Why does the UCI get away with treating women’s cycling so badly?

This week has been frustrating for women’s cycling.  There have been three big stories that demonstrate the difficulties the sport is in – but you’d never know that, from looking at the cycling media

Last Sunday was the Tour of ChongMing Island World Cup, where the result was decided not by great racing, but by a human error, when the last corner wasn’t marked, taking the peloton off course in the last kilometres and allowing an opportunistic attacker, Tetyana Riabchenko, to win solo.  Reports differ as to exactly what happened (here’s the ORICA-AIS report) everyone describes it as an unfortunate mistake by an otherwise excellent race organiser, and of course the peloton may not have caught Riabchenko – but it’s incredibly frustrating that one of the rounds of the World Cup, one of the most prestigious competitions of the year, ends this way.


Then there’s the Tour de Languedoc-Roussillon fiasco.  I find it really hard to write about this calmly, but you can read what I wrote about it yesterday, or Ben Atkins‘ excellent piece on Velonation.  Basically, it was due to start yesterday, but teams were told, with less than 24 hours notice, once they were either there or en route that it was cancelled – and then a shortened race might take place, that there may or may not be police coverage.    All this with a frustrating lack of communication with teams, bad accommodation and terrible food – Annemiek van Vleuten and Iris Slappendel tweeted photos of the lunch, breakfast and another lunch provided for pro cyclists to race on, and Van Vleuten blogged about the whole debacle (in Dutch or google translated).   The current situation is that the race will go ahead starting today (Saturday), one stage shorter, but who knows what will really happen?  Rabobank-Liv/Giant, and fellow Dutch team Boels-Dolmans both left the race in protest – other teams stayed, but with a proviso that if it feels unsafe to ride, they will go too.


And the third annoyance of the week was the Amgen Tour of California “Women’s Invitational Time Trial.  I had very mixed feelings about this from the start.  The Tour of California used to run a women’s crit alongside the men’s race, but then cancelled that, and last year started this.  It’s a very, very limited race – not even nationally ranked, inviting fifteen riders to race.  Last year it caused controversy not only because of the very small field of 12 riders, but also because their initial idea was to bill it as “the Battle of the Sexes”, where the women would only win prize money if they beat men’s times, but also the amount of prize money from a fixed pot would be determined how many men they beat – so the prize money per rider would shrink, the more women did beat men!  Luckily this mad idea – that women’s prizes should be all about the men – was dropped, but it left a bad taste in the mouth, and the organisers swore up and down this was just the first year, and they would work towards a real race that didn’t smack of a sideshow.

But apparently not.  This year it was another “invitational” – only 15 women, only two of them not from the USA, including a triathlete and a cyclocross rider, with some major USA women’s teams missing from the startlist.    I had an disagreement with Dan about this on our last podcast, because Dan thinks I’m being too harsh on the race, and that maybe it takes time to build up to a proper race – but I genuinely don’t understand how, when there are so many great examples of USA races embracing women’s cycling, and running fantastic men’s and women’s races alongside each other (the Sea Otter Classic, the Redlands Bicycle Classic and the Tour of the Gila spring to mind) and with far better prize money than in Europe, this can be the case.  Not for the biggest USA race, the one with all the publicity and international coverage.  All that aside, I understand why people want to support this race, even if I don’t….  and last night it was clear from twitter that people were really enjoying the coverage on Tour Tracker…. until they decided to cut away from the women before the race had finished – even on the text coverage!  It’s inexplicable! They went to a blank screen, and then made sure they showed every single male rider, but couldn’t show the best women ITTers in the USA finish the race, and tell viewers who won – or give updates on poor Amber Neben, who crashed on the course, breaking her hip.  And then AToC put up the video of the “full coverage”, blithely ignoring the fact it’s anything but. So disrespectful to the riders.

So, what does this mean for women’s cycling?

