The loss of women’s road races in 2017 – and patterns since 2006

I am in the middle of having a look at the UCI women’s road calendar for 2017, and one of the things I like to do is to look at each year in the context of recent history.  I think it’s important to see what the trends are, and what things mean for the calendar.  In Part 1 of this year’s work, I looked at the chaos of the 2016 road calendar, and how many changes there were between the calendar being published in October 2016, and what was actually raced. As well as that, I looked at how the 2017 is different to 2016. – and this time I’m going to put that in the context of research I’ve already done.

I started this in 2011, and took 2006 as my “base” year, because that’s when CQ Ranking started their comprehensive records, and it seemed as good a place as any.  This gives us patterns to look at – and I have to say, at first glance, the numbers are depressing.  Here’s how the number of women’s road races in 2017 compares to previous years:

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But within cycling, it’s not just about the number of races, because that can be misleading:  the Giro Rosa, 10 days long, provides more racing than 6 days races, for example.  So I also look at this in terms of racing days:

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So the conclusions?  At December 2017, it looks like the 2017 women’s road calendar will have 18 fewer races than in 2016, but only 9 fewer racing days, and it looks like we’re on a downturn from the recent peak of 186 racing days in 2015.

However, there are some caveats.  As I said in Part 1, there are some races that are missing from the calendar that may run – the 6-day Tour de l’Aedèche, the 3 day Tour de Bretagne, and the Chrono des Nations ITT, all in France, and three day races in South Africa.  Apparently the three French races might not be on the calendar because the French Cycling Federation hasn’t sent in the paperwork – and the South African races are in November, and it seems as though the UCI doesn’t include them on the calendar until the following year, counting the year ending in October (which must be frustrating for them, as teams won’t automatically see them when they look at the calendar).

So let’s assume that those 6 races will appear on the calendar at some stage – that would mean there will “only” be 13 fewer UCI road races in 2017 than 2016, and 3 more racing days overall.  However, while that’s a better picture, it’s still not positive; and I can’t stress enough how frustrating this must be for teams to have to guess about which races will be on.  The French races had problems last year too, and I can’t understand how, nearly two months after the UCI calendar was published, they or their Federation hasn’t done their admin.

This is not professional, and I strongly believe the UCI needs to take a stronger stand on this.  At the moment, it feels like the UCI will let races appear on the calendar right up until the date they’re meant to run on, and teams are just meant to keep checking for changes.  I’d much rather see fewer races than the chaotic state we’re in now, especially as this is something that would never happen for the men’s WorldTour.

The next caveat is that I haven’t included the new CRT-ranked races, the criteriums (I’m grinning, because I always wonder if I should say “criteria”).  They won’t have UCI points for teams and riders, and won’t have an impact on the wider road race calendar, in the same way that discussions of the men’s calendars don’t factor in their CRT races.  I am a huge fan of crits, and always will be, but they’re not on the same level as the road races.

But getting back to where the changes have happened…

Which races have changed since 2006?

In this table, light green are day races, dark green are stage races, red is for the World Cup day races, Yellow for the WorldTour day races and orange for WWT stage races.  If you want a closer look, click on each image, or you can view the full table as a PDF.

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Now, there are some things to consider, when looking at this table.  I’m a big fan of the way some races expand, for example, the Omloop door Middag Humsterland day race, which left the calendar because it transformed into the Energiewacht Tour, now known as the Healthy Ageing Tour.  Or the Festival Elsy Jacobs stage race, which started as the GP Elsy Jacobs, then added the GP Nicolas Fratz, then a non-UCI Team Time Trial, before combining the races into the three-day stage race we’re used to now.

Then there are stage races that turned into day races:  the Ronde van Drenthe used to be a stage race before splitting into the World Cup, Drentse Acht and Novilon Eurocup (just down to to races since last year) – and the Tour of ChongMing Island started as the stage race, then added a day race for the World Cup, until the WorldTour came along, and they put the stage race in for that instead.

There are also a couple of idiosyncrasies in there – for example, in 2013, the Novilon Eurocup was meant to run, but extreme weather meant it was cancelled that year (it stopped the year the WorldTour came in).

However, aside from these examples, it’s pretty easy to see the patterns, with the summer stage races being more stable than anything else, which is always a surprise to me, as I’d have expected the Classics to be easier to run than the longer races, and especially because a lot of the races clash with each other.  But I’ve written before that to me, clashes can be positive.

