Increasing races & exposure for women’s cycling

October 12, 2011

Organizing a race is expensive, which is why we’ve lost beautiful independent races like the Tour de l’Aude. Road closures, safety measures, broadcast facilities, it all adds up. The solution is still as simple as it is obvious, and I have advocated it before: Make it mandatory for every WorldTour race to also organize a women’s race.

The costs would negligible as everything is already organized for the men’s race. Fleche Wallone and the Tour of Flanders shows how to do it, with the women’s race is an hour or so ahead of the men’s race.

Not only is organizing a women’s race just before the men’s cheap, it’s also smart marketing. Remember how the UCI’s job is to promote the sport? What better way to do that than to expose the fans waiting for the men’s race to the women’s race first? Think of it as an opening act at a concert, most successful bands have started out as an opening act for somebody bigger before they flourished on their own.

Since there are plenty of boring moments during a bike race, the men’s race broadcast can also be combined with the women’s race without much effort or cost.

Most of you will know that I am also an advocate of making a women’s team mandatory for any organization fielding a WorldCup team. This too can be done at no cost, while at the same time making men’s racing more exciting (huh, what? yes!) That however is a longer story, so I’ll need to find some time to write all that up.

Whenever it’s ready, you’ll get it automatically if you subscribe here.

38 Responses to “Increasing races & exposure for women’s cycling”

  1. cycling pro Says:

    Entirely agree on each of your proposals! Furthermore, mens pro racing is, at the moment, for the vast majority of races, rather boring (no action, just sprint finals in most races, no escape group ever makes it, except the classics), but that is another topic to discuss (How make pro racing more exciting?).
    Womens racing is usually much more interesting and entertaining with a lot of action going on in the races. Would be a good addition to any boring cycling TV coverage..

  2. I am of the opinion that cycling, and for that matter, other sports should have a mandatory element to TV rights whereby organisations who win rights to broadcast mens events should be made to broadcast the women’s events as well.
    This will bring more value to women’s sponsors, and hence more money to the sport.

  3. Neil Says:

    Can I just mention that the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, which rode past my office window this afternoon, is running in conjunction with a women’s stage race: the Honda Hybrid Women’s Tour. Two for the price of one – kudos to the organizers.

  4. Martin Says:

    Agree with you 100%. There really is no good reason not to have a womens race before the mens. If the UCI were even remotely interested in promoting womens racing this would be introduced immediately.

  5. I fully agree with this! This should be a requirement for larger UCI events.
    And even if they cannot broadcast the women race on TV as the TV station may no have the opportunity with the airtime, they can use the women race as a rehersal and broadcast their race on the internet.

  6. rich_mutt Says:

    I’ve had the same theory for a while now about women’s sports- that the most successful ones are those that are held in conjunction with male sports. Tennis, Track and Field, etc. I think it’s a great idea.

  7. connie Says:

    What made women’s cycling great in the USA during my career (late 70’s through 84) was the fact that historically all men’s races had women’s races. The Red Zinger/Coors Classic was the first really big race in the US that was recognized by Europeans. Michael Aisner did a great job bringing top international women’s teams to the Bike Race here in Colorado which made all the difference in my development and made it possible for me to win the Olympics in 1984.

    So when I was asked by the Governor of Colorado to help bring the Bike Race (as we always referred to it, as if it was the ONLY race ;-) back to Colorado – I said YES for sure as long as we were talking a pro men’s race and a women’s race side by side. EVERYONE in the mix agreed to this until the sponsor came in. At which point the women’s race flew out the window and I spent about 6 months hitting my head against the proverbial wall. It wasn’t a glass ceiling, believe me – it was a stone wall.

    What happened? The model of a successful race did not include a women’s event. There was a lot of fear about making it successful – I knew it would be successful and that if we did not include a women’s race – perhaps it would never ever have one. Ever.

    Luckily Jessica Phillips (a top racer) was not to be denied. She lived in Aspen and was able to work with the local community to minimally throw together a 3 day women’s event, concluding on the day when the men raced into Aspen.

