Yesterday I looked at the top 10 things people like best about professional women’s cycling – this was taken from the women’s cycling audience survey Dan and I ran in September, and was analysis of the question: “What do you like best about women’s cycling”. This question was asked as an open text box, and we had 1,118 answers to this. It’s taken me a long time to anslyse this, and you’ll see this from the mega table of all the answers that more than one person gave (I’ve included the single answers where it related to people’s favourite disciplines) (and again, this has my subjective grouping into categories, but I took advice when I wasn’t sure). But this is the kind of fabulous answer we got to this question:
The elite women’s peloton’s uptake & use of social media and direct, personal blogging and (generally unmediated, PR-free) sharing of their actual thoughts and criticisms (e.g. of UCI / race mismanagement, joy of winning, anger at losing…)
I don’t think I could get that from other sports that mildly interest me (football, rugby)
I also like the variety of the races / racing and the complexity of it being both an individual and a team sport. And the dynamism (/chaos) of all that can happen during a race that influences escapes, breaks and chases!
Their passion for the sport (they’re CLEARLY not in it for the money). I don’t know if I think differently of pro-men or how/whether I would view the women’s peloton differently if they were all making millions.
So, onwards to the table….
|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|
|Relateable/ aspirational riders||58|
|They’re not in it for the money/ they give it all despite the low pay||54|
|Role models (especially for girls/daughters) – seeing what women can achieve/ ambassadors for cycling||49|
|Passion/ guts/ heart/ ferocity of riders||47|
|Closer/more exciting than men’s||43|
|No/ less doping/ cleaner/ purer than the men||43|
|Inspiring/ motivating (my own cycling)||42|
|The sporting achievements||39|
|Never a quiet moment/ Non-stop/ relentless/ racing from the start||38|
|Riders seem like they’re having fun/ they love it||38|
|Comradeship/ camaraderie among riders/ they root for each other/ are friends off the bike||35|
|Developing/ growing sport/ seeing something on the cusp of becoming really special||31|
|Dedication/ hard work/ determination/ perserverence||30|
|Social media, blogging and access to riders’ thoughts (largely PR free) interaction||30|
|Athleticism/ sporting prowess||29|
|Disillusionment with (aspects of) men’s racing||27|
|Honest/ fair approach||27|
|Favourites attack early/ are not scared to fail, so attack||26|
|Open racing/ favourites don’t always win||26|
|team work/ dynamics/ spirit||25|
|Intelligent/ Educated/ professional riders well-rounded off the bike||23|
|Tough/ hardcore/ badass/ kick ass||23|
|Lack of ego/less “prima donna” than the men||21|
|Because it’s harder to watch, when it’s on, it’s really exciting||19|
|I like women’s cycling because I’m a woman||19|
|sacrifices riders make||19|
|Less spin/ PR/ outspoken riders not afraid to be honest||18|
|The speed/ pace/ it’s fast||18|
|All of it!/ Everything!||17|
|Watching women achieve amazing things||17|
|Favourites will attack/ sacrifice for team mates||16|
|Friendly to each other off the bike, ferocious competitors on it||16|
|Learning about new riders/ the sport “it takes time but it makes watching it more interesting”||16|
|Personal connection to riders||16|
|The struggle to be recognised/ paid/ how they fight for rights||16|
|Breakaways having the chance to succeed||15|
|Achievement in the face of adversity (tougher conditions than men)||13|
|Britain has top riders/ British success||13|
|Following specific teams||13|
|Following storylines through seasons/ over the years||12|
|Overcoming adversity (lack of media, it’s harder etc)||12|
|Watching live races||12|
|Daughters/ step-daughter who love cycling/ race/ want to race/ I can share my love of the cycling with||11|
|Fewer teams able to dictate the racing||11|
|Following specific riders (esp as they develop)||11|
|Good looking/ better looking than men in lycra||11|
|Racing is close||11|
|The aesthetics/ beauty of cycling||11|
|Entertainment/ entertaining riding||9|
|Community of fans both online & at races/ friendships made||8|
|It’s sport rather than business||8|
|Local riders going on to become pros||8|
|Feminine aspects in a male sport – eg Speclulu kits||7|
|Learning for my own riding||7|
|Combination of it being an individual and team sport at the same time||6|
|Fewer specialists/ more all-rounders||6|
|Generosity of riders||6|
|I don’t like women’s cycling||6|
|Lack of personal conflicts/ grudges between riders||6|
|The joy of it||6|
|The riders seem to appreciate fans||6|
|Fast and furious||5|
|Following Australian riders||5|
|Nearer my own level||5|
|The regular cat-and-mouse between breaks and peloton||5|
|Watching riders develop over time||5|
|More individual effort/ less trains||4|
|Olympic coverage (& want more like that)||4|
|Slower speed so easier to follow, especially roadside||4|
|variety of the races / racing||4|
|“Not rail thin” like the men/ more achievable bodies||3|
|I crush on them||3|
|Less whining than men’s||3|
|Versatility across disciplines/ riders racing more than 1 discipline||3|
|Diversity of riders involved||2|
|Holland rules 🙂 / Dutch success||2|
|Lack of radios||2|
|No podium girls!||2|
|Road world Championships||2|
|Strongest usually wins||2|
|MTB looks brilliant fun||1|
|My friends race||1|
|Team time Trials||1|
So let’s look at some of these categories in more detail…
Equality/ “They’re not in it for the money”
These reasons are often linked – the “equality” category includes people who support women’s racing specifically because they see it as an equality/feminist issue, and those who like the riders for their fight for equality. And as you can see from the table, there are people who put their number one as the fight – but there’s also a very strong subset who see the fact they’re not racing more monster paychecks a plus too. It’s not that they want riders to continue to have excessively poor pay/no pay – it’s just that one of the things people admire about the riders is that they race for the love of it. And I should stress, this is another question where men are as likely to reply along these lines of women – the issues of equality are important for everyone.
