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Cycling and the unspoken

Anyone who’s been a cycling fan for more than five minutes has had to confront the doping question, explaining to friends & family why we still follow the sport, explaining Lance Armstrong, looking at Tour de France performances and questioning them even when it’s riders we love.  But sometimes I think the doping question is used as an excuse to hide every other issue.  There’s a feeling out there in the media and some fans, that once we conquer doping, cycling will be sorted.  As a women’s cycling fan, of course I know that’s not the case, but there’s a whole range of things that aren’t talked about in the media or on fansites – or at least publicly – and that make me angry.  I love this sport, so much, but there are so many issues that worry me, enrage me, and make me feel helpless, because how can fans change things?

1. Why is cycling so white?

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but yesterday I was on Podium Café reading fmk’s review of “Land of Second Chances”, about cycling in Rwanda, and it struck me all over again, that there is this idea that increasing “diversity” in cycling is always talked about in terms of “internationalisation” – and why is it, in the pro teams, we have no Black or Asian riders from Europe, the USA or Australia?  I made some of these points in a comment on that article, but I think they’re worth talking about here too.

I’m British, so I’ll focus on the UK for a moment, but professional cycling in this country is overwhelmingly white. Yes, we have Shanaze Reade, in BMX, but the UK population is 11% Black and Asian, 14% if you include mixed-race people and other non-white categories, so why is it she’s the only recent non-white rider who’s come through British Cycling?  When I look at who rides bikes in Bristol, where I live, I know that cycling isn’t segregated on the streets, and yet there isn’t that jump into the sport.

I don’t know if, in British Cycling’s case, it’s an overt thing, where they have decided cycling is a “white” sport, or if it’s an institutional thing, where selectors are unthinkingly favouring people who remind them of themselves (note, not that that’s forgiveable to me, it’s still the same result).  I can’t imagine, when the stories of riders like Lizzie Armitstead and Jo Rowsell begin with “British Cycling came to my school and I tried out instead of going to a maths lesson” that the try-outs are unattractive to any kids – but maybe they are consciously or subconsciously targeting schools in very white areas? But that makes no sense, the velodrome’s in Manchester, a hugely diverse city….

There could be a case, I suppose, that British Cycling are spotting talent among Black kids, but they look at the sport and don’t see a place for themselves, and choose a sport like athletics or football or rugby, where they have role models and a place for themselves – but if that’s the case, BC should be working EXTRA hard to keep them in.  After all, when an organisation is supported through the Lottery and public funding, they have a duty to develop cycling across all of the UK, and not just in certain groups, like white men.

France do a bit better that the UK, with Grégory Baugé and Olivia Montauban on the track, and Manon Valentino, who came 3rd in the 2013 BMX World Champs this weekend – but Europe is a diverse continent – while I am for the development of cycling in “non-traditional” nations, I don’t want to think that there’s more of a chance of a black kid from an African nation getting to be a pro rider than a Black kid from the UK, the Netherlands, the USA.

Of course, there is a lot of evidence that the men’s pro peloton is very, very unwelcoming to riders the majority don’t think “belong” – and that when there’s a loud assumption from a section of the fanbase and commentators that “All Spanish dope”, or that a rider who comes from Colombia must be inherently dodgy, and fmk tells me that “In terms of pure racism, I think JRB at Europcar has said he had to complain abt two top level teams’ attitude to his riders.”  – and given the famous stories of how much bullying there was in the peloton over riders who didn’t want to dope, cycling seems especially unfriendly – and not just in terms of race…


2. Why are there no openly gay men in the peloton?

I’m in about three minds about this, because on the one hand I can think of a load of gay women in the peloton, but they don’t talk about it publicly so much – maybe because they’re not interviewed so much? – so there is a chance there are a load of happy, openly gay men and we just don’t know about it.  But men’s cycling is so ridiculously heteronormative – you win kisses from podium girls as part of the prize, ffs, and then there’s the attitudes of riders and team managers.  I’ve unfollowed a load of the young men because they use homophobic insults on twitter – and then there’s the whole other level of Oleg Tinkov, the sponsor of Saxo-Tinkoff, whose twitter is this cesspool of homophobia, sexism and all kinds of nasty.  It really upset me, when Tinkov came to prominence during the Tour, how many fans and journalists I followed who were talking about him as “hilarious”, the best thing about the Tour, a breath of fresh air – again, if there’s a young gay lad who’s good at cycling, why would he start this sport?

