I’m currently writing a mini-series about why 2017 is such an unusual year for women’s road cycling, and why it’s the first year of a new chapter for the sport – whether that turns out to be be positive or negative. Yesterday I talked about how the 2017 Classics season is really different to 2016 and the previous years. And I also talked about how calendar has changed, including the increase in race distances, and in Classics races, and how we’ve gone from just four World Cup Classics in eight weeks, two years ago, to eight in eight weeks.
But while the 2017 Classics have been less…. attacking… than in previous years, with surprise wins by sprinters, and a lack of early attacks in some of the races we’d expect to see more early action, it’s not as simple as saying it’s because of the longer races, and more full calendar (though I’m sure that is making a difference), because there are a few more unique circumstances that are impacting on 2017, and I want to talk about some of those.
2017 has been a fascinating year already for women’s cycling, and we’re only in April. We’re about to head into Ardennes Week, which signals the end of the Spring Classics, and already the season has been completely different to previous years.
It really feels like this is the first year of a new chapter for the sport, where the women’s Classics have fallen in line with the men’s, and the old patterns – where one or two riders could dominate the entire Classics season – are over. I’m going to talk about why the changes have happened, and have a bit of context, because while there is a lot to celebrate, it raises a lot of questions about the future of women’s cycling, and how races and teams will adapt to the new Spring.
So what has happened so far?
After the racing year opened in Australia, the season had some major changes, with the loss of two pre-European-season stage races, the Ladies Tour of Qatar and the Vuelta a San Luis in Argentina. Qatar, especially, had been the first chance to see a lot of the new-season versions of teams, and a chance for staff and riders to spot any issues and iron them out, and for fans to make guesses about how the Classics could pan out. Without them, the first time we saw a lot of teams was Omloop het Nieuwsblad at the end of February.
The first thing to say about how the season has gone it to compare to last year. These are the 2017 winners, and I’m going to get a bit geeky for a moment
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.
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:
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:
For the last six years, on and off, I’ve been doing some research and analysis of the women’s cycling road calendar. I started this in the first place because I wanted to really understand the impact of losing and gaining races because I hadn’t seen it anywhere else; and because I work visually, I ended up with lots of colour-coordinated charts and spreadsheets. You can find the earlier posts in the Podium Café series, and then the posts from last year under the women’s road calendar tag on this website.
Now, I usually do this when the UCI announces the coming year’s calendar, around the Road World Champs, but this year, I couldn’t face it, and saved it up until a newsworthy time – which turned out to be a good move. The thing that stopped me doing it is that it changes so much in the months between the announcement and when the races actually take place.
We see this every year – new races that are announced that never run (I’m thinking of the Syrian races, which were included in the calendar for years, even though the war made it perfectly clear they’d never happen, as the most egregious examples, but every year there are more), ones that move around the calendar between initial announcement, and the “pop-up” races that are given UCI status so late in the year that of course most big teams, who have to set their racing schedules in the summer, can’t get there. If you want examples, check out my posts about the 2016 season: the initial announcement in October, changes between October and December, and then more changes by February.
And now it’s time for my annual look at the difference between was was initially on the calendar for 2016, and what was actually raced – and then I’ll look ahead to what we know about 2016. Prepare for the colour coding!
How did the 2016 calendar change between original publication and racing?
To have a closer look, click on each image, or you can open the PDF version.
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?
I’ve got an sporadic series looking at how the women’s road cycling calendar changes over time, because it’s something that really fascinates me. The bottom-line conclusions are that women’s road racing is definitely improving year-on-year, with more UCI races in more countries, and there are really positive trends. One of these has been fewer major clashes, and the return of UCI racing to Australia, which really make me happy to report.
However there are still ongoing areas for improvement, like “pop-up” races being added late to the calendar, and various changes that happen during the series that can make things really difficult for teams to plan their season (find out more about that, in my 2015 interviews with two DSs last year about this – ORICA-AIS’ Marv Barras, for the big team perspective, and Matrix Procycling’s Stefan Wyman for the small team PoV).
This year, I’ve decided to look into when the changes happen during the season as well – I wrote about what was planned for 2016 when the calendar was announced, in October, and then changes that had been made between October and December, and now the season’s up and running, I’ve taken another look – and found we’ve got both new races, and races that have disappeared since the end of 2015 (although not all of that is bad). Let’s start with some colour-coded charts – click on them to make them bigger.