    Even more fortunate is the fact that the director of the men’s race is Shawn Hunter who only came into the fold last winter. When I first met with him, he asked me for a list of ‘grievances.’ First and foremost, the lack of a women’s race I said. He was puzzled, “women’s race? I did not know that was an option.”

    Therein lies the crucial point: OPTION. It should not have been an option.

    If anyone is following this thread – thanks Gerard for making it possible – I’ll finish by saying that I hope the women’s portion of the race will expand in Colorado in 2012. I do not yet have any guarantee that it will but I can still hope.

    As to UCI responsibility, I believe strongly that any NEW races include a women’s race. Tour of Beijing is a prime example. Global cycling must include women. If not, we are marginalized, sidelined and forever dwarfed.

    What do you think?

    • Great job Jessica and Connie!
      It has been my experience working with race promoters that adding a women’s race only increases the opportunity for sponsor support. There are many, many companies that would not consider a bike race until you mention women. The demographic is very desirable especially considering that women make 85% of household economic decisions.
      Also, while women’s cycling numbers are lower in many areas, bike shops that do a good job of providing women’s gear and a comfortable shopping experience do report almost a 50/50 split in male/female customers.
      The reality is that women are riding bikes but without appropriate compensation, they are not likely to move in to cycling on a “professional” level.
      When I got in to riding I didn’t even know that there were opportunities for women in cycling because the media did not cover it.
      There are so many issues at work here. Ladies, we are the future of cycling. We have to work for a change.

  8. Tim H Says:

    I 100% disagree with your politically correct position on this. There are WAY fewer female bicycle riders and racers than men. There are WAY fewer female bikes and gear sold than men’s bikes and gear. The woman’s races attract nowhere near the audience/interest level of the men’s races.

    And yet you are trying to say they should be compensated the same as men? You want struggling men’s races to subsidize uneconomic women’s races? Smaller market, fewer riders, lower interest … Wow.

    • Where do I say they should be compensated the same as men? And where do I say men’s races should subsidize the women’s races?

      If what you say is true, and men’s races are struggling, then they shouldn’t be held either, should they, according to your logic?

      Women currently make up about 25% of the road race market, but nowhere near 25% of the federation or race organizers’ spend. Furthermore, it’s a chicken and egg story, of course women’s racing is smaller when the races are smaller. And while that is a valid reason for a business to back out, it’s not a valid reason for a federation that has OBLIGATED ITSELF to promote women’s cycling.

      • Tim H Says:

        In some areas, you did say women should be compensated the same as men.You said “For example, if you get money from your national olympic committee to prepare for London 2012 (as many athletes do), your gender shouldn’t matter.”

        While you later say later an athlete should be compensated differently for different sports (I agree), different locations (I agree), you think men’s or women’s events should be compensated the same? I disagree. If the compensation should vary by sport popularity, location popularity, why not viewership popularity also? Women’s figure skating outdraws men’s and the women should be compensated more than the men, not equally. In most sports where women’s events do not draw anywhere near the men’s (like cycling), they should be compensated much less.

        I am not the one who said men’s races are struggling (although I agree), you did in the first sentence of this post. You then say it won’t be too expensive to force the organizers to include a woman’s race. This isn’t YOUR judgement to make. If you want a women’s race, YOU put it on, do not force your politically correct views on others. It’s the same issue with title 9 support in the US. Many men’s collegiate programs had to be cancelled because the sports departments were forced to equally fund money losing women’s programs.

        If you force organizers to fund women’s races, even more races will fold. Stop trying to force your politically correct (and liberal) views on others by using the UCI as your tool of enforcement for uneconomic policies.

      • david Says:

        Gerald in reply to Tim H: “If what you say is true, and men’s races are struggling, then they shouldn’t be held either, should they, according to your logic?”

        No, of course not. Nothing Tim H said commits him to the inference that, since men’s pro racing is struggling, they should stop racing. He was challenging what he took to be the import of your position: men’s pro racing should subsidize women’s pro racing. His point was, it seems to me, that such a proposition is even more difficult to accept given the current, difficult conditions of men’s pro racing.

