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.
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.