Honourable mention here goes to AA Drink-Leontien.nl, when they existed.  I liked the way their team profile included men and women, and in their rider Q&A sections, they asked something like “What’s your ideal man/woman like?”.  If a rider specified a gender (“He’s got a sense of humour”) they changed the Q to that gender, which was great, seeing gay riders acknowledged as normal alongside their straight collegues – and if they didn’t, eg answered “Got to be funny” they left the Q as “man/woman” so it didn’t make assumptions.  I loved that!


3. Eating Disorders in the peloton

This one has been bothering me for a long time.  Cycling has an obvious issue here.  Mara Abbott famously took time out from cycling because of her eating disorder, Marianne Vos spoke in her autobiography about how she nearly developed anorexia last year, Aussie rider Grace Sulzberger talked about how pressure to lose weight from a coach tipped her into life-threatening bulimia, and when Marta Bastianelli was caught doping, her coach talked about how she did all that climbing eating only salad, as if that’s was a good thing.

This one bothers me personally, because I never know what to say about it.  Last year, Vos really looked far too skinny, and there are riders I’ve seen this year who worry me, when their knees look like the widest parts of their legs – but eating disorders aren’t something to gossip about, they’re serious things, and it can be as body shaming to accuse naturally skinny people of eating disorders as it is to shame people for being overweight.  Ultimately, though, I feel helpless, because I look at these riders and worry and care about them, and want to know the people closest to them are making sure they’re ok.  Marijn de Vries blogged about how riders feel the same, watching riders in the peloton – and also about the pressures to stay skinny.  If anything, eating disorders are more openly discussed in the women’s peloton than the men’s, which mirrors how it is the the real world – but what, as a fan, can I do when I see a rider who looks ill on the bike?  Talking about it feels wrong, saying nothing feels like it’s condoning it.


4. Sex

If there’s pressure to lose weight from team management, there seems like there’s also, in a small minority of teams, pressures to sleep with them too.  Bridie O’Donnell wrote a couple of blogs alluding to this, and how on one of her teams, there was a clear message that sex = more races (I’d link to it, but her website is down at the moment, but it does exist, I promise!).  I’ve heard (possibly apocryphal) stories about team managers who give preferential treatment to those who’ll sleep with them, or riders who were doped by their coaches who had been their lovers, starting when the riders were very young.  I do wonder what protections there are to stop the young women being exploited?  Especially if they’re in a foreign country, where they don’t speak the language etc. I stress, this seems an issue with a small minority of teams, but it shouldn’t happen to anyone.

(I am aware this might sound gossipy, but part of the issue is that with so much that’s publicly unspoken, it’s hard to know what’s gossip and what’s truth.  I trust Bridie, and the people who’ve said things to me in conversation, but of course I don’t have “proof”, it’s unspoken!)


5. Riders not getting paid

Part of the problem with this is that there seem like there are no regulations and oversights of teams – and this often manifests in riders – men and women – not getting paid.  Nicole Cooke was very vocal about this when it happened to her (see her retirement statement on her website or on the Guardian) – and again, I’ve heard stories of riders who went to the UCI to complain about not getting paid, and the only result was getting sacked from their team – and there’s one team where as far as I can tell, they haven’t paid or have delayed paying riders for at least three years in a row!

Because this remains unspoken, people continue to sign to these teams – but what really needs to happen is that there’s a system in place for National Federations and the UCI to protect riders – so if a rider isn’t paid, even for a month, there are systems in place, and riders aren’t penalised for using them.  Women cyclists are notoriously underpaid, if they’re paid at all, but how are they supposed to live, if they have been given a contract that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?



There are a lot of solutions for all of these issues, and the best ones start at the top.  The UCI and the National Federations need to really examine their work, and see where they can improve – and to talk about these issues, and put into place plans for making things better. There is no shame in saying “We haven’t done enough to encourage Black or Asian riders, and this is what we’ll do about that” etc – in fact it can be admirable to recognise and admit issues and make changes.