The ITT winner Evelyn Stevens had some pithy points to make about equality after the race on Velonews – and men’s winner Tejay van Garderen also spoke about the need to back women’s racing, in his press conference, but all three of these examples have something in common, something that explains one of the reasons women’s cycling is in such an difficult place – and that’s because the mainstream cycling media don’t talk about it.  We’ll hear more about the AToC debacle, because the media are actually on the spot, but for news on everything else, I know about it because of twitter and information put out by teams.  Here’s the ChongMing race report on Cyclingnews, for example, which says nothing at all about the debacle at the finish.    This is enormously frustrating for fans, but more, it allows the UCI to get away with their terrible treatment of women’s cycling, because there is no media spotlight.  The lovely Ben Atkins wrote about Languedoc, but he’s just one writer, and there’s a blog about it on Bicycling – there’s nothing at all about it on Cyclingnews, Velonews or Cycling Weekly, the biggest English language cycling sites.  Ben chased the Languedoc organisers, the French Federation and the UCI for comments on the situation and none of them replied – but if they’re only being asked by one person, they can afford to decide that’s not important.  The UCI has made no comment on the World Cup ending in an error, not even to say they back the result – and they’ve made no comment on a UCI ranked stage race cancelling at the last minute.  Even I don’t expect them to comment on the Tour Tracker, but they have a very clear rôle in the other two races.

I don’t understand this at all.  These are “clickable” stories – and I can see from the questions, comments, RTs and likes that I’ve had about all of these on twitter, and the numbers of hits on what I’ve written here and on Podium Café, that people are very interested and angry about what’s going on.  I know there is a lot of racing on at the moment, but that’s always the case – and these stories are juicy ones – controversy about how a race ends, controversy about a race organiser, debate over whether teams made the right decision to pull out of the race, or to stay and ride, and an opportunity to shout about the UCI – that should be gold for the cycling media!  And if fans like me can manage to find out and post information, why can’t the paid journalists?  I absolutely love that riders and teams share so much information through twitter, blogs and facebook, but we seem to be in a place where it’s not enough that cyclists race, they also have to be the primary reporters on their sport, too!

It’s all very frustrating.  As fans, we need to tweet and email our favourite sites, and ask them why they’re not covering the sport, tell the Tour Tracker that we’re disappointed in their coverage – or, if you have the inclination like PelotonWatch, write our own blogs, and show the – but we need to hold the cycling media, as well as the institutions, accountable for why women’s cycling is in such a difficult place, and demand change.


UPDATE: Bridie O’Donnell has also blogged about the issues in women’s cycling this week – head over to Cycling Central and read it!

ANOTHER UPDATE!  Bonnie Ford has written about the Tour of California issues, and how riders and teams have a mixture of gratitude and frustration, over on espnW (I really wish someone would give Evie Stevens a copy of the financial justifications for not holding a proper women’s race – what with her being a former Wall Street banker, and all!)


That was a long rant, and I don’t like to start the day on a negative note, so check back to the blog soon for some positivity and ways you can help the sport


24 thoughts on “Why does the UCI get away with treating women’s cycling so badly?

  1. First things first. Sending riders the wrong way is amateurish as is cancelling a day’s racing at short notice. I don’t have an issue with the California race.

    My biggest issue is the current trend of women’s cycling fans demanding that it gets more coverage because… well it’s women isn’t it and therefore it deserves it.

    There’s a worrying trend of positive discrimination where we’re all expected to back and support women’s sport. No one quite knows why.

    • Well, I don’t know where you’re seeing “women’s cycling fans demanding that it gets more coverage because… well it’s women isn’t it and therefore it deserves it.” because I see women’s cycling fans calling for more coverage because we think the racing is fantastic, and the sport’s an exciting one with great competitions. When we get to watch the racing, it’s all that’s great about cycling, and we want more of that. Fair enough, not everyone is a fan of everything, no one expects that, but it does make me laugh that you’re suggesting my fandom is all about positive discrimination!

      • (this was supposed to be a reply to the first comment in the thread. I swear I’m not new to the internet)

    • No. What is expected is that an organisation that flaunts the mission statement ‘to promote the sport of cycling’ does its job and promote the sport of cycling – that includes women’s cycling. Women’s teams pay their fees too. Look at this week, wherein the UCI announced new rules tested in 2014 to make races more spectacular. Yet they can’t put quality control on races to prevent this sort of fiasco’s from happening to women’s races? Fix the women’s racing calendar? They don’t do a thing.

      What’s also expected is that the same organisation doesn’t turn its back on the many people who *do* care. Because they love the sport.

      Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything. Go ahead – don’t care. Nothing is expected of you personally. Though I do find it hilarious that you take so much issue – to the point of writing this comment! – with the perceived Trampling of your Right to Not Care.