I find the racing exciting, a lot of great athletes, and then the great fightingspirit in the work towards more equal racing/payment terms. It kind of shows how proud the women are of their sport and their hard work towards sporting achievements. That makes me a little proud to be apart of myself, although only at amateur level 😉
I do just love all competitive cycling. Women’s cycling is exciting. The energy, endeavour, ambition and focus of the athletes is amazing. But women’s cycling because it is still an important symbol of women’s right to occupy ‘the space’. It connects other women with their potential and right to do the same.
Same things I like about men’s cycling, compounded by the struggle to be recognized.
I’m a fan of both men’s and women’s cycling. The lack of money and support that the women receive make their achievements (and even just participation) seem more heroic and “real”.
Also, love that the women have a true love of the sport…given that they race with poor salaries. I also enjoy the race tactics women use. I love that they are all highly educated and professionals in a prior (or current) life
It’s good to watch honest racing. They are in it for the love of the sport and not just the money. I really appreciate just how much sacrifice and hard work the women put into their sport.
To continue on what ive said at point 5.. once your enthusiasm is fully developed you are going to read about womens cycling, online and in magazines. In the past years ive been at a lot of womens races in the Netherlands and abroad. I even tend to plan my holidays arounds the Giro Rosa (thats not punishment since I love Italy and cycling 😉 ) What I like in womenscycling is that the riders have the same urge, power, love of the bike as the mens.. however they have to ride a lot of their races in relative anonimous races with sometimes a lack of spectators, media coverage and a decent pay or prizemoney.. And still they are determined to live their dream. Thats just so inspiring.. An Evelyn Stevens that gives up her job to go racing or riders that have to work a lot and then still have time to train and race..
Its just great to see professionalism in action or just to go to race, make a chat with some riders and then see an exciting race. A few months ago I took part in a clinic with Annemiek van Vleuten and when you hear how bad some things were in some races.. hotels, safety, prizemoney.. then you get just so much respect for these women who live their dream. They wont get rich, after their cycling-days most of them need a new career to earn a decent income and still they race. Women in cycling deserve more respect, better payment and more exposure.
And women cycling is just as exciting, dynamic and competetive as mens cycling, perhaps even more.. People just need to see that and not compare the womens results etc.. to that of their male counterparts.
I love cycling in its entirety but if I had to give a specific answer about women’s cycling then I think it’s the chance for women to prove (if it really needs to be proved) that they can race in the same conditions as the men and deserve the same coverage and salary as the men.
In terms of people who like that women riders aren’t in it for the pay cheques – or racing despite the much smaller salaries and prize money, there was clearly a tension for respondents, and a comment came up over and over again about how they enjoy that women seem to be racing for the love of the sport, but want to see them better paid, recognising that this might be a contradiction.
“Women choose cycling because of the sport, not for the money. On the one hand, I think that should change. On the other hand, it makes the sport really “pure”.”
Great racing. Lots of action and attacking. Not as formulaic as men’s racing. Lots of women blog about the races, and it is great to get their perspective.
Women’s racing seems a little more amateur than men’s racing, but I mean that in a good way. The ladies seem to enjoy the racing more, and do it more for the love of the sport than for a paycheck (okay, perhaps not by choice). Men’s racing seems much more business-oriented. Which is ironic in that I want women’s to be more adequately funded, but that may actually take away part of what makes it so enjoyable to me. I hope not!