        Gerald claims that the UCI has obligated itself to promote women’s racing. I’m no master of the UCI’s charter or its rules. I’ll grant it. Is it obligated to promote women’s racing even if that requires forcing men’s pro race organizers and teams to fund women’s pro racing? I’d like to see the evidence that the UCI is obligated to do that. Certainly Pat McQuaid doesn’t think so. But, here’s a question. Do men’s pro race organizers, men’s teams, and male riders have an obligation, aside from any UCI mandates, to fund women’s pro racing? Absolutely not. If the UCI placed that burden on men’s pro racing any more than it already does, the men’s side of the sport would be right to balk and leave the UCI.

        I’ve only participated in organizing small, amateur level races. But, no one can say that running a pro women’s road race concurrently with a pro men’s road race, say the Tour of California or the Tour de France, does not require significant increases in costs. If the men and women are on the road at the same time, then clearly you need two sets of crews to run both races. That means additional police officers and race officials and race support crews. Secondly, the race staff at the beginning and end of the races must work longer hours. Thirdly, if both are to be televised, as some have suggested, then the costs of covering both races at the same time have increased. You need more cameras on the road. How many more man hours, . . . errr . . .people hours are we already talking about? Police officers are not cheap. if the cities or counties are to pay for them, you’ve now just increased their costs of running a race through their cities or counties. What about prize money and participation stipends? The same? Wow, we are talking about significance cost increases here. Last I heard, the the Tour of California is NOT making money. And, now the women and their sympathizers want to impose significant cost increases on the race? The more expensive you make it to run a men’s road race, the fewer there will be.

        The women racers and their sympathizers demand that the men’s side of the sport pay the costs, on the grounds of equality. Equality? Really?? Is not their principle here only this? We want to race in the prestigious races and we want higher salaries, so you, men, are obligated to give us what we want. That’s the way I read it, and it’s just childishness.

        Jessica Phillips is to be applauded for taking the initiative she took in Colorado. With all due to respect to Connie (and she is due a great amount of it), I suggest that next year she should spend her time helping Jessica put on a better and better race running alongside the Challenge, rather than imploring men to give her what she wants.

  9. Hi Tim, you literally said in your first comment: “You want struggling men’s races to subsidize uneconomic women’s races?” So yes, you called the men’s races “struggling”.

    As for compensation, if you read carefully you will notice that I call for unequal funding for different sports, locations AND gender. The exception i funding coming from national olympic committees and the like. That funding usually comes from tax and/or lottery funding. If women contribute to that funding through paying taxes and buying lottery tickets, they are entitled to the benefit by having women’s sports supported (we can have a whole discussion about tax dollars being used for any athlete support, personally I think that’s crazy, but that’s a different discussion).

    As for forcing views, it seems you are against international sports federations and olympic committees since you feel the market should decide everything. That’s fine, I can agree with that to a large degree.

    But the fact of the matter is that these organizations exist in our society, and that they have accepted the mandate to promote men’s and women’s sports. So they should, or return half of their mandate.

    Finally, since it is the obligation of the federation to promote men’s and women’s sports, it can demand men’s and women’s races in exchange for a WorldTour license. Race organizers who don’t like it can decide to organize their event without such a license (for example the Tour de France). The bottom line is that the race organizers receive a benefit from their association with the WorldTour, and in exchange the owner of the WorldTour can demand some benefits in return.

    • Tim H Says:

      OK, sounds like we think closer than your posts led me to infer. I also agree tax support of athletics is crazy. You certainly won’t find any such language in our constitution.

      They can still try to support women’s sports if that’s their charter, through voluntary support, not legislative edict. Try to attract women’s sponsors through special federation/women’s sponsorship, try to convince race holders to support women’s races, etc. But trying to force PC compliance through legislation is bad policy at best. Instead, convince the organizers how this will somehow make them more money.

  10. Bob Says:

    just checked 3t site, lots of pro women photo’s. Do you have something to do with it? anyway i think it is a good thing…

  11. trounder Says:

    Mr. Vrooman- I think you and Connie are much closer to the “powers-that-be” in the professional cycling scene than we the fans. How can we help your efforts to convince our national, and ultimately the international, governing bodies of this sport to accelerate the development of women’s road racing events? Your opinions and excellent suggestions are “on the record.” That’s great, but now what?