  2. Well said Sarah. This isn’t a case of trying to create ‘positive discrimination’ it’s about due recognition of women that work just as hard as men. If sports like triathlon, beach volleyball, swimming and athletics can get equality sorted, cycling has absolutely no excuse. It’s piss poor and these examples just show how poor it is.

    It’s an uphill battle. During the Australian Track Cycling Championships on live, free to air television, one of the commentators said that women road cyclists didn’t deserve a minimum wage like the male road riders did. The Australian Road Cycling Championships were shown on tv too. Well the men’s race was. The women got a race recap less than 30 seconds long. Same for the time trial and crit. The Tour Down Under has three attached women’s crits in the biggest week of cycling in Australia. These didn’t even get a two second mention anywhere. This is a country that supplies a huge amount of the pro cyclists on the world stage and the poor girls can’t even get two seconds mention on the news.

    if it wasn’t for people like you and our fellow twitter bandwagoners the women’s side wouldn’t get any coverage at all. And that’s not acceptable. Period. It’s high time the UCI pulled their fingers out of their arse to build the sport not treating it as some bastard stepchild. I’m pretty sure the UCI rate BMX as more important…

  3. Interested party :
    My biggest issue is the current trend of women’s cycling fans demanding that it gets more coverage because… well it’s women isn’t it and therefore it deserves it.
    There’s a worrying trend of positive discrimination where we’re all expected to back and support women’s sport. No one quite knows why.

    First off, thanks Interested Party for swinging by and joining in on the broader conversation! Always great to meet new people and hear about their experiences and perspectives.

    I do find your two final assertions quite baffling though. Firstly you say that you have an issue with women’s cycling fans demanding more coverage because it’s women and so it deserves it. I can’t speak for the sum total of human experience, but I will swear on a stack of Dr Who DVDs (or whatever holy works you prefer) that I’ve never heard a women’s cycling fan say anything of the sort.

    Every women’s cycling fan I’ve ever heard speak on the subject has basically used a less profane version of my general argument “It’s fucking awesome bike racing and there’s a fuck-tonne of money to be made from it if the right parties would just get involved and make it everything it could fucking well be. Fuck me I just want to see more women racing bikes.”

    Of course, I may be misunderstanding you and you didn’t intend to accuse women’s cycling fans of being a strange form of sexist fascists who are trying to force everyone to watch their beloved sport.

    Now, onto your second point where you accuse women’s cycling fans of being a strange form of sexist fascists who are trying to force everyone to watch their beloved sport.

    Are you fucking serious?

    Fans of a sport who advocate for better coverage of the sport worry you? You must be terrified of football, tennis, golf and darts fans just to name a few. Snooker fans must send chills down your spine.

    Suggesting that the correct response to seeing inequality in a sport’s administration and organisational structures is to ignore it, as it might disrupt people who don’t care about it has got to be one of the more amazing things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been using the internet for over 20 years.

    But all of this is completely irrelevant to this post because this post is about organisational problems with existing races. So it’s not about demanding more support, it’s about demanding the frameworks and structures in place that actually ensure that what’s promised is delivered.

    It’s about the UCI’s claimed role of governance and oversight. It’s about getting to see the things that we wanted to see. Right now Twitter is awash with people bitching about Giro coverage not being available because the stage route has been modified. That’s what it’s like to be a fan of women’s cycling, every fucking race. You’re fucking right we’ll complain about it. Loudly too. We love this sport, and we’re determined to see it improve. If it’s a case of supply and demand, that’s fine. We’re demanding supply. Nobody said you had to join us, just don’t try to stop us.

  4. Great post. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand any of it. Yesterday I was watching the cut-off Cali TT in the same hour Marijn de Vries was interviewed about Languedoc. It was just…

    Though on the upside, she was interviewed about it – and on national radio. (Dutch radio is quite good about covering women’s cycling, and they need stories daily) She was extremely eloquent, too. Obviously angry, but clear. With voices like hers and so many others you only need a few people in media who don’t even have to be passionate, but simply say, ‘sure, why not?’ and you have some attention. And that seems to happen. Which is positive – as well as frustrating, because come on, how difficult is it? – and encouraging. As a Dutchie I get the impression that Vos’s immense popularity does a lot for the sport here as well, but that’s nothing more than an impression.

    A question. Is there anything you can do towards your national union, if you’re a member? (I suspect our national union doesn’t hold much clout with the UCI, as they’ve been scorching in their critique last fall, but still)

    • Thanks for the comments! I wish I could have heard Marijn talk about it, because she’s always so good at this (that journalism training!) – I can’t wait to read her blogs about this whole race, once she gets near some wifi.