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.
I also enjoy that I don’t get to see as much of it as the men’s so it’s feels more exciting/novelty to watch and learn about new riders and teams (I’m not saying that with more coverage I wouldn’t watch it though).
“Less doping than the men”
One theme that came out was a perception that women’s cycling is cleaner than men’s, both in terms of doping and other cheating-related issues. But I don’t want to give the impression that people are naive about this – the average comment was phrased along the lines of:
More believable than the men as appears to be less dope used in peloton.
Exciting racing, and less tarnished by a drugs hangover (i.e. none of the sinking feelings you get when watching Valverde win a race…)
and it’s not that people are accepting that the women are clean…
BTW, I know there’s no “what don’t you like about women’s cycling,” but I must say that the Ukrainian woman who won silver in the worlds TT should have been tested
Some new (to me) stories, some different (to me) characters. I’m a bit cheesed off with men’s cycling tbh – I don’t seem to be able to get into it any more. I watched the Giro and the Tour and the Vuelta and they just left me cold. Partly to do with doping ennui and the idea that nobody is above suspicion – I know women’s cycling is also likely to be riddled with doping but somehow I manage to avoid thinking about it too much! I’ve also enjoyed reading interviews with some of the more outspoken members of the women’s peloton – it’s inspiring to see people like Armitstead taking a clear position on the need for equity for women’s and men’s cycling. I find such a lot of the men’s comments are airbrushed/ PRd to the point of meh.
It’s very interesting, looking at the people who’ve turned to women’s racing because of disillusionment with men’s cycling – the doping is a major issue, but also the PR machines, the “circus” that’s around the sport. The challenge for people taking women’s cycling forward will be not to just aim to be the same as the men, but to grow and develop the sport while retaining the feeling of accessibility, “honesty” and other things people a section of people prefer about the women’s side of the sport.
Tough question! I had a long period of being less or not interested in (men’s) pro cycling. Not only because of doping, but i guess also because it’s so huge. Most of the cycling press was uninteresting to me (still is). A race should be a race, and not some kind of huge circus. I just find less of the things i dislike and more of the things i do like about pro cycling in the women’s side of the sport. This goes mostly for road, cyclocross and mountainbiking. This is perhaps why i like men’s and women’s track cycling about equally.
Seems to me the women’s teams are on a more “personal” level and less “corporate”.
Chantal Blaak, if she wins it’s a good day. If she loses, it’s not such a big deal because unlike in men’s cycling, I haven’t become fanatic\familiar enough with women’s cycling that I hate half of the riders yet.
Role models/ connecting with daughters
I talked about the fact that the riders’ personalities is very important to a large proportion of respondents, and in addition to them being strong characters, interesting and intelligent, there’s a specific group of people whose favourite thing about the sport is that they provide role models, especially for children.
That it will hopefully allow and enable girls and women to compete in the same way as the men, with the same recognition along lines of Wimbledon, show jumping etc.
On the start line, I’m always so amazed by the women surrounding me. They are lawyers, mothers, and PhDs, all competing at the elite level, and many of them travelling to races unsupported. I see this in men’s cycling, too, but not to the extent that I see it in women’s cycling. Also, I’m incredulous at how supportive my competitors have been. The recent blog about Helen Wyman at the midnight cyclocross race is an example. I’ve had similar experiences. Women want to enable other women and get as many more women into the sport as possible—it’s not about intimidation. Also, I love seeing women pushing themselves and demonstrating that they, too, can tolerate pain and are determined to push to their limits.
Different body shapes doing well! I am 5 2 just an inch shorter than the average woman yet sports wise you don’t see ‘short’ women often. Cycling is different. It’s a real thrill for me to see a ‘petit’ woman overtaking her taller competitors… Especially uphill. I have found this inspirational as I did not know what was possible. This has knowledge has greatly improved my own cycling. Just wished I had known this years ago….
I’m new, so do not feel able to articulate what is unique about women’s cycling. But I can explain that I like women’s cycling for what it does for women. After I started cycling for pleasure seriously (that’s a paradox, I know), I started to realise girls and women lose out when they deliberately avoid sport – whether it be health benefits, learning risk-taking or learning by experiencing strategy and tactics for themselves. I support women’s cycling because if girls don’t see cycling role models, they won’t embrace the sport (often for misguided reasons) and they’ll lose out.
Echoing what people (especially men) have told me about their experiences of getting into following women’s cycling was the influence of having children and wanting both sons and daughters to see strong female cyclists, but also the importance of cycling-loving parents following women’s cycling specifically to connect with their daughters.
