Back in September, Dan and I ran a women’s cycling audience survey, because we were, and are interested in what people think of the sport, and thought the best way to find out more about that was to ask.
As I said in Part 1 of this analysis series, we were surprised and delighted that we got many more responses than we expected, which is why it’s taking a bit of time to analyse. In Part 3 and Part 4 of my series looking at what we found, I talked about what it was that people liked about cycling in general, including which teams and riders they supported, and now it’s time to look at the next question:
What do you like best about women’s cycling?
This question was an open text box answer, and as I keep saying, if I repeat this in the future, I’m putting all answers as tick boxes, because we got 1,118 answers to this question, because this is just a sample short answer…
Competition, hard-fought races. Technical skills. Team work. Race strategy. Athleticism.
I counted up the answers that more than one person gave – and I’ve simplified and grouped these into themes, so where people haven’t used the same words, but the meaning’s clearly the same, I’ve counted them as the same answer. Obviously, most answers included more than one thing people liked, as you’ll see from my super-table below… But first, here’s the top 10 most popular answers:
|It’s cycling/ the sport in general/ same as why I like men’s racing||176|
|Attacking/ aggressive riding||159|
|Exciting/ thrilling racing||104|
|The competition/ competitiveness||87|
|The tactics/ strategy||86|
|Personalities/ characters (especially articulate/strong)||83|
|Accessible/ approachable/ friendly riders||81|
|Unpredictability /less predictable/ formulaic/ scripted than the men||70|
|Shorter courses (esp means it’s more attacking)||64|
|Relatable/ aspirational riders||58|
Comparisons with men’s cycling
Despite the top answer, there was an interesting set of grouping – while the large majority of answers didn’t compare men’s and women’s cycling at all, there were three sub-groupings where the answers framed women’s cycling in comparison to men’s cycling:
- people who say they love women’s racing for the same reasons they love men’s and don’t see a difference between the genders
- those who see the women’s racing as different to men’s, and like both disciplines equally as different types of the same sport
- and a third category of people who like women’s cycling more than men’s, or exclusively, because they see it as a different sport (this includes a group that have turned to women’s racing through disillusionment with the men’s).
These aren’t the only categories, of course, and a lot of people answered with comments like “Same reason I like the men’s…. but the women’s is more attacking”, but the thing that really interested me were the numbers. Very roughly (as this is subject to my interpretation) these are how they counted
|Same as men’s/ “Just as…” as the men||199|
|Different to/ “More… than”/ “less… than” the men’s||191|
What’s so interesting to me is how similar those numbers are – and it’s not as though it’s always in competition. Some people wondered why the survey made the distinction, or felt it was divisive to call it “women’s cycling”, and I can see their point, even though I run an exclusively women’s cycling website – and I’d say the majority of people who thought women’s cycling is different weren’t saying they don’t like men’s, just that they like the different sides as different aspects of the same sport. And while I know that less than half the respondents framed their answers in terms of it being the same as/different to men’s, I wanted to look at some of the comments in more detail:
It’s just cycling! All cycling is good.
Same reasons as for men, awed by speed, stamina, strategy, etc
Watching women compete in a sport that I think is incredibly demanding. Same as why I enjoy men’s cycling.
The same as the men’s racing – the drama, the sometimes sadistic courses, the feats of bravery and skill.
All the same things I love about men’s cycling. The endurance, the drama, the glorious suffering, the chess on wheels.
It is the same as I love about Men’s cycling, I love the tactics of a Grand Tour to the sheer athleticism of a one day classic. I don’t mind which sex the riders are as long as they are good.
I’m missing a point here.. Why does there have to be a specific genre of ‘women’s cycling’? Can’t we just have ‘cycling’.. For everyone? Irrespective of gender distinctions?
I just like riding my bike, despite being a woman I have never thought of it as ‘women’s cycling‘
I like cycling because it is what I do personally… I can relate and that makes it exciting. I wouldn’t see a difference in men’s and women’s cycling.. just more to watch and get excited about.. except that the discrimination makes the gap unavoidable. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t even answer this question.
Different but equal
It’s cycling! The races are competitive and exciting. The style of racing is different from the men’s, not better, not worse, but different and both are equally enjoyable to watch.
It has different dynamics and tactics to the men’s races
I like road race cycling and the women are just as good as the men in the quality of the racing they provide, except the women are even more nuttier & attacky than the men normally manage which makes it even more entertaining.
