these events if it is to be successful.
Next issue to be addressed is the shift in attitude with regards to risk assessment interpretation. Those of us who promote events for women are all too aware of the financial implications of promoting a women’s race – it is extremely difficult for an event to break even without a men’s race being organised in conjunction with the women’s race. At a regional level, when we first started promoting road races for women in 2013/14, the most viable way to do it was in conjunction with an existing men’s race, using the infrastructure which was already in place to add on a women’s race, usually starting a few minutes behind the men. This meant that we could ensure opportunities were being made available for women, without having to worry about the numbers. Unfortunately, a change in policy has meant that concurrent racing (where you have two events running alongside each other at the same time) is no longer deemed to be acceptable from a risk perspective and therefore the number of opportunities women will have to road race going forward will likely be substantially less, as organisers will opt –
for men’s races that are easier to fill, rather than a potentially financially unviable women’s race. The risk assessment process is something which needs to be challenged – the outcome of this change in interpretation has effectively put a protected group (women) in a worse position and it is therefore paramount that a solution is found if British Cycling want to avoid a contravention of their own Equality Policy.
So what does all of this mean for women’s cycling? Well, whilst it’s great that the UCI have implemented a minimum salary requirement for Women’s WorldTour teams, it seems increasingly unlikely that there will be an increase in British riders gaining places on these teams if there is only limited financial support for those racing at a domestic level. Yes, it’s great that we have professional level National Series events but if nobody can afford to attend the races or organisers feel that the financial uncertainty is just too much, then the likelihood is that future cycling stars will not come from the UK, unless as a sport we can look at how events are run and redesign it to encourage as many people as possible to take part.
There are changes afoot at British Cycling, and a willingness to accept that what has come before has not necessarily been acceptable, but whether it will be too little too late remains to be seen. Let’s hope that we can find some solutions before it is too late.
All images © www.chrismaher.co.uk | CyclingShorts.cc
Women's Cycling Editor & Trustee of Racing Chance Foundation
Heather has been with CyclingShorts.cc for 8 years attending and reporting on major cycling events; Tour de France, Tour de Yorkshire, World Track Championships, World Road Race Championships to name a few.
A very influential and respected member of the UK Cycling community; Heather started up the Racing Chance Foundation charity to help women gain experience in cycling racing and progress their cycling careers, she is a Trustee of the Charity.
Heather is a Board Member of British Cycling North West Region