I’ve been looking at the 2017 women’s road cycling calendar – in Part 1 of this series, I looked at how 2017 compares to 2016 (and how the 2016 calendar changed between) publication and racing, and in Part 2, I looked at how 2017 fits into the patterns of numbers of races over time. Now, I’m going to look at where the changes have happened, and the implications for the women’s calendar as a whole.
So here’s how the races have changed since 2006. I used 2006 as my base year, the first time I started this research, as it was the first full year of races logged on CQ Ranking, but it’s useful as it includes three Olympic years, and as you can see, there’s been an upward trend on most continents, but there tends to be a large increase in the Olympic year, then a reduction the following year, and a slow climb to the next Olympic year.
(If you need this larger, click on the image)
These Olympic boosts are especially noticeable in the continents where there are fewer races – but especially noticeable in South American (from 6 races last year, to none this year – that’s the Venezuelan races, which traditionally have some only raced in Olympic year and the loss of the two Argentinian races in San Luís) and Asia (from 9 last year to 3 this year – losing races run for the first time last year in Thailand and Israel, but also the established Tour of Qatar).
As I’ve been saying in all of these posts, the three South African races may or may not be running this year, as they might not be on the calendar as the UCI seems to have started counting them as part of the 2018 season, even if they run at the start of November, so there may be three races in Africa, but it’s still bad that we’re only relying on one country to give us any races on the whole of the African continent.
And the same goes for Australia’s role in Oceania – it’s great that we have two races in Australia on the calendar, but it’s sad we’ve lost the World Cup and Stage Race that used to run in New Zealand.
It’s to be hoped that the UCI is working on races in Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America. One option could be working with existing national-level races, to see if they could be increased in status, but looking at the disparity between the continents, maybe the UCI could offer them a discount on the high fees races have to pay to be UCI-accredited, to increase the opportunities on these continents.
It’s hard even for the Australians to get the chances to race professionally in Europe, and they at least have English as a first language, and (until Brexit) free movement in Europe because of the links to the UK. Riders who want to make it from the other continents face more barriers even beyond the language and distance issues, so it would be more fair to support races at least a little bit closer to home.
And there are existing races that could step up. In Japan, for example, there are women’s races at the Tour of Okinawa and Japan Cup, where the men’s races are also UCI-ranked. African races like the Tour du Rwanda could be supported to have women’s races as well.
How could this change?
In fact, it would be a very simple UCI project to approach all the existing races in the Continental Tour series could be approached, to ask them if they run women’s races, and then, if they do, what are the barriers that stop them applying for UCI status for their race? And if they don’t, what support they’d need to run a women’s race? And ask the National Federations/look on CQ Ranking for the .NE women’s races on CQ Ranking, and ask them why they don’t think about getting UCI-ranked. I know that the National Road Series in Australia, for example, has some great races – so what’s stopping them getting added to the calendar in the same way the USA races have been doing in the last few years?
There’s a really simple project for the UCI that could provide a set of “quick wins”, to add some races around the world quickly, with some other strands of work that may take longer, but would be very important in increasing equity for cycling in the parts of the world that need it more.
Of course, if there are races in parts of the world that couldn’t meet all the criteria for a .1 or .2 race, this is another argument for the women’s calendar to have multiple tiers of racing, as the men do. We already have the problem that there are lots of .2 races, like, for example, the Drentse Acht, that have a much stronger field, and are more prestigious than .1 races; and pretty much everyone, from teams, race organisers and fans, have been calling for multiple tiers, like the men have, for as long as I’ve been following women’s cycling. Having a WorldTour level, a Professional and a Continental level of races, like the men have, would allow for races in parts of the world to develop as well.
It’s important to add that as well as supporting races to have UCI-ranked women’s races, I’d like to see the UCI crack down on “pop-up” races just for Olympic qualification points, because that really doesn’t help develop cycling, if women can only race once every four years. Personally, looking at the chaos of the women’s road calendar everywhere (and especially for the 2016 calendar), I think the UCI needs to have another look at the criteria for letting races register, to stop the trend of races being cancelled before they’ve ever run. And part of that should, in my opinion, be an expectation of a race being planned to run for at least two years as a minimum.
Again, maybe this could be tied into a multi-tier system. If a new race wants to be part of the higher level, and have more points, it has to run in more than just the Olympic qualification period – if not, or it can only confirm one year at a time, it is in the Continental tier, with fewer points.
So, what about Europe?
With the vast majority of women’s races taking place in Europe, I wanted to have a look at the changes in different European countries too. You can enlarge each image by clicking on it, or have a look at the PDF here.
So, what does this mean?
Since the Lotto Cycling Cup races became part of the UCI-ranked races, Belgian races have stayed stable, and of course I’m very happy that after years with no UCI-ranked races at all, the UK is up to 3. Italy has been stable for the last few years, but it’s a shame that they haven’t had double figures of races since 2009.
I’m surprised that the Netherlands have as much change as they do – while they have been moving between 8 and a peak of 12 races in 2015, they’re down to 8 again in 2017.
France… well, I’ve talked about the three races that may be added to the calendar late, but they’ve also lost races that had been part of the Coupe de France. It’s never going to stop being strange to me that France is the home of the ASO, who run so many amazing French races that are so successful, but the only French ASO race for women is La Course, which has actually got shorter, definitely down to Junior distance this year.
Losing races in Germany is always disappointing, but especially down to just 1 race, when they used to have regular World Cups – and we’ve gone to no races in Russia, Poland and Finland.
I’m personally sad that we’re down to just 1 race in Switzerland, as not only is it the country the UCI is based in, so the UCI should technically have more pull, or be able to provide more support, but they also have a chance to run more of the kind of races we’re lost.
The ongoing problem of climbing races
I’ve talked in previous years about the wider problem in where races have been lost and gained, because while the numbers of races that we’ve lost over time have mostly replaced (until this year), they’ve tend to be lost from the countries with mountains, and replaced in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and latterly the UK, where, while the races are fantastic, they just can’t have the climbing races, and this has really impacted on the pure climbers, who just don’t get the opportunities they used to.
At the moment, a “mountain goat”, or a rider with talents similar to the Froome and Contadors of the men’s world, would be forgiven for looking at the women’s peloton and wondering how she could fit into it, outside of a small handful of races like the Giro Rosa and Emakumeen Bira, and that’s very depressing – and also a recent phenomenon.
Losing the two Grand Tours, the Grand Boucle and the Tour de l’Aude, which took in the mountains of France, and having the Italian climbing races disappear or change to flat (the Giro del Trentino, for example, which used to be pure Alpine) have been real problems. If I were involved in the UCI, I’d target the Federations in the countries that could have good climbing races (where there aren’t just the mountains, but also the infrastructure to run races, like ski resorts for the finish) and give them support to give the climbers chance to race, as well as the Classics riders and sprinters. And again, there are quick wins here – put pressure on the men’s races with good climbing stages (the Tour de France, for example…) and maybe think outside of the box, by seeing if Mountain Bike World Cups, which obviously have the infrastructure to have race finishes, could also run road races, either themselves, or in partnership with race organisers.
Next time I’ll look a bit more at the shape of the 2017 season, and at the 2017 Women’s WorldTour – so if you have anything you want me to talk about, let me know.
If you have any questions, comments, or have spotted holes in my maths, please do leave me a comment below, or talk to me about it on twitter.
I’ve been writing about the calendar changes, on and off, for the last 6 years:
- Earlier posts in the Podium Café series
- Posts from last year 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.