Anecdotally, this is one of the things that makes me happiest about the increase in women’s cycling tv coverage. I’ve said this before, but I used to get a fair number of contacts from guys saying how much they love watching racing with their kids, but their daughters can’t see themselves in it, or are told they can’t be Cav or Wiggins, so they have no place, and the guys really wanted to show the girls that no, cycling has a place for them too. I don’t get that anywhere near as much, these days, because women’s cycling is becoming mainstream! I love that! Here’s what people said about this:
Competitive. It shows my 2 young daughters another exercise challenge other than dancing. They’re more likely to want to go for a short ride after they’ve seen the girls Racing.
I love cycling, full stop! With the women’s racing there’s a little sense of identification with my younger self — that could have been me, 20-25 years ago — which I don’t have with the men’s. Said completely without regret, mind you: I love my real life and who knows whether I would have had the physical ability or mental stamina to cope with a life on the road/in the saddle. It’s fantastic to see women’s sport being taken more seriously now, and it gives me great hope for my own sporty 12-year-old stepdaughter.
I’m taking her, her dad and 14-y-o brother to watch Vos v Trott at Revolution Round 1 next month! Important for lads too to see that young women can be amazing athletes at the same time as being ‘normal’ young women, and that femaleness and sportiness are entirely compatible.
Always competitive, never predictable. Also that my kids get used to seeing professional sportswomen on TV
This comment was especially touching, and it’s another reminder to me of how personal the connection can be between sports and fans
Mostly though I adore the characters there are in women’s racing. I love the back-stories and tales of overcoming adversity. I enjoy reading the riders’ blogs – I find the way that women riders describe their relationships to the sport and each other much more interesting than most men.
And I use so many examples of female riders’ achievements and life stories to help me relate to my daughters. One daughter had terribly struggles coming to terms with her sexuality and when I pointed out to her that some of the women she looked up to in sport were gay, she found that to be a real positive. She still didn’t train hard enough and eventually gave up competition but has continued to follow women’s cycling in the media.
So much to love about women’s cycling
Other personal connections
There are other reasons people feel personal connections with riders – here are some more:
Having watched a number of races domestically (Canberra & Geelong) & overseas (NZ & Italy), and having met a number of the professional women riders from various teams I feel a personal connection & enjoy following the races.
And it’s a pretty obvious one, but for some respondents, one of the best things about women’s cycling is the sport they love combined with riders they find attractive.
The fact that it’s cycling, and as a guy, I crush on the whole Orica team
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few crushes – stupid, I know, I am a man in his forties, but who wouldn’t fall in love with Emma Pooley ?
Another thing people like a lot is the role social media plays in connecting them to riders, and piquing their interest. This ties in strongly with rider accessibility, which we discussed yesterday, but some of people’s favourite things were being able to follow riders’ stories, and interact with them directly
The social media aspect. The women who race are very interesting and engaging individuals, well aware of the need yo bootstrap the sport. This results in a very diverse and interesting range of media across blogs, podcasts, Twitter etc. it makes the stories easy to follow and fun to be a part of.
It’s been really frustrating trying to find coverage of women’s cycling, but having to go out and search for information on races / riders has meant if feel a much more personal connection to the racing than i do with the men’s side. Having shorter road races than the men to me men’s cutting out the hours of soft pedaling, which really adds to the intensity. I also love how approachable a lot of the riders are in person and on twitter too.
This super-long (excellent) comment sums up a lot about what people say about this – the fact the women aren’t just racing, they’re creating their own media and opportunities – and their personalities are integral to this (apologies if this looks like self-promotion, but it feels more dishonest than humble to delete parts of people’s comments)
One positive thing about the lack of corporate and UCI support of women’s cycling is that the women can’t make a career by going with the flow. They have to create their own opportunities, create the stories for themselves. This gives us fans more opportunities to witness outstanding individual and collaborative achievements. Being super fast on a bike isn’t enough for a woman athlete to get a chance with a pro team – the riders have to be multitalented, determined and resourceful to get a start, so they are the kind of people who can do creatively brilliant things when they get there.
Wherever you might hear the words “should be” you’ll find someone like Sarah Connolly or Rochelle Gilmore making it happen. So many of the competitors are entertaining, engaging and inspiring communicators too.
While holding Vos’ wheel to close down (Brand’s?) blistering attack up the Mur de Huy, surely operating at the limit of human capability, Evie Stevens cares enough to turn and look Clara Hughes in the eye and thank her, acknowledging the role of Hughes’ agonising pacesetting effort in giving Stevens the opportunity that she’s about to grasp to win the Fleche Wallone. Then, in a candidate for blog of the century, Canada’s most successful Olympian of all time writes that the belief of her team helped her achieve what she didn’t think she could.
