Analysis: Women’s cycling is stronger than ever, but there is a long way to go for parity

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Women’s road racing is as strong as ever.

The number of high-quality events has grown dramatically over the past few years, as has the number of bigger budget teams paying large salaries to runners. With that, the strength and depth of the peloton exploded, making the race even more exciting.

However, parity with the men’s race is still so far away.

Team salaries and budgets are still minimal compared to their male counterparts, and women’s races can often feel like an afterthought rather than a major event. Progress has been made, and it has had a huge impact, but there is still a long way to go.

Flanders Classics – the organizers of races such as the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem – has been one of the great forces in helping to push women’s cycling to new heights.

“If you see where women’s cycling has come from and how it has evolved in recent years, it’s amazing and it’s great,” said Tomas Van Den Spiegel, CEO of Flanders Classics. VeloNews.

Also read: The Outer Line: Race economics – what COVID-19 revealed

“We’re really building something here. We’re creating an interest in women’s cycling and I think that’s the main goal, to gain fans and have better TV coverage, and for people to realize that it’s as good as men’s racing.

Viewing figures showed increasing interest in the women’s race, with Marianne Vos’s Amstel Gold victory watched by more people in the Netherlands than Wout Van Aert’s victory in the same race. The cold, hard numbers have put an end to the idea that people don’t care.

A growing number of races are now rewarding die-hard fans with live footage. A successful Healthy Aging Tour crowdfunding campaign for TV coverage has shown viewers are ready to put their money where they want.

A long way to go for parity

Tomas Van Den Spiegel joined Flanders Classics as CEO in 2018 Photo: David Pintens / Belga / AFP via Getty Images

It can be easy to get carried away by the progress that has been made over the past decade, but there is still a very long way to go before there is anything that can be considered to be on par. with the masculine side of sport.

The women’s calendar is still relatively small, as is the number of races available to watch on television. While the average salary in the WorldTour peloton has increased by 25% – according to a study commissioned by the UCI – the Cycling Alliance reported that the pay gap between the ups and downs of the sport is increasing in 2020.

Also read: CEO of Flanders Classics: “ The prize money was in line with the UCI’s financial obligations ”

A survey by The Cyclists’ Alliance showed that the number of professional female runners receiving no pay rose from 17% to 25% between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, women’s cash prizes continue to be a hot topic.

Flanders Classics has been the target of criticism for the disparity between its prices at Omloop H and Niewsblad. Female winner Anna van der Breggen received just € 930 ($ 1,100) while male winner Davide Ballerini took home € 16,000 ($ 19,500).

“We believe that women’s cycling still has a lot of challenges to overcome. The prize money is one of them, it’s very symbolic and probably the easiest to understand in the whole business model of cycling today, ”said Van Den Spiegel.

“Giving equal prices today won’t make a difference for sport. The difference will be in TV coverage, it will be in better wages for the runners, in more attractiveness of the product for the sponsors.

“I think there needs to be a broader perspective, it’s not something that will solve the challenges that women’s cycling has yet to overcome in the short or long term. Of course, this is very important and you cannot underestimate it, but I think the starting salaries and money are as important as the cash prizes.

Also read: Flanders Classics expands support for women’s running

Van Den Spiegel’s claim that prize money is not something that needs to be fixed immediately is controversial, and many disagree with her.

In an interview with the BBC, Ceratizit-WNT runner Lizzy Banks said women feel undervalued.

Fans took matters into their own hands at Strade Bianche with a crowdfunding campaign so that the female winner took home as many prizes as the men. The campaign raised more than € 26,000 ($ 31,700).

Van Den Spiegel said he and Flanders Classics are still aiming for price parity over the next two years.

“It’s something we’re working towards,” he said. “We launched our plan last year and hope to get the same price by 2023 and we’ll do whatever we can to have it, but in the meantime we’ll do whatever we can to tackle these other challenges. . “

Stand alone

Flanders Classics has been criticized for giving out awards at Omloop Het Niewsblad
Flanders Classics has been criticized for giving out awards at Omloop Het Niewsblad Photo credit: Bas Czerwinski / Getty Images

Flanders Classics is hosting six women’s events, with the classic sprinter Scheldeprijs the latest addition this year. At present, all races are held on the same day as the men’s equivalent.

It’s a format that secures big crowds for both races, but often means the women’s event is drowned out by men’s coverage. Over time, Van Den Spiegel hopes that each race can be a stand-alone event, but not yet.

“That’s the end goal, but you have to make a decision for the benefit of women’s races. If you see what we did with the women’s show after the men’s show, it’s about building that crowd with the men’s show and trying to get people to watch the women’s run, ”he said. said Van Den Spiegel. VeloNews.

Also read: Demi Vollering aims high after rapid start to professional career

“This is something that we are looking at for the future and working on, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to do it yet.”

Currently, women’s racing comes at a cost for Flanders Classics, but Van Den Spiegel believes that will change quickly when he is able to create a standalone event and fully monetize his TV coverage.

“We saw a change from a couple of years ago when broadcasters weren’t interested in women’s racing. Now they really are, ”he said. “The next step is to value these television rights, because right now women’s rights are not very valuable and broadcasters are not yet ready to invest large sums.

“The day you organize a standalone event for women, it allows you to market it on its own. It does not have to be the same day with the same course or the same sponsors as it is today. “

One change that Flanders Classics has made in the immediate term is to change the schedule of its events. By moving the women’s races to finish after the men’s races, it gave her a bigger platform.

Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic have made logistics much easier and it will be a bigger challenge in 2022 when the roads are expected to be much busier.

“In the days of COVID, we don’t have this mobility issue where people are trying to get to the finish or the cobbled hills. This is something that we have to consider for this year, how are we going to solve this, ”said Van Den Spiegel.

“We also liked it a lot and we saw the share that women had on television compared to before. There is a huge difference and we know that we have started something that we have to try to follow.



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