Before, during, and after the first-ever Paris-Roubaix, there's been an outpouring of excitement surrounding the women taking on the infamous cobbles of the 'Hell of the North'.
“Paris-Roubaix is a monumental race, having a women’s Roubaix is a sign of a new era for women’s cycling,” said Australian Sarah Roy ahead of the race, summing up the ideal scenario of many. “My hope is that it attracts a lot of global attention, a lot of new fans, and inspires more females to ride bikes and go pro."
It wasn't just Roy. Cycling media was awash with riders talking about their joy at getting the chance to race the prestigious event, 125 years on from the event's first edition in 1896. Talk about a long time coming, but it's a good thing that we get to see the women on these hallowed stages of cycling history.
There was action aplenty and great stories from athletes unwilling to give up on their dreams and push through to the famed outdoor velodrome after battling through the first wet Paris-Roubaix since 2002. Drama came in the form of the slick cobbles acting like a skating rink at times, with winner Lizzie Deignan saving herself a number of times, while others in the peloton were not as fortunate.
The problem is that while the racing was exciting and quality viewing, the end result was that we didn't get to see the winning move. Deignan started on our screens at two minutes up the road, like she'd been given some sort of headstart, the rabbit for the greyhounds to chase.
Unlike famed solo wins from impossibly long attacks by Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, there was no build-up, no moment of excitement when the move was made, no growing wonder as the race developed... with the question of how she could possibly do this being answered with more and more certainty with each pedal stroke.
It's hard to promote a narrative of the race, mistakes made by teams in not taking up the chase, or of an unstoppable ride by Deignan that was always going to prove peerless, because we didn't see it. If you serve up an inferior product, why should anyone be surprised if the numbers are down compared to the men's race?
I think everyone who watched expressed some sort of frustration, I saw plenty of it in charge of the SBS Cycling Central social media accounts for the race. At SBS, we're lucky that we have a cluey audience that understands that we're going to show all the coverage that is made available by the host broadcaster and the race organisers.
If there was ever a case to be made that we need more of every race, last night was the perfect example. Deignan's attack was made with 81 kilometres remaining, live TV pictures came in with just over 50 kilometres left.
It's particularly galling knowing that it won't be a problem with the men's race, the TV cameras will be whirring constantly to deliver a broadcast about three to four times as long, over a much greater distance. The full 257.7 kilometres of the men's race to the 50-ish televised of the women's. The prizemoney issue shouldn't be ignored either, but given the money tied up in sponsorship and how that drives the sport, exposure is more critical.
A tipping point, a new era for women's cycling... maybe it should be more of a wake-up call. As fans, organisations and athletes we need to demand better or go elsewhere.
It's got to the point where race organisations do need to get that women's cycling deserves the same quality coverage as the men's because that's the message that they are hearing consistently or it will continue at this creeping pace. Thankfully, that message seems to be ringing out across the social media landscape.
The 2022 season looks set to be the most impressive calendar ever. The Women's Tour de France, spring classics and the Battle of the North shape as the landmark events of the year.
SBS will be doing the best that we can to bring as much women's cycling to your screens as possible, we'll be fighting behind the scenes for the best possible broadcasts, but demanding more from the providers of the coverage from the fan's end will go a long way in winning this fight.
“I feel so incredibly proud,” said Deignan after her landmark win. “Women’s cycling is at this turning point, and this is a part of history. We are so proud of everyone behind the scenes and watching this, because everyone watching this is also making history.
“It’s proving that there’s an appetite for women’s cycling and that the athletes here can do one of the hardest races in the world. I’m proud to say that I’m the first winner.”
Hopefully, viewers can continue to push for more and greater historical moments in women's cycling until we can get to the point where we don't have to cringe in embarrassment at the comparative coverage and respect that the women's side of the sport receives at times.