Teams need zero-tolerance policies for racism, homophobia and bullying, and plans in place for what happens if they’re worried about their riders – as I know the best women’s teams already do.

And the UCI needs to put systems in place so riders can raise issues in a confidential way that won’t impact on them.  I’ve heard over and over again that riders are worried about rocking the boat in case it impacts on their careers, and that should not be allowed to happen.  When the “riders’ union”, the AIGCP CPA only represents men in the World Tour, and has been headed by team owners, that’s not going to help – there need to be real structures in place that make it clear riders should be allowed to complain about issues like contracts being broken.  (I never understood what happens in the AIGCP, if complaints are made about the team managers/owners who are leading the group.  Had that question answered in the comments – I’m confusing my organisations!  Thanks Roger!).  A rider who isn’t being paid can’t afford rent, let alone a lawyer!  And if they’re from one country, based in another and riding for a team based in a third country, where do they start with the law?

Another solution is one I’ve suggested for other reasons before – introduce a “professional” level of teams for women, one with a minimum wage, and a set of clearly defined standards to abide by, so riders with multiple offers have an easy way to tell which teams are the “pro” ones – and if riders aren’t paid etc, that “pro” status is stripped from them.


I’ve thoroughly depressed myself, but I do think the solutions are relatively easy.  I think it’s important that these things don’t remain unspoken, and that we hold the sport we love to high standards.  Cycling is beautiful and brilliant, and together we can make it better.

UPDATE!  I was interested to see this British Parliamentary Inquiry into Women & Sport announced.  It opens on 1st August, and anyone can contribute, so if you’re in the UK and want to comment on women’s cycling, including it being shown on tv etc, you’ll be able to.

  1. Babelia
    July 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Well said!And sure some depression went away after writing it, didn’t it?

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Sort of! I had to go back and watch the Downhill World Cup again, because I was a little bit depressed!

  2. SM
    July 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    EuropeCar has some black European riders, Reza, Gene, etc. Good riders at that.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Thankyou! fmk says apparently their team boss had to speak to a couple of the top teams about overt racism from some of their riders, which depresses me big time. (Are EuropCar World Tour this year? I’ve lost the plot a little on the men’s side)

  3. Tony Cooke
    July 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    You have been so very good to raise a series of excellent issues here. Nicole, her mum and I thought long and hard about what went into her retirement speech.

    She received many comments on that statement and many valid and discerning arguments were derived from it. However you pick up on one point we felt Nicole made too obliquely and no one extracted from her statement.

    “…….With sponsors and support lost, the riders in the sport are exposed and vulnerable in so many ways. Many riders receive just token reward or rewards paid out in a capricious and unfair way.
    “…..Society cannot continue to leave all those girls in so vulnerable a position. A simple bar placed at the entry point for the sport would dispel all manner of problems. Are these girls that race for a living an underclass?
    “….Please understand, this is not about money, the main driver is the protection that will come from the placement of an absolute starting point for payment.

    The apocryphal tales are all out there. Each year there are different rumours. Rich, middle-aged man runs team of young athletic girls. Many trips away from base and home.

    Sex has to be a factor.

    As Nicole stated – the solution is not about the money, greed is not the motive, it is just a simple bar. Only run a team if you can pay a living wage and that living wage does not come with all sorts of “bonuses” or “conditions”. Cookson and McQuaid have failed to engage in any of this. Wages has to be the equal of the PED issue and for the girls it is actually the number one issue. The current system has designed in vulnerability. As soon as a rider knows they are going to receive a living wage each month and if it not paid, has a very simple recourse to provision, all those overtures and pressure disappear. The girl is in a position to say “no”. If consenting adults want to have a sexual relationship, then they are free to do so.

    When rewards are not defined and even if they are, policing of them is a cruel joke, that makes the pieces of paper worthless, which is exactly the current situation, then the scene will unfortunately attract a minority to team management who want to take advantage of the situation. It is then, that minority that make it so difficult for the majority who have honourable motives.

