• Lotta Episto, Chloe Hosking and Marianne Vos on the 2016 La Course podium. (Getty)Source: Getty
From the grass roots to the elite, investing properly and smartly in women's cycling should be a no-brainer. But instead, it's often treated by many as the drunk relative you have to invite to Christmas but who you wish would just sod off.
By
Rachel de Bear

Source:
Cycling Central
15 Nov 2016 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2016 - 11:33 AM

Of course, women's cycling has improved and it's in a much stronger place, but some things have happened recently that seem to work against rather than for the sport. And of course, there are the things that never seem to change. 

It feels like women's cycling is still treated as an inconvenience, an afterthought, and some even work actively against it.

And this is why women's cycling can't have nice things:

1. When there's finally live TV coverage, women are forced to race on circuits 

With a captive global live TV audience for the 2016 women's road world championship race in Qatar, someone in their infinite wisdom decided not to "allow" the women to tussle potential crosswinds and put all but 20 (raced from the Qatar Foundation in the city) of the 134km on the city circuit.

Try as it might, the Pearl-Qatar is no Champs-Elysees. Despite the general attrition noticeable only to the ardent cycling fan and the exciting sprint finish, it was a yawn fest.

The UCI had a chance to showcase women's cycling out in the desert winds as the peloton does each year at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. Instead, it looked like it was an afterthought.

Were the powers-that-be worried a lack of finishers, especially among the minnows would look embarrassing? Seemingly not a concern when it came to the men's race where the wind decimated the field. Just 53 finished out of 199 starters and only 20 or so finished in the main group.

It wasn't the lack of finishers that was embarrassing in this instance.

 

2. La Course is taken off the Champs-Elysees and reduced to 67km

At least it isn't a circuit! I kid. But La Course on the Champs-Elysees after three years appeared to grow to a point where even a two or three-day event was rumoured to launch soon. The thinking was; still a day of racing on the iconic Champs-Elysees and another day somewhere in the mountains.

Instead, in 2017 it's a 67km, one-day race that does not share the same finish as the men's. The women will only race 10km of the iconic 14km Col d'Izoard climb.

There is no summit finish.

Don't get me wrong, I do give kudos to the ASO - a shorter parcours could lead to exciting racing plus the potential TV audience higher on a day when the men's race is not processional.

A captive crowd is likely to be in position on the mountain already for the men's race and provide ambience. La Course on the Champs-Elysees is held so much earlier than when the men bustle through, most of this atmosphere, especially with the crowds is missing.

The ASO says it loses money each time it puts on La Course. Perhaps this is how it sees it can limit those losses. I also acknowledge it is the UCI's responsibility to promote women's cycling, not the ASO's - a business set up to make, not lose money.

I'd rather the ASO cancel La Course than not have a summit finish the same as the men's. The finish is where the iconic celebration photos are taken, offering beautiful pics for brand exposure.

It's where the VIPs, media and other cycling stakeholders and decision makers hang out; a place where they can engage with the riders and be exposed to all the stories women's cycling offers. Like, you know, all the people who should be engaged if you're trying to sell the bloody thing.

It seems too easy to say - and I do not blame the ASO here, well, not really - "women's cycling just doesn't make us any money." If it isn't trying to sell it by engaging decision makers properly, then call it quits.

And why are we relying on the men's version of the sport to sell women's cycling anyway, especially as it's done such a poor job of selling it, and also its own version?

Like Marianne Vos said in this week's The Discussion, La Course provided an opportunity to showcase women's cycling on the largest stage in the world, but "we have great races on the calendar already."

Marianne Vos: "FTP doesn't matter"
Cycling royalty visited The Discussion, presented by BikeBug, this week. Arguably behind just Eddie Merckx as the best all-round cyclist of all time, Marianne Vos took some time out with Matthew Keeno Keenan to shoot the breeze.

On the revamped La Course, the jury is still out.

I'm reminded here too of that biblical imagery of pouring new wine into new wine-skins, not new wine in old, patched up wine-skins. In other words, there is no point trying to sell women's cycling - a different product - in the same way as the men's.

This analysis of women's sport sponsorship on SBS Zela earlier this year noted that "instead of big, glitzy TV campaigns and coverage, advertisers are discovering targeted campaigns and content may be more effective at driving both sales and brand sentiment – where the stories of female athletes have an opportunity to shine."

Women's cycling in some ways is a better, or at least different, sell to the men's WorldTour.

Fair or not, women's cycling is not hampered by doping. The Women's WorldTour calendar is healthy with 21 events and next year includes Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel Gold, Boels Rental Ladies Tour (the Netherlands) and the Tour of Norway. Again, I give credit to the UCI here. Despite the world championships boredom, they are trying to improve the Women's WorldTour. And those race organisers are to be applauded.

After the UCI's recent announcement of 10 new events for the men's WorldTour on top of the existing 27, the women's calendar is far less convoluted and confusing. Of course, more balance in the Women's WorldTour calendar is needed, for example, the Giro Rosa should not be held at the same time as the Tour de France.

Women's cycling is also not hampered by dependency on TV revenue. They've never had it. Rather than a negative, this is a liberating opportunity to come up with new ways to cover and sell the sport and create a more sustainable and sellable business model.

3. Administrators tasked with promoting women's cycling are sometimes up against it

The Women's Tour in the UK is an excellent women's stage race, often with large crowds coating the roads each day. There's also television highlights each evening played in the host nation. Looking to build on this success, race organisers Sweetspot applied to British Cycling to extend the race in 2017 from five to seven days to include a weekend London stage.

According to Cycling Weekly, British Cycling rejected this application citing the UCI's intention to have a number of strong five-day races on the Women's WorldTour calendar. Cycling Weekly understood the UCI indicated it was happy to extend the race to seven days.

With extra stages slated for London and more race days for women, there doesn't seem to be any real reason why British Cycling rejected the application and Cycling Weekly did not receive a response to its request for clarification.

The UCI also got off to a shaky start with the first few races of the season. According to women's cycling expert, Sarah Connolly, there was no real race radio at Strade Bianche to speak of and even if there was, the UCI didn't have anyone there to live tweet the action. Problems also existed around getting promised highlights up on YouTube around the first few races.

Here at Cycling Central, we get excited when a team posts any type of video within 12 hours of the race because it's content we can share and use. It was an initial hiccup, but it is something the UCI as the promoter of the sport should be across, especially when launching a new WorldTour as it did at the start of 2016. 

Women's cycling will never be what it ought to be when it continually faces such examples of afterthought and indifference.

4. All the cool women's cycling clothing companies think women don't ride bikes beyond size 16*. 

It's 2016 and women can vote, divorce and buy property. Heck, we even have our own money to buy cycling products.

But a lot of us can't part with our hard earned. We're just not size 14-16 enough. I should be fair here, it's not just the cool cycling clothing companies - this is me in a men's XL jersey from Aldi - not even Aldi think women ride beyond that size. (oh and that's a helmet from a hire place in NZ, don't hate me)

Yes, my fatness is my responsibility. I concur. But I also can't lose weight cycling if I can't find anything to wear. Nor can I part with my cashola on sweet kit. But there are bigger problems. 

There's one Australian-based clothing company I can just about squeeze into the knicks on a good day and I thank them, but after that, I have screaming in the shower to look forward to after a long ride in normal active wear, even when commando.

Sure, there's XL's on the pretty clothing company pages, but the sizing charts are a good laugh.

Hey, but I can still buy magazine subscriptions and caps.

(*Australian size 16)

5. And enough already of this, and on the podiums, just stop