When men say that women can’t handle more racing, the stars find their own quiet ways to prove otherwise. Pooley does a 12-hour triathlon up the Eiger faster than nearly all the men. Worrack and Stevens string together the genius virtual grand tour, winning. Clara Hughes invests her reputation in a three month, 13,000km lap of Canada through every kind of ridiculous weather, on a bicycle, hosting two public functions every day to inspire people who are struggling with their lives. What a champion. I loved the photo of Hughes sitting on the floor of a deserted school corridor, waiting for her turn to take the stage – no minders, red carpet, chair or other celebrity trappings, just being a normal person in a rare moment she had to herself.
After enduring a whole year of relentless professional discouragement, Marijn de Vries has the strength of character to not only earn a better ride but immediately deliver great race results. Such a shame that she then had to heal broken bones and do it all over again.
Vos attacks the sand on her cyclocross bike with such effort that my legs hurt just watching her pedal.
Pooley’s winning attack at 2010 GP de Plouay that Vos tried so hard to follow and couldn’t, at which Arndt and Johansson didn’t even flinch, is so much more exciting to watch when you know what superstar legends Arndt and Johansson are.
These are some of the things I like best about this sport.
One thing that links with social media is people love being able to see a sense of community and camaraderie among riders.
These women are fucking fierce but also care profoundly how one another rides and succeeds. You can do both!!
At the grassroots level the camaraderie is great to see, even between women from different teams. There is a lot of mutual respect.
and it’s not just the community of riders that feels good to people – being part of that ‘family’ is something that connects people to the sport
I’m just a fan who turns up occasionally watches a race, tweets occasionally and watches on TV, but I could almost say I feel part of a community. You don’t get that with other sports!
EVERYTHING!! At the amateur level I ride at, it’s the fun of carpooling to races with teammates, group rides, post group ride beers, and the fun of belonging to a group of people who share my interests.
Attacking! Strong female role models. Marianne Vos. The energy, enthusiasm and persistence of women’s cycling obsessives 🙂
I wanted to explore the subset of people who’s favourite thing about pro women’s cycling is that they see it as an interesting time to be involved – there’s definitely a feeling that it’s on the cusp of something big, and people feel proud and happy to be supporting the racing as it’s clearly getting more coverage, bigger teams, better racing.
Seeing how it is slowly getting more media coverage and the respect it deserves.
The sense that it’s still a developing sport; that I’m witnessing it at a transitional stage where it will grow to the same stature alongside men’s cycling as other sports where women are strongly represented; also my favourite cyclist (Lizzie Armitstead) races in women’s cycling, so watching/following her is one of the things I like best about women’s cycling
Athleticism/ competitive / sporting achievements
There’s no way I can overlook this category – which the reasons above are more human, as we say with the fact the a huge proportion of people love women’s cycling for the attacking nature. Here’s what people said about these categories
Seeing the amazing sporting achievements. The huge commitment and dedication they have to training means they are amazing athletes and I love to see that.
chicks kicking butt! personally, the feeling of going incredibly fast in a peloton – the silence and the click of the gears and the adrenaline buzz.
It’s badass! Women are mean and strong – more than you might think, if you are the sort that assume them to be the weaker sex
Everything! Sometimes it scary just to watch but to think about being in the middle of all that chaos and survive is amazing to me. The level of fitness and competition these women have is amazing.
The chance to see women show how they can physically excel, like the men in TdF. The excitement of road racing
Watching aggressive racing amongst a group of smart, strong women that I’d love to race against.
I enjoy watching riders push themselves to the limit, attack, and face adversity. Love an underdog taking the win.
Up next, I’ll be looking at what got people interested in women’s cycling in the first place. And as always, a huge thank you to everyone who answered this question – reading the answers really brightened my miserable winter, and I was grinning at so many of you across the ether. All these wonderful reasons for loving this wonderful sport! And a big shout-out to the people who left enormous comments, listing everything they liked, or just the short comments like these:
Can I just copy Sarah and say everything? But seriously, I do like that the races are more consistently aggressive than the men’s side of the sport. And tho I often root for her opponents, it is pretty amazing to be following a sport when a rider like Vos is around.
I don’t know how to answer this question. What is there not to like?
If you have any questions about the analysis, the questions, anything at all, please do ask me in the comments, by email at prowomenscycling [at] gmail [dot] com, or on twitter. If you’d like to read any of the previous articles in this series, they’re all under the Research tab. And remember, you can listen to Dan and me talk about the findings of the whole survey in our podcast analysis show.