    Of course teams would disappear if a minimum wage were to be introduced. Nicole stated that would be the case. But this sport has spent the last 10 years going backwards precisely because the enthusiasm, hard work and sacrifices of the good are displaced by too many, even if a minority, who lack those characteristics and continue to be attracted to the sport because of lax legislation. This is something for Cookson or McQuaid to deal with. I have yet to see anything written or said by either of them that indicates that they have a modest grasp of the scope of the problem.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks so much for the comments, Tony.

      I thought it was very interesting that one of the barriers put in place re a minimum wage (and higher standards) is the idea that it would be terrible to have a min. wage because teams would fold. I think that’s actually a good thing, in the short-term, because actually, if teams are that poorly funded and/or organised, should they have the same status as the big teams? I honestly believe it would be better to have fewer teams, but more professional ones, if we want to grow the sport.

      (My solution to that argument is that we introduce a “Pro” level, where teams would have minimum wage and standards, and more freedoms and status, to send a clear message about what to aspire to. But then, I like solutions! :-D)

      One thing I loved about Nicole’s statement was that a lot of riders are (rightly) concerned about bringing up issues while they’re racing, out of fear of being blacklisted, and when they retire, they go out on a high, and seem to want to leave all that behind. I loved Nicole going out in an absolute blaze, and telling it how it was (mind you, I always loved Nicole and Emma Pooley too, being outspoken in her career, too!). In my “what I’d do when I run the UCI” daydreams, I imagine I’d make sure that riders who retired were given opportunities to share their experiences, and their ideas for improving things – and I’d talk to race organisers where races collapsed, to try to understand where the problems were and how to prevent more races going…. When I rule the world….

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Oh, this is interesting – UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Women & Sport – and barriers to participation – opens on 1st August. Saw it, thought of Nicole…


  4. Tony Cooke
    July 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Teams have to go. Few genuine ones will go forever because the decent people will find a way of making it work. They will combine and collaborate. The teams that have a management that are there for the wrong reason, will go and find another sport to be involved in for the wrong reason.

    Yes the UCI would do itself a favour if it were to ask Judith or Nicole to spend time with them telling them what is needed to improve the scene. They should also ask the likes of Boue, but then they know the answer there, they spent years trying to drive him out of the sport. They might also ask the organisers of the well established Geelong Tour and World Cup why they chose to stop their women’s races and promptly a male only race appeared in its place. Answers to those questions will allow them to understand the magnitude of the steps they need to take if they are to influence the sport for the better.

    Sarah – keep up the good work. This year there has been the most healthy debate about women’s cycling. Your contribution is an important factor.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Yes, and Daniel Manibal too. I can’t find the interview with him where he talked about the pressure from the ProTour organisers to move their sponsorship from the Tour of Prince Edward Island and the Tour de Grand Montreal stage race and World Cup, but it’s referenced here: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/canadian-womens-uci-races-canceled

      (I should probably not think of how the World Tour’s growth was at the expense of some great women’s races…. bad for my blood pressure!)

      And thanks for the kind words. It feels like there’s not much fans can do to support the sport – but it’s important to keep trying.

  5. Roger Hughes
    July 29, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Pedantic niggle: the AIGCP isn’t the “riders’ union”, it’s the team owners’ organisation (which is why it has team owners in it). The CPA represents riders (well, male professional roadies, anyway), and the AIOCC is the matching organisation for race organisers.

    On the wages and job security thing the UCI, bless’em, have actually made considerable progress in stabilising the situation for the men (at ProTeam and Continental Professional level) in recent years (something which has rather passed under the news radar); historically it was as bad as the situation Nicole Cooke decried for both genders, and was always vulnerable to the peripatetic and international nature of team structures while everything operated through national federations which varied a great deal in funding, authority, honesty and competence. They need a good hard shove to get some of the same provisions in for women’s teams of a similar level (as in many other areas). The minimum wages already set for men are pretty much the statutory minimums for employees in many countries anyway, not that excessive.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      Oh, thankyou! I always am genuinely glad to be corrected! CPA only recognise the pro men, right? (I tried to find the AIGCP website to check it when I was writing, but gave up when it defeated my google-fu)

      It’s good to know they can change – I was pretty damn horrified that year in the Tour where the (Astana?) wore blank jerseys to protest not being paid. One of the few times that year I was happy to see Lance Armstrong’s influence.

