Peter van der Veen is one of my favourite commentators on women’s cycling – you should all be following him on twitter, and be checking into Cycling Fever for excellent stats and information about women’s racing.
On Monday 3rd October the organisation behind the Amstel Gold Race (AGR) announced a women’s race on the same day as the men and most likely it will also be included in the Women’s World Tour. Raced on the same day as the men’s race, it will no doubt be a great addition to the WWT with its challenging hilly course. Big crowds and with many media already there, it can be expected to get a lot of attention including TV coverage. It sounds like a success story, but if one looks beyond the actual race, one might see a downside to the story.
But first an introduction to the race. The race is not completely new, not only has there been 3 editions in 2001, 2002, 2003. There is also a race in May called the Boels Rental Hills Classic which is in the same area although it has not the same parcours.
Over the past years, a lot of people have lobbied for a women AGR, reasoning was that while the Dutch riders dominated the women’s cycling, they did not have a real platform to show their skills. As the Amstel Gold Race is considered the 6th Monument and the pinnacle of Dutch cycling, it draws a lot of media attention. However race organiser Leo van Vliet always made excuses not to have the race.
The most used excuses were logistics: it is difficult to have the same on the same day as the course uses a lot of climbs the same time; and economically, not profitable.
When asked by cyclist Marijn de Vries why there was no women AGR in 2015 Van Vliet replied women could race the sportive on Saturday implying that female cyclist were all amateurs.
However, at the start of this year Boels became the sponsor of the Amstel Gold Race. No need to say, Boels has a big interest in a women’s race, with Boels Dolmans the number 1 team in women’s cycling right now. Suddenly Van Vliet said a women’s AGR is possible and all issues have been solved.
Personally this gives me reason to doubts to how long this race will be on the calendar when Boels quits their sponsoring. But then again having a race with a name and connection to a big men’s race for only a few years is better than not having it, right?
Well maybe not. The race will be held on the same day as De Ronde van Gelderland, a race that will not take place when less than 100km away there is a WWT race to race. Also the day before there is Omloop van de IJsseldelta where WWT riders won’t race either to be in top shape for AGR. 2 1.2 races will have to make way for one reluctant WWT race. If you are thinking “they are only minor .2 races”, but those .2 races are very important for development of riders in the Netherlands.
Last year there were 9 races in the Netherlands, 1 WWT and 8 open to club/local riders. Take away these 2 races, the Boels Hills Classic, as it has the same sponsor and is ridden in the same area, and even Boels Ladies Tour which might also became a WWT, race you have left only 4 races left. or even 3 races, with addition of a female version Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Omloop van Borsele will be left with the same fate. Outside the Netherlands, the Emakumeen Bira which was in mid April this year has already received a message from the UCI that they will be moved to mid February. And trust me, North of Spain is not as comfortable as Murcia or Andalusia in February. Same with Dwars door de Westhoek, as they received a similar letter.
3 races where club but also young riders who could not get a pro contract as first year elite can race in is not really giving development chances to those riders. If you can’t race on a higher level on a regular basis how can you expect to get better? This is taking away probably the best catalyst there is to get better in the sport. And if you question they can run the race without the WWT riders or WWT riders who are not lined up at the WWT race because the parcours does not suit them? Maybe but only very few teams have the riders and staff and equipment to race at two locations. Or they don’t have the budget to race at two places and then the choice for a WWT for a team is not hard.
Everywhere we are calling for more races to be added to the highest level but if every kid goes to university we won’t have people left that fix our roads or bake our bread etc. Women’s cycling is getting more media attention, but those small races are not profiting they still depend on their local sponsors. And this is the real problem because local sponsors have no interest in mass media exposure – what does the local butcher of Borsele care if an American sees his name mentioned on the boarding? He would rather have his local community visit the race. Unless there is local company with a lot of money, or a nation who gladly want to spent some money on sporting projects these small races will be disappearing from the calendar due to lack of local sponsors as globalisation is endangering these local sponsors.
This creates a gap in the sort of races there are the small races which run on a very small budget and a group of volunteers to keep the race running and have no interest in mass media exposure on one side. And the big budget race where the goal is as much media exposure. For the sport as a whole both type of races are good however the media complain as there is nothing to tell about it. Often interpreting it as a bad race because they don’t keep fans informed.
But this is not true these races do much good for cycling. OK teamsponsors don’t get the exposure they could get, but riders do get the experience and training with the limited calendar every race is welcomed. Go to a cqranking, cyclingfever, PCS and see how many races a young rider on a team like Lensworld, Futuroscope, INPA or Parkhotel is in and how many are .2. What the sport needs is a extensive calendar, and not a WWT-only calendar where women ride in advance of the men’s race to warm the crowd.
There is a limit to the number of WWT races we can have at this moment. Calling for every big men’s race to have a women’s race too is not helping in my opinion. The strength of women’s cycling is also measured in the capabilities of having their own Classic races. I personally would call it a weakness if every women’s race is just a copy of the men’s race. Secondlym in the end some the current new WWT races will be moved to a lower level and because these new races are only interested in economic value they might not want to do that and just quit.
To conclude, the women’s version of AGR will increase media attention, but on the local level decreases the number of (smaller) races. If AGR disappears in a few years it will have done more damage than good for the sport, and it looks that way as one sponsor is currently putting a lot of money in the sport. Even if AGR will be on the calendar longer than a few years, Dutch cycling can take a big blow if no more smaller races are organized instead of the ones disappearing. And if Dutch cycling takes a blow imagine what women’s cycling looks like without Dutch riders, sponsors, teams…
PS: And yes you can call me pessimistic but still I think this is an important issue.
Want to talk to Peter about his views, or ask him questions? He’s got an awesome twitter, let him know.