Finally, The Women are Speaking!

I have always stated that in order for women’s cycling to raise its profile and bring about more equality we, the cyclists, need to speak out. We must raise our voices and advocate for change. We are good at crying bloody foul when race promoters ignore us, we cringe when we are handed pennies while the men vie for ten times (or more) the prize money, and far too often we have been over-joyed when we shouldn’t be, like when we receive a small scrap of a race tacked onto a prestigious multi-day event for men.

When the inequality reaches a point that even we cannot tolerate we finally complain, grumbling, “it’s not fair!”.

And it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. But who really gives a damn?

The UCI does not care. The bike industry, although it has made big changes in the way of women’s products in the past 10 years, cares only as much as its bottom line. Men’s cycling as a whole rarely acknowledges the women and race promoters care as far as their sponsorship dollars will stretch.

Our first step to increasing equality in women’s cycling would be to realize that no one really cares enough about our problem, and if change is to happen at all, it is up to us, and only us, to make this a reality.

We as women have more often than not been our own worst enemies in encouraging the environment where inequality exists and breeds. When we sit silent and do nothing to battle the injustices that exist within the cycling world we have quietly given our approval without even realizing it. Each time we do not take a stand we have added to the disempowerment of women’s cycling. I, too, have been guilty of this when I have shrugged my shoulders and said, “What’s the use? Nothing will change anyhow.” I gave in because I knew that the change had to come from within our ranks, and we needed the leaders, the big-named stars of our sport, to take charge and begin the process for change. Only they have the power and leadership to bring about public awareness and without them heading the charge nothing ever would come to fruition. As long as we were content in sitting back, grumbling once in a while and not taking any action, the pathetic status quo of women’s cycling would continue. I have been witness to this for my whole career, for over 15 years. In fact, I began to wonder if most women cyclists even noticed the injustices in our sport at all?

At the 2011 World Cycling Championships in Copenhagen this all changed, and we can thank UCI president Pat McQuaid for a statement he made at a press-conference for this! When he responded to the question whether the UCI would consider introducing regulations for minimum salaries in women’s cycling that, “women’s cycling is not developed enough” he finally pushed the wrong, or rather in this case, the right button.

The women’s worlds podium erupted. The sports’ big names (Georgia Bronzini, Marianne Vos, and Ina Tuetenberg) finally spoke out against what Pat McQuaid said. The media gobbled it up and we had our first publicly raised awareness in defense of women’s professional cycling. The first that I can recall anyhow.

Finally.

Since then World Champion Giorgia Bronzini has again publicly blasted the National cycling federations and the UCI for not viewing the women as professional athletes which has led to a lack of structure and sponsorship in women’s cycling. Also this past week professional cyclist Chloe Hosking of Australia used a not-so-nice choice word describing Pat McQuaid in response to his comment at last year’s World Championships. And now Karen Bliss, a former professional woman cyclist and current vice president of marketing for Advanced Sports International/Fuji Bicycles has written a guest editorial in BRAIN (Bicycle Retailer and Industry News) with a specific challenge to Pat McQuaid president of the UCI to “lead the charge” in bringing positive and worthwhile growth to women’s cycling. “The UCI has the power to stimulate the women’s market and create a more complete and comprehensive women’s cycling program” Bliss writes.

So true. But does the UCI care enough to do so?

I see this as a critical time in our sport. Now more than ever we must raise our voices, all of us, together, and we need to fight the injustices, the inequalities that exist in the sport of cycling, and demand change. Cohesively we need to continue the pressure on the UCI that has been initiated by a few. Karen Bliss has laid out a challenge to the UCI. I am putting out a challenge to ourselves, to all the women cyclists who compete, to continue to pressure the cycling governing bodies, locally, nationally and internationally, and ask for more equality and respect.

Personally, I am going to start with a request for a small change to the race start in the Sunset stage at the Redlands Classic, where the women have a ridiculous and useless neutral start up to the racing circuits, but the men do not. This has annoyed me for many years. Please do not treat us like we are incapable of racing that extra 5 miles (or whatever it is). It would make for a much more exciting beginning to our race and eliminate a very stressful, misnomer of a neutral if we could start at the actual start-line. If Pat McQuaid says that we are not developed enough then let’s begin eliminating the barriers that hold us back from developing. The challenge is out to Pat McQuaid to help us, but we also need to take action. We have finally made notice that we want change, we want respect, and if we sit back now we have only ourselves to blame if nothing should come of this.