  12. […] Once again Gerard Vroomen is on the money with his commentary on his blog. In his latest post he talks about the idea of including a professional women’s race as part of all the high profile professional men’s races. He also suggests that every men’s pro team should have a women’s team. A number of them already do including Australia’s new team Greenedge, but there’s always room for more. Read his whole post here. […]

  13. tom hewitt Says:

    If female riders and their fans are dissatisfied with the women’s cycling situation their ire should be directed at the UCI. If that organization can’t be convinced to increase the promotion of women’s cycling then it’s time to move on. The sad excuse that berths on Olympic teams are dependent on the current administration is simply lame. The idea that teams and organizers be coerced into maintaining women’s teams and organizing races for them is morally reprehensible. The sport and its participants have done negligible work in creating public awareness, at least in the US. You couldn’t find anyone in a random sample of urban pedestrians in the country that could give you the name of ONE female cyclist. Professional sports leagues like the NFL give free food, drink, accommodations and who knows what else in exchange for dump trucks full of cheap publicity that drive ticket sales and media coverage. The races themselves aren’t as important as the personalities involved. Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, and yes, Lance Armstrong, are bigger than the sports that propelled them to international fame. That’s because people identify with other people, not with an activity.

    • david Says:

      Hear, Hear! Tom Hewitt says: “The idea that teams and organizers be coerced into maintaining women’s teams and organizing races for them is morally reprehensible.” He is absolutely right. I would have used the phrase, “morally repugnant”, myself. Nevertheless, . . .

  14. Ebony Princess Says:

    Tim H.: When you say,” It’s the same issue with title 9 support in the U.S. Many men’s collegiate programs had to be cancelled because the sports departments were forced to equally fund money losing women’s programs. — “Where is your proof?

    You fail to understand that the current cycling programs in the U.S. are not governed by the NCAA and therefore not subjected to Title IV rules!! Get your facts straight!!

    I agree with you “tom Hewitt” but as we have read the women do not complain to the UCI directly, do they? Instead they talk about their frustration to journalists. I say channel your inner strength ladies’ and take the issue with the proper channels. Certainly, Billie Jean King and the rest did that for tennis. Where is the Billie Jean King of cycling? Perhaps not born yet!

    You hit the nail on the head in that if I walked down my street and asked anyone to name a U.S. female cyclist the person would look at me as if I dropped from Mars!! “Tom Hewitt” there is no real campaign to bring women cycling personalities to the front row. Perhaps we need a campaign like the one they did for American alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn during and before the recent winter Olympics.

    I definitely think that women’s racing is in need of some good exposure and further marketing at the community, national and international levels. The large issue itself is that governing bodies have stayed clear from bringing up the women’s issue at the discussion table and until this happens women’s cycling will remain the same.

    In the U.S. fresh in our minds in the announcement of both the National Racing Calendar (NRC) and National Criterium Calendar (NCC) so although the news talks about Janel Holcomb (San Diego, CA/Colavita-Forno d’Asolo) nowhere is a photo of her. Thus, the invisible female racer’s face lives on.

    • Dan Connelly Says:

      Collegiate cycling doesn’t require anything. Instead points are combined for women’s and men’s teams, so it is in a team’s interest to have both. If you don’t have a woman’s team, you don’t win the championship. UCI cycling could do a similar thing.

      On events, I really enjoy reading Connie’s comments here. But should the Ore-Ida been forced to have a men’s event? That was arguably the best woman’s event in the world, and would have ranked with any men’s event, perhaps because it was able to fucus on the women #1, and not as a side-show.

      Tour of California argues it is unable to provide housing and get road closures for concurrent men’s and women’s events. Given the political challenge of reducing car access to roads in California, and even more so in national parks, it seems quite plausible a concurrent race requirement would be the tipping point for events of marginal stability, and I can’t think of a single stable bike race in the US. Every single one is one incident away from losing its course.

    • Tim H Says:

      I hope this post wont be censored like my last post.

      Ebony, try to follow here. I am comparing men’s racing being forced to subsidize women’s racing with men’s college sports being forced to subsidize women’s programs under Title IX. This has resulted in dropping of many men’s sports programs, just like forcing men’s races to subsidize women’s races would force the cancellation of many men’s races. Got it?