      I love that Dutch media are so supportive of the racing. Getting to see the Ronde van Drenthe live from the Dutch feed was fabulous (well, until too much demand for it crashed the server!). I can imagine that the Vos effect is huge, but then you have the Van Moorsel effect etc etc before that. And isn’t it just so incredibly Vos-like that she uses her influence to make comments supporting her team-mates, and helping raise attention of this? She is so easy to like! Such a great ambassador for the sport!

      I think it’s always useful to email national Federations, and tell them how you feel about the treatment of women’s racing – and if they want to fight with the UCI, it gives them another reason! 😉 I’ll email British Cycling, because it’s always good to try as many routes as possible…

  5. I quite like cycling, not really bothered much about gender. However, 1. Women still make up 51% of the worlds population. 2. I want to see more cycling. 3. My two kids think I’m making it up when I say women race too. 4. Arguably the worlds best active professional rider is a woman – Vos. 5. The racing is rather bloody good.

    Let’s also remember that for those business people out there, women’s cycling has the largest potential growth. Rates of women cycling are about one third that of men in many countries outside those with great cycling infrastructure (Holland, Denmark). I’m not saying this is the solution, just part of it. Mainstream media can certainly highlight to young women that this is a thing that they can do. Exposure on tv is one reason why we see so many women running for health and charity.

    • I never understand why some cycling fans get really upset by the idea of women’s cycling being shown – because it’s cycling! It doesn’t hurt them, they don’t have to watch, but me, I want to see more cycling, all the time! I honestly can’t comprehend why this minority of people object to the idea of more cycling on tv/online, when they say they love the sport!

      • I can only assume they are the same people that run golf clubs, gentleman’s clubs or make those awful sorts of comments to women out riding that Cathy Bussey mentioned recently and Dawn Foster highlighted a couple of years ago.

        I’ve mentioned to GCN that they need to do more women’s cycling. They do some but replied saying they can’t be everywhere. Thing is, where they are mostly (at the World Tour) is where everyone else is. all competing on the same news stories. It would be great to see the co-opt with the women’s teams to get more content in to the GCN channels. As you mentioned, they write some great post race blogs and getting access to video equipment/skills/channels would be great opportunity for the teams (outside of Orica and Spesh -LL) and GCN to expand the audience.

  6. Reblogged this on Jaunty Angle and commented:
    Last time I checked, women made up around 51% of the worlds population. Yet, in cycling, as with many sports, women are traditionally under represented in the mainstream media. Most people in the UK could name a male cyclist today. Possibly two or three. Could they name one woman gold medalist? Outside of track, have they ever seen a road race?

    Sara Connolly, looks back at an especially bad week for the women’s peloton in professional racing and the entire lack of coverage – bar a few YouTube videos – that they get.

  7. Okay, so with all due respect to the commentaries and opinions posted here, the great job Sarah is doing, and the rather amusing (but unfortunately sad) podcast about the TLR fiasco . . . . perhaps there is room for a little more action to take place, rather than simply beating the subject to death here? I recently asked the people at the UCI in Aigle, “Who is responsible for the promotion of women’s road racing?” I received this response:

    The Road Commission is involved with the promotion of women’s road cycling: (http://www.uci.ch/templates/UCI/UCI1/layout.asp?MenuId=MTI3MDI&LangId=1)

    I am the new road coordinator on the commission and would be happy to receive your email.

    Kind regards,

    Matthew Knight
    Sport Coordinator – Road
    Union Cycliste Internationale
    CH – 1860 Aigle
    Tel : +41 24 468 58 11

    May I respectfully suggest that anybody who wishes to see some improvements in the promotion, organisation, attendance, participation, media coverage, prize money, etc, of women’s road racing, WRITE to Matthew Knight and express your concerns, voice your displeasure, suggest your ideas, and make your case. Ask for confirmation that your email has been received. Be polite and eloquent about it, show that you’re serious, and request a forum for discussion. But LET’S DO SOMETHING! (I’d be happy to assist in the coordination of such action, if necessary.)

  8. Interesting side-note: the 7 members of the UCI road commission are all male, not one woman! (Sarah, you have my email address, in case you’d like to discuss a plan of action.)

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