      I do think things are changing – and although I’ve been exasperated by Cookson and McQuaid both declaring massive support for the women, minimum wage etc after all their previous less-than-enthusiastic comments in the past, if things change as a result of the election, I would complain about the whys of it! (Still want them to answer these questions, though…..

      • Roger Hughes
        July 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

        The CPA have a website on http://www.cpacycling.com but it is singularly uninformative as to the conditions and procedures for membership (unless its status under Swiss law implies anything, which I wouldn’t count on). IIRC it has some formal representation within the UCI, but it may just be on the PCC (which only deals with men’s World Tour events anyway).

        More generally on the UCI: out of 15 members of the management committee, there is one woman, Tracey Gaudry. No women on any of the commissions for the major disciplines – the only body with substantial female representation is the athletes’ commission. I can’t imagine that progress will be anything but slow while that situation prevails.

        (Good article, by the way, which I should have said before I started on the corrections. Bad mansplaining habit, sorry)

      • Sarah Connolly
        July 29, 2013 at 11:12 pm

        Ha! I generally don’t believe in “mansplaining” except in extreme cases like the guy on the news tonight who was telling a woman why the rape/death threats she receives online should bother her. I did enjoy Jon Snow giving him short shrift, asking him how he knows that if he’s never experienced them!

        And thanks!

        I can’t find a link but while I got the name wrong, I’m pretty certain the CPA is only for the World Tour riders, as they assume they’re the only “pro” riders. As you say, impossible to actually tell from the website (mutter mutter how hard can it be in 2013 mutter mutter)

  6. July 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    The lack of ethnic diversity in cycling bothers me a lot but I’ve always struggled to point to a clear reason *why* it should be so white. I heard (anecdotally) that Colombian riders on European pro teams are often subject to ‘jokes’ about cocaine smuggling and other stereotypes from teammates so maybe there’s an element of cliquey-ness about pro cycling where it’s easier to get on if you’re seen to fit in with the environment around you (this is probably a factor in the lack of openly gay men too). That doesn’t really explain why so few non-white riders make it onto teams in the first place, so I think you’re absolutely right to ask the question about how much of it is down to institutional biases in the development programmes
    You’d think British Cycling (just to pick a random example, of course!) would want to promote the sport to as many people as possible, but you’re surely limiting your appeal if you only present young kids who might want to take up the sport with role models from one ethnic background. Even though you could cite Shanaze Reade as an example of a non-white rider who’s come through British Cycling’s system, she seems to have preferred the BMX side of things to being part of the track set-up.
    So, yeah, I guess there’s still loads that could be done to improve cycling, it’s a bit depressing to talk about it but highlighting issues like these and getting people talking about them are probably the only way things will change.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I really was in two minds about writing about all this, because the women’s side of the sport struggles enough as it is – but I really want the best for the sport I love.

      I always support diversity from a social justice point of view – but also because more diversity brings more options and opinions, and in my work career I’ve come to better solutions through working with people who are different to me, because we bring different skills and perspectives. If a sporting body limits themselves to just one group, they’re missing out a whole heap of talent and awareness.

      Hopefully, though, kids from BME backgrounds can watch Greg Baugé and Olivia Montauban and the likes of Azizulhasni Awang, and be inspired despite the all-white British track team. I mean, watching Baugé’s showmanship and skills is bloody inspiring to me, and I’m a white woman!

      • mike
        July 29, 2013 at 11:34 pm

        Damn, now I miss track cycling🙂

        Thinking about how riders like Dani King and Laura Trott were spotted when British Cycling visited their schools, you wonder which schools they go to if they can’t find *any* kids from BME backgrounds who show promise. It’s a strange one,

      • Sarah Connolly
        July 29, 2013 at 11:42 pm

        I miss track too! ;-D

        And yeah, when the narrative is so often “British Cycling came to my school and I tried out to get out of maths”, I do wonder…

  7. July 29, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    All valid questions Sarah and it is so sad to see that none appear to be even on the radar of those sitting in the UCI ivory tower. Personally I think the activity of cycling is one of the most inclusive things we have on the planet, for it to be anything different in the racing tells me all the federations need to be looking at themselves and asking why it isn’t. I’m sure there is a lot of folks who can and will help with this if some sort of structure to encourage people is easily accessible.