9 responses

  1. I still think the biggest issue is at the grassroots: with the possible exception of cyclocross, the sport does nothing to encourage women to participate. Failure to make the sport attractive to novices and to grow participation at local events undermines any hope of developing the audiences necessary to fund the pros.

    1. Anne Samplonius | Reply

      It appears that the grassroots approach is the way to go, but I am of the opinion that it is time for the UCI to help us. I am a realist. Women’s sports will never attain full equality to the men. Sadly, it is the way of the world. But we need to strive in that direction to at least achieve a level better than what it is currently. The UCI is an old boys club that cares little for the women’s side of the sport. We need to change that by putting pressure on the UCI in all media sources.

      Yes we need to look at ways to encourage grass-roots participation but I want change to be initated at the top (UCI) to start the process. And that means us women must bring mass opposition to all inequalities that exist and stop accepting them.

      And in terms of cyclocross, a new sport relative to road cycling, why is it that the women cannot compete the same time allotment as men? Why 1 hour for men and 40 minutes for women? WHY? These type of restraints need to be addressed and eliminated. The UCI has many ridiculous rules on holding back the women.

  2. Great post. Well presented. You go girl! In U.S. we need to build upon road race in Idaho.

    1. Anne Samplonius | Reply

      Thanks! The new road race in Idaho is a spark of hope in what has been a downward slide in women’s races and sponsorship in the past few years. I agree, races like this is exactly the right direction. We need more of these women only events.

  3. Patrick Van de Wille | Reply

    My turn to agree with you: I think that women-only events could get more momentum in North America than in Europe, mainly because there cycling is a sport for traditionalists, and thus they want to see a calendar built on the big events – the classics, the tours, etc. – with the recognized names around it. Here, cycling is a sport for counter-culture types, not traditionalists, so the possibility to build great events from scratch, and promote them virally as well as through traditional means (my TV gets about 80 sports channels, so don’t tell me we couldn’t put a production together and get it run SOMEWHERE) is wide open.

  4. In our little corner of the cycling world in Utah, I’ve been promoting races for 4 years. We pay equal prize money to women and men. Sometimes the total $$ amount isn’t much, but at least its the same. We experimented with paying double actually at our season ending crit. $600 went to the winner of the Pro/1/2/3 category (Nicole Evans). She said it was the most money she had won all year. So, there’s at least one promoter who believes in equality.

    Ben Towery
    Excelerator Sports, LLC
    http://www.teamexcelerator.com

    1. Anne Samplonius | Reply

      Thank you Ben! I wish there were more like you out there. Most organizers go by the book and pay out the minimum required by USA Cycling or the UCI. Then they feel that because they are “following the rules” they are fair and just.

  5. Patrick Van de Wille | Reply

    This is a great post. My only comment would be that as long as women compete as a sideshow in events primarily articulated around men, the needle will never move – the promoters won’t have a specific interest in moving things along, there will be other bigger problems to work on (in the organizer’s eyes), the sponsors will be focused elsewhere, and frankly the spectators won’t be focused on the women’s event either. The most successful sports and events organizations in terms of highlighting women’s participation (and rewarding the athletes) are woman-specific events, whether it’s women’s world cup races in cycling, women-focused marathons, the LPGA, or even mass-participation events like Race for the Cure. So go ahead and demand more for women at events like Redlands, and I hope you get it, but I think the solution, long-term, is going to be for more women to take the lead in terms of organizing, promoting and driving organizations (events or otherwise) that are articulated around women.

    1. Anne Samplonius | Reply

      Patrick, I could not agree with you more!
      It is why I wrote that we have to stop being overjoyed when we piggy-back off men’s races (like the measly timetrial the women were given last year during the Tour of California). We need our own events. Bring back races like the former HP (which is on the way to happening with the new race in Boise at the end of May). Bring back races like Tour de Montreal.

      Redlands has been a long-standing race for both men and women and I just want to instigate a change beginning this year to “get the ball rolling” so to speak. It is the small inequalities like what takes place at Redlands Sunset stage that do nothing for women’s cycling. I just want to eliminate it.

      But getting more women’s only events is an important piece to the puzzle especially here in North America. In Europe, there is a different demand from the women cyclists: http://marijndevries.nl/?p=4117

      I think we have better chance at media coverage for women in North America than Europe. There most races are stand alone womens events and it is not helping them. Interesting the differences between Europe and North America.

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