Every year during the Giro Rosa, I have conversations with people who either say that they find it hard to follow the women’s Giro, or who suggest that it would get more coverage if they were on at a different time. I love talking about women’s cycling, but it can be hard to have long conversations on twitter etc, so I wanted to put my thoughts in one place.
First of all, the Giro is the longest women’s race on the calendar. Women’s races are limited to 7 days without explicit permission from the UCI, and while there used to be three women’s ‘Grand Tours’ of ten days – the Giro, the Tour de l’Aude and the Grand Boucle (sort of the women’s Tour de France, but not run by the ASO), we lost the other two in the 2000s, when a lot of women’s races disappeared. So the Giro is important as a long race, with room for a range of different riders to shine (stages for sprinters, Classics types, ITTer, pure climbers etc) in the same race, and it has a long history, with all the excitement and energy that comes from racing in Italy. It always attracts most of the best riders and biggest teams in the world, and just like the men’s Grand Tours, stage wins here are as as much a major goal for riders as the GC is.
As a side issue, this year is both the first year of the UCI’s Women’s World Tour, which the race is a natural part of – and there has been less TV coverage on Italian station RAI than we’ve become used to, and less media from the race organisation – but those are separate issues I’ll get into another time.
So why is the Giro on at the same time as the TdF?
The women’s Giro is traditionally on at the same time as the men’s Tour de France, just as the Tour de l’Aude used to be on at the same time as the men’s Giro. When I first started watching women’s racing, I was confused by this, because it feels logical that the women’s races must lose attention this way. But I was looking at this from my British perspective, and this is very much an Italian race.
As an Italian race, with Italian sponsors, the race organisers are looking to maximise the Italian audience, and they do this really well. Traditionally, the Giro Rosa has been reported on by RAI, Italy’s national public broadcasting company (equivalent of the BBC) as part of their Tour de France reporting – a short 5-10 mins highlights during the live TdF show, between the end of the men’s race and before the analysis, and with the usual 40-60 mins long highlights shown straight after the men’s highlights. This brings in an enormous audience, who aren’t specifically “women’s cycling” fans – who are primarily fans of men’s racing, as well as the usual extra huge boost of numbers who only tune in for Grand Tours. It’s a great tactic for getting women’s bike racing in front of the biggest audience they can.
This year, RAI has made some changes to how they’ve showing the TdF and the Giro. The TdF highlights are on the main channels, rather than just the sport channels, the women’s highlights within the men’s programme have been expanded, to around 10-15 mins, and the longer highlights have stopped. That makes it frustrating for fans of the women’s race – and it’s super-hard to look at the RAI schedules and work out when the Giro is on. Personally, I’d like it if RAI carried on this model, with the longer highlights still on RAI Sport 2, or at least, the women’s highlights repeated as a standalone programme, so it’s possible to find it.
But I can see why RAI are doing this too – and it’s lead to one of my favourite moments of both the 2016 Giro and the TdF. Yesterday, the men were racing Stage 3 of Le Tour very, ve-ry slowly, and so, with nothing happening in their race, and the programme likely to over-ran, RAI put on the women’s race, with the men split-screened live into the corner – it was fabulous!
And look at the viewing figures that resulted:
So that’s all very well for the Italians, you might say, but what about me in the UK/Australia/USA etc? We want to watch it too. Well yes, but we can see why an Italian race organiser is more focused on the Italian cycling market, because it is unarguable that the market for cycling in Italy is bigger than in our English-speaking countries (probably all put together!) and pretty much every country around the world. And of course races run on the relative small budgets of women’s races, and often by volunteers, will focus on their home country first.
What would be great is if other countries’ broadcasters could decide they’d follow the RAI model, and buy in the RAI highlights, either to show as part of their TdF coverage, or show as a standalone show, after the TdF, but it’s complicated, because the TdF and their TV rights deals are run by the ASO, and the Giro is a completely standalone different organisation.
I’ve heard that buying footage from RAI is expensive. And I know that some of you are saying, right now, that there are so many more options than the traditional television model, and I absolutely agree with you – my ideal would be that the UCI streamed it on their site, or had a deal like how Red Bull TV show the major MTB races. There are lots of women’s races that are hitting a huge international audience though innovative streaming solutions – but again, I’ll get back to that another time (here’s my 2016 guide to women’s races that are shown live, if you’re interested – the context is that we’re getting more and more every year).
Would moving make a difference?
One of the things that does frustrate me is the argument that if the Giro was shown at a different time to the Tour, it would naturally have more coverage – especially when this comes from the TV types, because I just don’t see the evidence of this.
Firstly, all women’s races clash with some men’s races – and of course there’s an ongoing argument among men’s cycling fans WorldTour races clash with each other (Paris-Nice & Tirreno-Adriatico! Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse! Even the Tour de Pologne clashes with the TdF – and those are just the men’s WorldTour, let alone the other men’s races). It’s always interesting to me that it’s possible to cover eg Paris-Nice and Tirreno, or all the men’s races that butt right up alongside each other, but apparently not the women’s Giro, because it’s on at the same time as the Tour.
