I write a lot about women’s cycling. Today’s post is no exception.
Like many cycling fanatics, I have been watching the Tour de France everyday. I wait patiently (and sometimes on the edge of my seat) for the sprints, feel inspired (and pained) watching the riders climb the mountain passes, and generally feel in awe at the idea that these incredible athletes get up everyday and do it over again for 21 days. All of that combined with the incredible views that are shown day in and day out are enough to take my breath away.
While I think events like the Tour de France are great for cycling, I can’t help but feel a little frustration and resentment because professional women’s cycling doesn’t get nearly the publicity that men’s professional cycling does. Did you know that the first week of the Tour de France also marked the beginning of the Giro Rosa, the premiere women’s cycling stage event that goes through much of the terrain that the men’s Giro Italia covers? For those of us who pay closest attention to the sport, the answer to this question is probably yes. For the rest, I am fairly certain the answer is no. Well, that’s not really a surprise to me. I had to search the Internet extensively to get any decent amount of information about the stage results each day. Even some of the premiere sites for cycling news didn’t feature the event prominently, if at all. That’s really frustrating. Women cyclists, especially at the professional levels, are such incredible athletes. They don’t get paid well, if at all (even less than the few men who get paid enough to be professional cyclists), and they have to work doubly hard as their male counterparts to land sponsorships each year. At a time when sponsors are questioning their returns on sponsorship, women have additional hurdles to clear as they do not get nearly the amount of attention that men do in cycling. It’s a vicious cycle (pardon the pun).
Without media attention, women’s teams won’t be able to attain the sponsorships that the teams need to survive. A few years ago, the top ranked HTC-High Road women’s team was disbanded. The men’s team was as well after the sponsors pulled their support. The men’s team had a much easier time landing BMC as a sponsor and the women’s team had to wait for a while before Specialized and Lululemon stepped in as sponsors. I am so thankful for Specialized’s and Lululemon’s support and strong commitment to women’s cycling. It is great to see two leaders in the industry setting such a good example. However, not all stories end so positively. Some teams and riders have been left in the dust. This leads to less support for women’s cycling and a lack of attention paid to the huge discrepancies between men and women in the sport.
However, since the media and other groups haven’t been able to take on this problem, the women in the professional peloton have. Just in the last week, a group of professional women cyclists formed the Women’s Cycling Association, a group of women who want to see more equality in the support and coverage of women’s professional cycling. I was really happy to see the organization form. (For more information on the organization, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WomensCyclingAssociation?fref=ts and their Web site: http://www.biking4women.com/links.asp). While it is just a beginning step to addressing inequality in professional cycling, it is a good start.
I hope that once this discussion occurs and some of these inequalities are addressed, that such discussion will have at elite and amateur levels. If we ever want to grow the sport, especially for women, these inequalities must be addressed. It will be better for the sport as a whole as a new generation of professional cyclists are being born and growing up with a whole world in front of them. We should encourage the next generations to realize their potentials. I’m committed to women’s cycling and I hope other will join me.
So, how can you help you might ask? Get people to ride their bikes. Get them to race. I know lots of women in particular who are very strong on the bike but feel they don’t have the support to take it to the next level. These are the people we need to reach. Talk to them, encourage them to get on their bikes more and get their friends to ride more too. Maybe get them to race and help grow the community. The sport will be better because of it.
Keep riding on!