Cycling: How new women’s race can make equal treatment par for La Course

Multiple Olympic and world champion Marianne Vos on how women's cycling can rival the men's sport

Tomorrow, La Course, a new women’s race will make its debut on the same Paris streets as the men’s Tour de France – which arrives a few hours later – and with the same Champs-Elysées finale.

Broadcast in 157 countries, 30 of those live, La Course will automatically become – with the exception of the Olympics – the highest-profile event for women’s racing.

With ASO, the Tour owners, as the event organisers, it should be a similar story to the creation of the Women’s Tour of Britain – again new this year, and already a huge success – and one that means you could be forgiven for thinking the women’s side of the sport is in a very healthy state.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Women’s cycling not only has much lower levels of financial backing than men’s – an average top-level women’s squad costs a little under €1m (£790,000) per annum, around 15 per cent of the budget for a top-level men’s team in the WorldTour – but is also much less well-known as a sport.

Its fight for both recognition and survival is therefore much harder than new showcase events like La Course (first proposed a little more than 12 months ago by a group of women’s riders determined to boost the sport’s profile) would suggest.

Marianne Vos Marianne Vos

As cycling’s No 1 rider, the multiple Olympic and world champion Marianne Vos, points out, La Course is “a pilot [event], a showcase, it’s a start. First we want the pilot to be really successful, that’s why we want to do it as a really big event. You can’t ask for more within a year.

“There are conversations going on between ASO and [cycling’s governing body] the UCI and the riders and teams – the organisations are getting around a table and asking, ‘How can we grow the sport?’

“We all said the same – women’s cycling doesn’t get enough attention – but only saying it doesn’t get enough attention doesn’t work. You have to turn it round, take some steps to get that attention. Now the public is enthusiastic about the World [Championships] and the Olympics and, hopefully, La Course, too.”

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director, says: “Last year during the Tour de France I was overwhelmed with hundreds and hundreds of emails on my computer, led by the top names in women’s cycling, saying, ‘We want something to happen’. La Course is a good thing for women’s cycling. It’s a good thing for cycling full stop.”

Christian Prudhomme: 'Uncertainty is part of the competition' Christian Prudhomme: 'We want something to happen’. La Course is a good thing for women’s cycling'. Women’s cycling has experienced a number of changes in the right direction, particularly since Brian Cookson took over as president of the UCI last autumn.

The World Cup series, the backbone of the women’s one-day racing calendar, has had its TV coverage enhanced and the UCI has had its first female vice-president, Tracey Gaudrey, since the day after Cookson was elected last September.

On top of that there are now women on all of the UCI commissions, a detrimental regulation specifying a minimum average age of 28 for teams was abolished – “most women racers don’t start until much later than men and the rule was affecting their employment possibilities”, says one insider – there is another round of the World Cup, in Germany this year, and a special UCI commission for women’s cycling has been created. La Course itself culminates the newly UCI-backed Women’s Cycling Week.

But what will it take for those green shoots to grow? “We can see that there’s interest in women’s cycling, basically we now have to get some more exposure.

It’s an exciting sport to watch, there are some great races out there – but only if you get to watch them, and that’s the biggest problem,” says Kristy Scrymgeour, general manager of the women’s Specialized-lululemon team.

 

Scrymgeour’s squad, one of the most long-standing and successful in the sport, symbolises the gap between future hope and the current complex situation: Specialized-lululemon’s sponsorship runs out at the end of the year, but they are planning to fund the team with a crowdsharing scheme which taps into the big increase in public interest in the women’s side of racing.

A former professional herself, Scrymgeour recalls that “There used to be a women’s Tour de France a long while back, but it folded and we took a step backwards in terms of those opportunities.

“We’re in a different era, with social media and so forth and that helps people to grow the sport. A lot of bike brands are now doing women-directed products.

"But I’d say that in the sport most women are still doing it for the love of it, because women’s salaries are not great, and neither is the prize-money.”

It has been widely suggested that the male teams in cycling’s WorldTour should be obliged to have a women’s squad. Two, Lotto-Belisol and Orica-GreenEdge, already do and Sir Bradley Wiggins, speaking to this newspaper in February, said he saw it as “the next logical step for Team Sky”.

But Scrymgeour says it would only work if it was not an obligation: “Rather than forcing it, UCI should create a situation that incentivises them, makes them realise that it’s valuable because you’re suddenly marketing to 100 per cent of the population and you’ve got more race days to talk about.”

Suggested Topics
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture