Dear mr. Pat McQuaid,
You are quite sad nowadays because of all the doping cases in the men’s cycling. I understand that. Even though, I hope that despite all the troubles you will take the time to read this heartfelt cry of mine. Otherwise this decennium might end up to be one of the saddest ever for women’s cycling.
The fact that you can’t arrange a basic salary for female riders and that you get angry if someone yells at you in the face, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. You are not the guy in charge of the distribution of money within the teams. You can’t force our employers to pay us more. On the other hand, our employers would like to pay us more, I am convinced of that, but they lack the money to do so.
Let’s take a step back then. How do you get money in cycling? Via sponsors and giving them the opportunity to generate publicity for their product. And that’s what it is all about. More and more girls buy race bikes and ride on the weekend, but there is hardly any media coverage for women’s racing. That doesn’t make sponsors very interested to invest in cycling.
It’s frustrating the media give so little attention to women’s racing but blaming that all on them is a bit too easy. Why would a sports show feature images of an unknown rider in an unknown race? Viewers want to be involved, which is impossible if they have no idea what or who they’re watching.
I do see a change coming though. Races that are on the men’s calendar, like Omloop het Nieuwsblad, Flèche Wallonne and foremost Ronde van Vlaanderen do put women in the spotlight. Even though the attention is minimal, we do get time on national tv, and the time slot increases every year. It makes sense because every cycling lover knows those races. And it can be quite fun to see a peloton of women climb the Muur of Huy or cross the cobbles of the Paddestraat. It’s easy for media because they are already on the scene with all of their equipment. So it should be quite easy to shoot some images of the women and broadcast those.
This is where you can help. You are the one to tell race organizers to feauture a women’s race too. If they don’t, you just withdraw their UCI-license. Of course, it will take some extra time and money but that’s only peanuts compared to what they need to invest in organizing a race for men only. All in all, a women’s version of the big races should be easy.
Moreover, there were times in which Leontien van Moorsel and Jeannie Longo battled against each other on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France for women. There were times when Debby Mansveld won the Amstel Gold Race and Mirjam Melchers claimed victory in Milan-San Remo. It is possible! Even better, the great historical races were already there for us, women. Where have they gone? Why were they cancelled? How can it be that we actually ride the same route, more or less, as the Amstel Gold Race but on a different day and time than the pro’s?
If you consider that women’s cycling has improved and professionalized a lot since the age of Van Moorsel, Longo, Mansveld and Melchers, it’s even more remarkable. The sport has matured, the level is higher. Still, only the top riders can earn a living out of racing, even though it’s not a lot. We, the unknown gregario’s in the big teams, have to work hard to keep afloat. We have to work next to racing, or ask support from our parents or husbands. To compare, for the money Bauke Mollema earns in a month we have to race five years.
That doesn’t get us any further. We can be as professional as we are, working hard to reach our goals but in the end it all depends on the money to take our sport further. Women’s cycling doesn’t have the image or grand history the men have. But we can start building that image and make history if we start racing the famous and infamous races that are on the men’s calendar. The tv cameras and journalists are already there so it should be really easy for both the media and the public.
In Flanders they understood this and introduced Gent-Wevelgem to our race calendar. But not every race organizer is as willing as they are in Flanders. If they were, the Primavera Rosa or Amstel Gold Race for women wouldn’t have been skipped. And times have changed. We are all on twitter, Facebook and the internet. People follow us but they hardly ever get to see us actually race.
We don’t have to expect anything from the well-known race organizers, even though there are some exceptions. Therefore it’s time that the UCI takes measures into its own hands and demands that every race also feautures a women’s version. Needless to say that we would be delighted and find it extremely cool. It’s up to you mr. McQuaid.
Thank you for your time.
Marijn de Vries