    As regards the minimum wage for women professional cyclists, well you know I already think it’s far too long overdue! It needs to be in place now and a pro level implemented and if teams do go to the wall because of it then so be it. Those left would be much better thought of and riders would start to have some security, from there the horrific issues of what is virtual sexual blackmail can be rooted out and stopped.

    Hopefully if we all keep shouting loud enough with the same message we can make a difference. I hope we can also let the riders know they are appreciated and have support from around the world for their current position and the need to change it.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 29, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      Hope so too.

      A couple of people have suggested it’s economic issues that keep BME people out of cycling, but that doesn’t answer to me, as entry-level cycling is the cost of a basic bike – and surely we’re not suggesting BC are finding kids with talent who are kept out by lack of cash, from any racial background, and just shrugging and letting them go?

      Here’s to the future! I am super-excited about things like the British Parliamentary Inquiry into women’s sport, and hope it yields results like the Australian Government Committee did last year. (Annoyingly, I can’t find the link to the great report that was shiny and explained what happened next – the one where any sports governing bodies getting Aussie public funding had to commit to things like women on their boards, as a starter…)

  8. July 30, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Fantastic article, I believe South Africa might in some way be the leader in getting black cyclists into the elite peleton, like even a whole african team someday soon.

    Thank you for mentioning something that I think we all think about often, but never discuss. Why are there no visibility on gay cyclists, I know there must be some. But then there is so little exposure of gay athletes in general.

    Back to the ladies, you are helping so much in getting lady cyclist visibility. Way to go, keep up the good work.

    PS – female cycling in South Africa is currently having a uphill struggle, so many sponsors have pulled out of cycling in general and the few that remains, tend to focus on the men.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 30, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Thanks so much!

      South African cycling is really interesting to me – watching how they’ve supported women getting to the professional peloton has been excellent. I don’t know much about their development at the youth levels etc, but I can imagine that if they’re finding and nurturing the talent, they’ll have some great and innovative routes to get riders – including Black riders – up to the highest levels.

  9. July 30, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I hope the inquiry does produce some proper results and recommendations, so many official reports turn out to be a whitewash. Fingers crossed though and again it keeps the issue in the public eye and prevents it from “going away” as I’m sure some want it to.

    The longer the issues go on for women racing bikes the more I think some more direct action is required. Wonder what would be the result if all the rides at the World Champs stood on the start line and refused to race? The UCI and federations would have a lot of very awkward questions to answer….

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 30, 2013 at 8:45 am

      The Australian Fed had some REALLY interesting conclusions and things they implemented, from Governance to grass-roots (oh, and note-to-self, I must write to them and ask them to look at the intersections of gender and race, gender and poverty, so any British sporting Federations receiving public/Lottery funding have to look at all diversity issues)

  10. S. Murf
    July 30, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Some interesting points, Sarah.
    being based in Bristol as well, I’ve noticed that the majority of riders are white, occasionally see one or two other ethnicities in sportive’s, but never in races. As with a lot of things, i think a lot is to do with perceptions, although cycling has raised it’s coverage rapidly, it’s still way behind other mainstream sports. It takes a long time for things to change, football is still struggling with racism, both within the teams and the fans.

    Being involved with a national level team running both men and women, I’ve noticed the difference between the way the two sides are treated. Within the teams, the situation is pretty good, we try to so our best for all our riders, but there is still inequality. This ranges from the obvious, like prize money, to the level of marshalling at the races. The message from our federation is that they want to encourage women into cycling, for those competitive enough to want to go racing, the safer races can be made, the more it will encourage riders to take part.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Oh, interesting – I’m in Bedminster, and I see Black people riding round here all the time, even though we’re not the most diverse area of town. I guess I’m talking urban riding rather than racing, though, and I pass a lot of kids on their way to and from school a lot. I am pretty interested in how people make the transition to racing – got to say, clubs look a bit unwelcoming to me, and a friend was trying to work out how to try cyclocross round here, after falling in love with the European CX scene, and it seemed really hard.