      Oh, and for my proof, here it is. Dispute it if you can.

      Click to access cj19n2-9.pdf

      “In brief, the average number of male teams offered by an NCAA Division I institution fell from 10.2 in 1981-82 to 8.9 in 2004-2005 (a decrease of 14 percent) while the average number of women’s teams rose from 7.3 to 10.2 (an increase of 40 percent).

      Some male sports are going extinct. The number of Division 1 men’s gymnastics teams shrunk from 59 to 17 between 1981 and 2004; wrestling teams declined from 146 to 86; and even the number of Division 1A football teams — the villains in the eyes of Title IX’s most active proponents — fell from 137 to 117. This isn’t good for sports, and it’s not good for women. “

      • No censorship, I’ve accepted much worse :-). But WordPress has a pretty active spam filter, and that’s where your previous attempt probably ended up.

      • Anonymous Says:

        not sure where to put my comments in but here goes…Im not reading that the men’s races should pay for the women’s anywhere, did I miss that? I do agree that a cycling team should be a cycling team with both men’s and women’s sections and that women should be paid the same amount in prize money as the men per kilometer raced. I took the kiwi national women’s team up to the trophée des grimpers one year -8 hour drive for a 60kms race? the next weekend we were racing a world cup in montreal with 130kms….how was 60kms going to cut it? and the prize money?? 19 cents per km raced where as the men was 23 Euros per km raced.
        as for the UCI, where is the proof that they promote women’s cycling? Where is the TV coverage they promised in 2004 when we put together a syndicate at the UCI? I see alot of wealth out of cycling going to the same group of GOB’s but not much going on to develop a happy family be it on the men’s or women’s side.
        Organizers could also hold world cup events for women during their longer stage races which gives them a high caliber event -the tour de france FOR EXAMPLE could hold a women’s event on the mondovelo etape du tour courses or in junction with a men’s stage.
        as for the men’s gymnastics teams and wrestling teams in the comments above that dwindled, doubt that has much to do with title 9, women’s gymnastics is far more exciting to watch and wrestling hasnt done well for years…and if as you say the men’s events are more market attractive than let these men see what it’s like to hit the streets and find sponsors! If theyre the market attraction their teams will rise again.

  15. ea Says:

    Gerard / Connie –

    I think co-promotion is a good idea but i am curious about whether smaller teams have the funds transport two sets of teams to each (WorldTour) race ?

  16. david Says:

    A timely article from the Santa Maria Times on the costs of hosting the Tour of California in Solvang.

    Some highlights.

    “City and tourism officials no longer expect America’s largest professional cycling race to return to Solvang in 2012 because organizers of the Amgen Tour of California have not lowered their financial demands.”

    “”They [AEG] really don’t have the capacity to reduce the (financial) requirements considerably,” Vidro added.

    “They’re just struggling. Costs are high, and they’re in it to make money.”

  17. […] for every World Tour squad or for big race organisers to put on a women’s race too, with Gerard Vroomen making some great arguments. I like these ideas… but maybe there’s more to be […]

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Tim H. Thank you for clarifying your point.

    Regardless of all the media write-ups, the fact remains that we need to forge ahead for women’s visibility, participation and at least a minimum salary in cycling worldwide. The men seem to enjoy a minimum salary regardless how mediocre of a rider he maybe; however, as you know, the minimum salary is something NON-EXISTANT in women’s cycling anywhere. How should a female rider survive? I urge you to check out Australian professional — Bridie O’Donnell on the issue by visiting this link

    The UCI should perhaps implement a policy such as Dan Connelly mentions: {collegiate cycling doesn’t require anything. Instead points are combined for women’s and men’s teams, so it is in a team’s interest to have both. If you don’t have a woman’s team, you don’t win the championship. UCI cycling could do a similar thing.}

    I am confident if the UCI made such a move, you will see how fast the money is found to field such teams.

    BTW… I did shed some tears at the ‘burial of all those male sports’ – NOT!! I have witnessed many of these same male teams enjoy great budgets at the expense of women’s teams. So it is time for the WOMEN period!