And secondly, it’s not that we’re in a situation where Women’s WorldTour races that don’t clash with the men’s Grand Tours are being shown. Every year I can watch the Ronde van Drenthe live, on a small Dutch station – and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda moving to the day after Milano-San Remo, and not clashing with anything important on the men’s calendar didn’t result in an increase in coverage. The Philadelphia Classic is streamed as the main event after the men’s race, on an international stream that was embedded on pretty much every forward-thinking cycling site, but that leaves an awful lot of places that didn’t – and the race closest to my heart, the Aviva Women’s Tour, didn’t get their highlights picked up by all kinds of TV stations I know they approached. I could go on, and on, and on like this, but I hope you’ve taken my point.
I think it’s an easy excuse to make, frankly – and while I’ll take the “we’d cover it more if it was at a different time” from sites like Cyclingnews and Cycling Tips, who cover the women’s races throughout the year, so are already putting their money where their mouth is – but not from the media who don’t have that track record.
Where could the Giro move to?
So, those are the reasons why the Giro is where it is, but let’s say the Giro did decide to move, where could it move to, to avoid clashing with a men’s Grand Tour? I do regular analysis of the women’s cycling calendar (you can find the last few years’ posts via this tag, and older ones on Podium Café) and this post looks in detail at the shape of the 2016 women’s season (as it was in October last year) which shows there are some definite gaps – but it’s not particularly simple to find a new spot for the Giro, where it wouldn’t clash with major women’s or men’s races in a way that could keep the top quality field it’s known for. Not impossible, but not as easy as people who say “the Giro should just move” suggest.
It can’t move to the Spring, because it would clash with the Spring Classics, which are huge for the women’s peloton, so that pretty much knocks out March and April. There is the gap between the Ronde van Vlaanderen on 3rd April, and Flèche Wallonne on 20th, but it would be tight, and would make the spring super-heavy, because the same women contest the Classics and the Giro – and it would clash with two smaller, but very important stage races, the sprinty Energiewacht Tour (important for the big Dutch teams) AND the Emakumeen Bira, which is for the climbers – so that would not be welcomed by the peloton.
I guess technically it could slot in straight after Flèche, but again, that clashes with existing races like the Festival Elsy Jacobs, that already have smaller fields because a lot of the big names take time off after their long Classics season. It would have to start almost immediately after Flèche, so it didn’t clash with the men’s Giro, which starts in the first week of May.
The men’s Giro takes out most of May (unless the two Giros combined, for some kind of united approach to broadcasters, which could be a really interesting approach, but would be a totally different discussion) – so then we’re looking at June. The traditional National Championships weekend is at the end of June, so that’s out of the question. The start of the month has the Philadelphia Classic, which itself is connected to the USA National Champs, and the men’s race on the same day, and Aviva Women’s Tour all taking up WorldTour spots at the start of the month – which would be very tricky, politically, and would also damage the ability to get a top-class field.
If we’re avoiding the TdF, we have to skip July, and while there are no big women’s races in the first few weeks of August, there’s a reason for this – the Olympic Games. While it’s only every four years, no race with ambitions to get all the top riders would go up against it, because unlike in men’s cycling, the Olympic Games are a really, really big deal, and major life goal for the women. This is because although it doesn’t have as strong a field as the average World Champs, it’s televised world-wide, immediately recognisable, and very, very important to sponsors. While for 3 years in the cycle, this wouldn’t be an issue, it just isn’t worth it to have that fourth year issue – and that’s before we even think about issues of racing a Grand Tour in Italy in August…
The Vuelta a España starts at the end of August and runs into the middle of September – and there wouldn’t really be space to put the Giro in after that, but before riders would be leaving for wherever the World Championships are, if they follow the traditional pattern of running at the end of September/early October – which already effects the Vuelta. It could work if the Worlds were in Italy, and in the second week of October, I suppose, but the whole point of Worlds is it moves around the World
So, effectively, if we want the women’s Giro at a time when it doesn’t clash with the Classics or a men’s Grand Tour, it has to be in the first two weeks of June, and that would take a huge amount of work by the race, and especially by the UCI to juggle the calendar, and persuade races like Philly and Aviva to move.
It wouldn’t be impossible, and I’d never complain about a really good shake-up to the whole calendar, but if I were the race or the UCI, I’d need a really solid cast-iron guarantee from broadcasters across the world, and cycling media that they’d definitely show it live, before I started that game…. and this circles us back to the starting point – that having the Giro running at the same time as the TdF makes sense for Italy, all over again!
If you’ve got any questions about this, or want to tell me I’m wrong, or just chat about it all, pop into the comments, or talk to me on twitter – I’m genuinely fascinated by how the season works, and how it could work differently. And if you want to follow this year’s Giro, my guide is here, and I’m collecting what highlights there are under this tag.