Women’s road racing in crisis?

 

Women’s road racing is reaching something of a crisis at the moment.  A few weeks after record viewing figures for the women’s Olympic road race, a number of races in the women's calendar were cancelled and this comes after sponsors have failed to renew contracts that were timed around the Olympic cycle.

 

Marianne Vos wins Olympic Road Race from Lizzie Armistead

 

GB’s Emma Pooley, Olympic Silver medallist in Beijing and World time Trial champion in 2010 is one of a number of pro-cyclists who currently have no contract for 2013.  She is considering taking a year off, or even leaving the sport all together, although she will not make a firm decision after the World Championships later this month. 

 

Emma has a rare mix of athletic talent and academic achievement – she has continued her studies whilst riding and racing at the top level and she has acknowledged that she will be unable to do much training this winter, as she completes work on her PhD in geo-technical engineering at ETH Zurich University in Switzerland.

 

She has recently been very outspoken about the barriers she sees has having been put in place by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's world governing body.

 

"Let's face it, racing is entertainment and the spectators in London found it entertaining so that's really good” she recently told the Telegraph “That's exactly what there needs to be. People just need to be able to watch the racing and see that it's exciting.

 

Giro Donne

 

"I don't think it's a case of men's cycling versus women's cycling.  It's the same sport but gets treated totally differently. To start with, not many of our races are on television and the UCI doesn't seem to have any interest in furthering our side of the sport and I don't see why not.

 

"We may go a few kilometres an hour slower, but that doesn't make it less exciting to watch and that's what people realised when they watched the Olympics - in fact, I think our race was probably more exciting than the men's race because there was action all the way in the lashing rain which added to the drama.”

 

In addition to the lack of media coverage – which is obviously vital to encouraging sponsors into the sport – the UCI put limits on the length of women’s races and the number of days a stage race can be.  In Pooley’s opinion this has turned it into “a Mickey Mouse sport”.

 

Sprint finish in Giro Donne

 

Team-mate and Olympic road race silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead, believes the UCI should take action to help women’s cycling.  Shortly after receiving her medal from UCI president Pat McQuaid she said: "It's a big issue in women's sport. It's the obvious things: the salary, media coverage, the general things you have to cope with. If you focus on it too much you get very disheartened.

 

"There are three Olympic medallists now within the [Team GB] road squad on the women's side. There are lots of things that could be done. We could get more help from the UCI, like forcing WorldTour teams to have a women's equivalent.

 

Pooley agrees that the pro-men’s teams should be encouraged to develop a women's team to run in tandem with their male counterpart.  She has been part of this type of set up in the past with Cervelo and found it worked well.  With budgets in excess of £15 million for many of the men’s teams and with just £500,000 more usual for women’s teams, it seems an obvious way to access funding.

 

However, despite Bradley Wiggins, endorsing the idea, Sky do not have any plans to take on the world of women’s cycling at this time.

 

 

So where does this leave us.  With no television coverage, sponsors will be hard to find and of course, if the race calendar continues to be cut, there will be no races for the women’s peloton.  Action needs to be taken and for Pooley, that action needs to be taken by the UCI, they are for her, both at the heart of the problem and the solution "I think they need to be getting races on the television so that sponsors want to sponsor the races. Let's face it, who, when there's a financial crisis going on wants to put money into a bike race that doesn't even get them any coverage anywhere?

 

"I think, quite frankly, that the UCI has quite a lot to answer for. They seem to just spend all their time regulating saddle angles and so on when they could be helping to further developing the sport."

 

After the high of the Olympic road race this year, 2013 could be a very difficult time for women’s cycling.  Watch this space and we'll keep you updated...

 

 

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