The nature of the races, particularly the shorter length of stages, produces a more intense and more aggressive style of racing and this is often more exciting than equivalent level men’s racing. But really what I like about women’s cycling can more simply summarised as what I like about cycling in general. The emergent narratives of stage racing, the calculations of a bunch in timing the catch of a breakaway and the sheer thrill of a strong rider attacking off the front are things that are present in cycling of both genders so I tend not to separate the two in my mind.
Things usually work out differently, because of different teams, different strategies… the same course can have a very different outcome with males or females racing.
I like it the for the same reasons I like men’s cycling..the scenes, the power, the riding etc. One thing that is a bit different that I like is how much they root for each other. Men’s racing has a little bit of that, but it seems that there is more in women’s cycling. Girls really heavily cheer on other riders who are from the same country/ are friends. I mean, the guys do the same normally, but maybe I just notice it more. It just feels like more of a cycling community atmosphere (possibly because they aren’t getting paid tons, and are just riding because they love it).
Reasons people like women’s more than men’s
Women’s cycling tends to be much more tactical and aggressive. Domestiques are attackers, and leaders get out in breakaways.
They may be even “meaner” than the men. They are relentless in their attacks and teamwork. Not much ego compared to men; just hard racing
Women riders are more interesting people than the men (in general), because they’ve had to do other things in their lives than be obsessed with cycling since their teens. Which, sadly, is something we’d lose when(!) women’s pro cycling is on a par with men’s.
While not a good thing, the lack of funding kind of makes it more approachable. It has a more amateurish feel to it with the female cyclists being more normal people – having jobs, etc. There doesn’t appear to be the arrogant, mega stars that you get with men’s (i.e.. Wiggins or Armstrong in the past).
It’s less predictable than men’s cycling, which often makes it more exciting to watch.
“Attack, Attack, Attack!”
The second highest category was all about how aggressive and attacking the racing is. You’ll see from the mega-table that this also manifest in the specific answers about “non-stop attacking from the start”. But what do people mean by this?
That’s hard! I don’t think there is a single thing I like more but if I had to select it would be their aggressiveness on the road
Attack attack attack
At the moment, I love how aggressive it is and how fearlessly the women race. While the results may sometimes be the same, it is not for lack of trying from the rest of the peloton. I love that.
I enjoy the “spontaneity” (or I suppose you could say the “attack, attack, attack”). I also like it because the women who are cycling are obviously doing it because they love it – and as a fan, that makes me admire them more for their accomplishments.
The storylines. The attacking. The fact that it doesn’t always feel like it has a script.
And there are specific things about the women’s racing that people see as encouraging this aggression – the smaller teams (22 answers) and the fact the courses are shorter than the men’s, which was often described like this:
“Shorter courses make for a more attacking racing style.”
One of the sections that was definitely a comparison to men was the “Shorter courses”, which was described in a lot of different ways, but often combined with attacking. Again, the popularity of this answer wasn’t always comparing men’s cycling in a negative way – it’s as much an explanation of why some people see it as a different discipline they can love as it is a reason to like it more than men’s. Some examples:
because the race on shorter courses, the risky attacks happen more. you see this same thing with the men’s races when the courses are shorter.
Often more exciting than the men’s races and they are shorter which makes for more compact entertainment. I love men’s too but sometimes it has long periods of not much happening.
Sometimes it’s more attacking style due to the shorter distances which cuts out the less interesting riding to get from the start to a few Km before the finish.
I really enjoy the ‘fast and furious’ nature of the racing. With distances being shorter there is more opportunities for riders to attack and counter-attack which makes for a more entertaining race.
But some people definitely see this as a reason to like women’s racing more than men’s:
The way it does not rely on overlong tiring stages so it tends to be much more competitive throughout the race.
Over the 4 years of following the sport the racing has become more aggressive and interesting. The racing is now often action packed with lots of attacking. As I am not a ‘true’ cycling fan I like the fact the races are a bit shorter, I could not think of sitting through a full day of tour de France.
While this point comes from inequality in the sport I like how short the races are, in terms of road races because it means there is more action and it is happening consistently instead of with the men’s races where they sit around doing a whole lot of nothing for 120km and THEN race in the last 10km.
It’s usually more exciting than men’s as there is less of a “formula” to every race. I also like that the entire race fits into 3 or 4hrs. You can watch the whole race. I hate with men’s cycling that you tune in to the break already established and just watch 2 groups of people riding their bikes for hours. I love cycling and I find it boring. How can you recommend newbies to watch that? Some women’s races are like that but not for as long and most of the races aren’t.
