The Women’s Tour hits Britain for the first time this week, with some of the best international female riders racing for the first time in the UK since the 2012 Olympic Games.
There has been a large amount of media coverage in relation to this and for good reason.
However, anybody who believes that women’s domestic cycling has made a huge move forwards in the UK is sadly mistaken. Yes, there is a Women’s Tour, which offers parity on prize money and conditions with that of the Tour of Britain, but the reality is that, for the moment at least, any woman who races on the UK domestic scene and is not part of the Great Britain performance programme (which is a track-based programme), is highly unlikely to get the opportunity to ride in the likes of the Women’s Tour and La Course by the TDF.
Ultimately, women’s cycling in the UK is still a side show, an afterthought. Despite Brian Cookson setting up a women’s commission at the UCI, there is no such thing within the UK. Whilst some of the greatest female cyclists are arriving in the UK to take part in the inaugural Women’s Tour, the women who race on the domestic scene will quite often find themselves being put with the novice fourth category men, which is an experience that is unlikely to entice the women to come back the following week! There are a few committed people in the cycling scene who disproportionately hard to be inclusive towards women’s participation, however, these are few and far between, and lack key support.
Nobody can deny that the Breeze programme has been a success in so far as it encourages more women to ride bikes. But the Breeze programme is based on participation, not competition, and there is no real pathway to bridge between the two. The strategy as far as competition is concerned is practically non-existent, despite the numbers that British Cycling quote in relation to the increase in licences. Ultimately, women’s competitive cycling in the UK on the domestic scene is an amateur sport, which means that it is run by volunteers. There is no money for “competition” because despite what you read (which can seem like propaganda quite honestly), cycling is run by men ergo the sport will always be seen from a male perspective.
So, what is the way forward?
Well, it is true, there has been progress in the last 12 months, with many more road racing opportunities for women, but these forward-thinking organisers need our help and support. Domestic events are all run by volunteers and everybody who wants to race (whether they are male or female) has to understand that it costs money to put a race on – if a race can’t at a minimum break even, then why should an organiser make a loss?
One problem with the circuit races that seem to be prolific in the UK for women is that they cost very little to run – there is a levy per entry (approximately £4 per rider) and then you have the hire of the circuit (usually between £50 and £150 depending on how long you need the circuit for) and the expenses of the commissaires for attending (usually two at closed circuit) and the first aider, but nothing much besides. This means that you can have five riders in an event and potentially break even.
Road racing, on the other hand, can be expensive – not only do you have the levy per rider, but you then also have first aid, National Escort Group (motorbike marshals), petrol money for all officials who use their cars, for the lead car and neutral service (the cost of which increases the longer the race), as well as the hire of the headquarters. Before you know it, the cost of putting on an event is at £350 and that’s before you add in prize money. So that means that you need at least 25 to 30 riders before you even start to break even.
So please, ladies, if you want to have road races in your region, please give the organisers the support they deserve and enter in advance as often as you can afford to and don’t rely on the ability to turn up and enter on the day (the latter will hopefully become more difficult as racing gets more popular and races fill up in advance). There have been far too many races this season that have been cancelled or nearly cancelled due to lack of rider entries – you need to take some responsibility and enter in advance – our sport is run by volunteers who cannot afford to make a loss, so please enter in good time!
My final point reverts back to the fact that competitive cycling is run, for the most part, by men. Until such time that women start to volunteer in larger numbers, whether that be as race officials or race organisers, and start to make their voices heard by taking their place on the Regional British Cycling Boards, there will be no significant changes. I appreciate that for most people, offering to organise a race or becoming an official can be a daunting task, and I will have more news in the coming weeks for people who want to do just that.
Ultimately, women’s cycling is becoming more popular, we just need to ensure that it continues to grow in the correct way on a domestic level.