With only one level of team, from tiny club teams who don’t pay any riders, through to the biggest teams in the world all nominally having the same ranking, UCI-registered, the only kind of cut-off there is are the top UCI-ranked teams getting automatic invites to WorldTour and .1 level races.  One of the things that’s endlessly frustrating about the UCI calendar is that experienced fans know which of the apparently same-ranked races are important.  For example, the Drentse Acht is a 1.2 level race, but it will have all the top level teams racing it, as it’s part of the Ronde van Drenthe weekend.  Or the Borsele ITT, which isn’t even UCI-ranked, is one of the most important standalone ITTs on the calendar, as it counts as part of the Dutch Cycling Federation ranking, and most of the big teams are there already for the Omloop van Borsele road race.

So while there’s no official tier of development races, I really like the fact that there are some clashes, and that while the top teams are racing eg the Giro Rosa, there’s the Tour de Feminin for the next level of riders.  I used to love it when there was the RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden in the Netherlands for the sprinters, while the climbers took on the Giro Trentino on the same weekend (back when Trentino was all ridiculous Alpine gradients), because it meant the big squads could send a team to each of them, with specialists backed up by development riders, while smaller teams could send their A squad to one or the other, knowing they would have more chances.  I’ll talk more about this when I look at the shape of the 2017 season, but to me, there’s no problem with eg Marianne Vos and Lizzie Deignan racing different things one weekend, then coming together to face each other, and all the rest of the top Classics riders for a WorldTour race like Plouay, Flèche or Vårgårda.

What else does that table tell us?

The most important, and stark, thing that tells us, is how the Olympics impact on the calendar.  If you follow the column of each Olympic year down, you’ll see there are some interesting patterns around 2008, 2012 and now 2016.  The men’s cycling calendar revolves around the biggest race, the Tour de France, with the Spring Classic Monuments and the other two Grand Tours next on the ladder, and a lot more races showing live on TV around the world (it’s not unusual, for example, for Eurosport to have two different races on their two UK channels, and hardcore cycling fans see it as normal to be watching one race on the TV and another on the laptop).  But while there are more and more women’s races streamed and shown on TV every year, the only ones we can really guarantee seeing live, in non-Dutch/Flemish languages, are the Olympics and World Championships.  Like a lot of smaller sports, and definitely like a lot of women’s sports, outside of the ones with biggest equity (I’d argue athletics, swimming and tennis), the Olympics brings a huge audience that wouldn’t necessarily know that women competed, or how to watch them, otherwise.

I love that the Olympics and Worlds bring in a huge new audience, but one of the unintended consequences is that there are the pop-up races that I mentioned in Part 1, which a cynic like me would suggest only run during the Olympic qualifying period as a way to get domestic riders extra points to try to qualify for the Games.  That may be overly cynical, but there’s also the definite Olympic effect where a lot of sponsors will pay attention when it’s the year before, or the year of the Olympics, but not see the benefit for the other two years.  Deals are announced in terms of Olympic periods, for example Boels Rental committing to sponsor the team until 2018, or Rabobank’s deal with the team ending this year.  It’s fantastic that more attention is paid in the run up to the Olympics; but it’s a shame that some sponsors seem that as a quick win, that they can utilise in the years when the Olympics are in the public eye, but ignore otherwise.

Of course, this means that while the post-Olympic year has traditionally been precarious, we should absolutely applaud the sponsors of teams and races who are here for the sport in 2017 and 2018 – and of course, support the races that give us more media coverage every year.  When races are live, and/or widely viewable, or at last can demonstrate good social media engagement, they can pull in the sponsors, and give the calendar more of the stability that helps everyone.

***

In Part 3 I’ll take a closer look at where the calendar changes have been happening, and talk a bit about the implications of that – and then after that, I’ll look more closely at the shape of the 2017 calendar, and how the season might work.  You can find the research I’ve done on earlier years in the Podium Café series, and then the posts starting from 2015 under the women’s road calendar tag on this website.

As always, I’d love to talk to you about all of this, so do leave me a comment below, or on twitter.  I’m funded to spend time doing this kind of thing by my wonderful Patreon supporters.  If you want to join them, for as little as $/£/€ 2 a month, I’d be very grateful – all the information about that is over here.

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