And just because people like the fact shorter races mean there’s more energy to attack, it doesn’t mean they agree with the UCI limiting races, especially not to average 100km/stage in stage races…
Attacking and stomping. I don’t know, the pace of the races, the shorter distances that allows for more full on racing from the go (I do however think that the UCI rule of races not being allowed to be longer than 100k or something to that effect is ridiculous). I could go for longer races, as long as they don’t become too long and thus loses the attackyness and brilliance of the fast paced races that we see today.
Three of the categories inter-connect, but have different reasoning – the personalities, how people can relate to the riders, and also how accessible/friendly riders are to fans (both in real life and online). Some examples of what people said about this:
Great characters. Women who have experience of more than just sport. For instance Emma Pooley being an engineer, Evelyn Stephens giving up banking etc. Interesting racing with breakaways often having a chance of winning.
I think almost because they don’t get the coverage of the men, they all seem much more normal and approachable than the men. They all have to battle so much harder to succeed, which is very impressive. It also inspires me and challenges me to try a bit harder!
Accessibility of the riders. PR hasn’t yet taken over what is said at interviews so you actually have personality rather than the somewhat grey anonymity of the men’s sport.
Also, I love how close you can get to the riders. Most of them are friendly and down to earth. It’s a very rewarding sport from a fan perspective. Also, there’s quite a nice social media movement among fans and followers.
The women are far more approachable that “most” of the males (I say most, as there are some male cyclists who are more than approachable). They interact more with their fans and, I believe are truly grateful for the support they get shown. It’s not taken for granted unlike I think the male sport is.
High quality, commitment, accessibility of the teams and riders at events (makes you feel close to the action) – my primary sporting interest is rugby, and cycling is similarly engaged with its fans, especially so with women’s events, possibly due to scale just now, but to my mind that gives a great window of opportunity to get a larger audience, and more kids participating in cycling, girls especially.
Starting to get more sponsorship, so there are more teams. Better chance to get to know the riders. Example: have a gold medallist contact my son for a school project through Twitter.
One interesting thing about this is that, as with other aspects of the sport (we’ll get onto that soon with the issues of pay), some people see a contradiction – they really want the port to grow, but they don’t want to lose the advantages we have right now:
The benefit of the smallness of the sport is being able to go right up to Marianne Vos at the Women’s tour and say hi, but as the sport grows that will go too, I guess.
Grit, steel, the fact women have to juggle so much more in their personal lives to compete on the same stage as men, the fact I can relate to them, want to race them and be them!
It’s fast and furious, as exciting as men’s racing. I relate to it as a woman and they inspire me to race better. It motivates me. Eg I watched Emma [Pooley] pull away from the group on the Giro on a mountain stage and stay away. She was hurting! I kept that image in mind in my next race when I needed a reason to push harder…
It’s important to note that while there are a lot of women who relate to the pros, they’re not just relatable because of a shared gender – so while the answer above is obviously from a woman, I had a look at who used the “relateable” type answers, and there are tons of men who relate to them too. So these answers below could have been from both men and women:
I love it to see that all girls have so much fun. They look awesome with their ponytails and the colourful stuff. Also that the girls are seemingly just as you and me they do have some anxiety or other niggles. I am thankful that I am not alone.
It’s just as enthralling as the men’s, but somehow the egos don’t get in the way so much? I can relate to the girls more, they are more ’rounded’ people.
There were also a lot of answers that relate to these reasons – women pros as role models, as inspiration, as examples of what women can do – but we’ll come onto that in the next post, where I’ll put up the great, big, huge mega-table of all the answers.
The key thing I take away from these big-number answers is that while there are very different groups of women’s cycling fans, those who see it as the same as men’s cycling, and those who love it for the differences, this should be seen as great opportunities to market the sport. You’ve got a potential audience who’ll tune in just because it’s MORE CYCLING!, and then a completely different one who aren’t already cycling fans, but who can be attracted in by the stories, the personalities and the things that make it unique. And as we’ll see when we come onto the “how did you get into women’s cycling?” question, women’s racing can be a gateway drug – because the road races are shorter, it’s easier for people who are new to the sport to watch an entire race, and from there expand to like men’s cycling too. That’s fascinating to me – I’ve always thought it, but getting actual evidence, statistically significant evidence, makes me very happy indeed.
As always, if you have any questions about anything here, please do ask me, in the comments, on twitter, or by email at prowomenscycling [at] gmail [dot] com. I’ll be putting up a post at the end of this series with extra analysis people have asked for, and more in-depth answers – and I’d love your views, too. Thankyou, a thousand times, to everyone who answered the survey – it was tough, for sure, going through all the answers by hand, but I really, really enjoyed reading about what you love about this wonderful sport.