  19. Ebony Princess Says:

    Sorry, the Anonymous on October 28, 2011 at 00:07 is from Ebony Princess. I am dumbfounded why the name did not appear.

  20. Ebony Princess Says:

    Tim H. If you cannot stand the HEAT get out of the kitchen.

  21. Its a noble thought that each pro race and each top tier pro team include a women’s component. I suggest each of us consider the what would happen to the smaller teams and sponsors if each proposal was required.
    For example the original ProTour threatened some great and old races with loss of sponsorship as they would no longer get the top teams if th3ey did not get ProTour status.
    Nobility isn’t always practical or workable, nor does it always solve the cause of a problem.
    I supported the idea for mandatory races/teams in the past… after discussing it with race organizers; (many of which were great supporters of the women) they made it clear it was often hard to get large enough womens fields and having to settle with combining fields of pro/1/2/3 to have a good field. All this while turning away men racers with 150 to 200 rider limits.
    Its also true of teams… all though the costs might appear small, it could be that some could not support a women’s component with the additional staff.
    This is an economic and logistic problem and one can’t just legislate his way out of such problems by raising a demand.
    Such is the case with college athletic teams – there was only so much money in the athletic departments and something had to give when women’s teams were expanded. (A lof of this money in the programs btw came out of income off the men’sVarsity Football ticket sales and TV share by the way.)
    Economic problems call for an economic solution many of which would and could solve as cycling becomes more popular and richer. .
    What pro team wouldn’t support a women’s team if it was a profitable enterprise, we could say the same with women’s component at WorldTour races.
    Money solves a lot of logistic problems… as Solvang might attest.
    As Tom Hewitt said above ask most Americans to name a Women’s cycling star they couldn’t but thats equally true for pro men’s cycling (other than off chance a few might name Lance Armstrong.)
    You might as well ask when was the last time you watched a Pro cycling race on TV or went to one in a town near you. In fact many probably don’t know that there is a pro race near them on any given sunday.
    Thats the reality in the USA; and I imagine elsewhere in the world outside of Europe where cycling is part of the culture.
    There are probably more column inches in USA newspapers on complaints about bike commuters and Novitski’s investigation of Armstrong than reports on bike races in the usa or europe. This is not the case in Belgium, Italy or Holland and even there as a friend in Holland recently reminded me it is still second to footie (Soccer).
    Bike racing is not as well known generally than other professional sports. Maybe I’m wrong but sadly I don’t think so.
    Any marketer would tell us that women constitute at least half of the market to consume bikes and bike racing and its worth the effort to do what we can to help it grow.
    A thought: One could set up an organisation of bike manufacturers who are willing to give a Euro per low cost bike and 5 Euros for a top end mount and set up a fund to support an advertising campaign to promote bike use and racing to the public. This group could also suport through advertising the televising of races including women’s races and give grants to start women’s pro teams. This well run, could raise public awareness of the sport and the joys and benefits of bike riding.
    The UCI could also give encentives to teams that have a women’s component such as waiving the registrations or making them available at a discount they couuld do as well for races.
    In the end if cycling grows richer each of these as problems becomes ever more solvable and possible.
    But the key is Promotion and marketing to build a much larger international fan base. And thus become a greater draw for sponsors and TV coverage.

  22. Addy Says:

    As a junior female cyclist, on a professional cycling team, this subject very debatable. All I have to say is, it makes me so up set to watch the junior boys get so many more opportunities to go and learn and do many races in Europe with the national team. As for all the junior women, our first international race was the world championships. I felt unprepared and unimportant when compared to the junior boys because I knew they spent much more time preparing in Europe.

    Rather than coveting the junior boys’ opportunities, I have never felt so honored and proud to have been able to represent the USA and compete in my first international race, something that most people only dream about.

    My dreams, my passion, my focus, my effort, my skill, my talent, my sacrifice from normal teenager life, and my responsibility as an ambassador for this sport are as equal as any other athlete; male or female.

  23. […] and Cervelo founder Gerard Vroomen has also been outspoken on the subject of the profile of women’s cycling and the […]

  24. […] the needed development to Justify or qualify for a minimum wage? Gerard Vroomen hosted a lively debate on his blog regarding what might be done for the […]

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