      (I guess it doesn’t help that things like the Breeze work, or the women’s mass participation rides, seem aimed at pure leisure. All the “helmet hair workshops” etc really put me off, and I’m someone who loves riding and the sport in general)

      Totally agree with safety, too. I’m thinking of that poor man killed on the big Bristol race, and I don’t doubt a lot of people would never dream of letting their kids try it – and the less people know about the sport, the more they’ll just assume it’s all doping/corruption/danger – such a pity.

  11. John E Dunn
    July 30, 2013 at 10:33 am

    All valid issues but slightly missing the historical point. Cycling has been an incredibly niche interests even in most white European, straight, male circles until very recently. Away from the Tour de France, cycling has always been a VERY small sport. Internationalisation takes time.

    • Sarah Connolly
      July 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

      I agree re internationalisation – but when Europe/the USA/Australia are all very diverse, and other sports are decidedly diverse, it’s jarring that cycling is white…

  12. Jonathan
    July 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Sarah, Please stop writing such great articles as it distracts me from my work and one day my boss will find out. I don’t have time to read outside office hours as I am too busy running and coaching a youth cycling club and apparently I have a wife and two daughters with sporting ambitions outside cycling (I tried my best but they just didn’t want to. Even got lovely signed pictures from Nicole Cooke with hand-written inspirational messages – in case Tony is still following the thread).

    Anyway, this particular piece struck so many chords that I have got to thank you for voicing the issues that have bothered me for a while. 35% of our 145 members are girls. At the younger end of the age spectrum the numbers are equal but like so many sports we start to lose them at around 13/14. We have polled the riders and taken note of what it is that the girls want from the club but despite our best efforts it seems we are battling against societal forces that are stronger. It makes me very sad. That said, we have had some notable successes with retaining girls through to the junior ranks and even, now, riding in the senior peloton. What then, can they expect? Am I even responsible to encourage them to pursue a cycling career if this is what lies in store? Fortunately the amateur/sponsored team scene in the UK is looking like a good place to be (step forward Alan Gornall, Stef Wyman et al) but where do they progress from there? If not part of the phenomenal BC machine it is a little bleak.

    We have no black riders or riders of Asian ethnicity in the club but that is actually representative of the the local population so I am not too concerned. It isn’t that we aren’t reaching them; rather they aren’t there to reach. Nationally, however, I do believe that we are failing to reach (or perhaps failing to enthuse) children from those communities. I do believe that cost is a contributory factor here. We stock a fleet of Isla Bikes that can be used by anyone who joins our club but very quickly on the youth racing scene you come up against parents living out their cycling fantasies through their offspring (or, more generously, giving their sprogs the best opportunity) by buying carbon-framed, deep-section wheeled, super-machines that cost more than my car. Then there is the cost of travel. Few cycle circuits (and youths can only race on circuits or velodromes if we exclude for the moment MTB and ‘cross) can be reached by public transport and even at regional level there is often a journey of an hour or more to reach the venue. Unlike football or hockey or even athletics it is rare for a team coach to ferry the participants to a competition and it is up to participants to make their own way. Track riding stands a better chance – tends to be concentrated in one location. Compare for a moment the ethnicities of the sprinters in the British athletics squad and those in the British Cycling set-up.

    I don’t know whether we have any gay riders in our club – it isn’t something that we ask of children. I know that it would not make a jot of difference if we did. I was not aware of the Tinkov situation and find that upsetting. Of course there is no reason to expect the attitudes in cycling to be different to those in the population at large but one can hope that the governing body would take appropriate action (something akin to only allowing ‘fit-and-proper persons’ being allowed to run football clubs).

    Enough – I need to do some work. As Tony said, your contribution to the growth in women’s cycling ought not to be downplayed. Shouty, sweary? Maybe sometimes. Enthusiastic, prolific, supportive? Always.

    Keep it up.


  1. July 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm
  2. August 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm
  3. September 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm
  4. October 4, 2013 at 11:42 am
  5. March 9, 2015 at 9:27 pm
  6. May 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

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