The Women's Tour
By Dave Land, posted 15 June 2017
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The Women's tour is one of the best races on the calendar, but can we make it better still?
The Women’s Tour (sorry, the OVO Energy Women's Tour) is turning out to be a triumph. What was a minority branch, of a minority sport, has swept certain parts of the country by storm. It is now considered one of the biggest women’s races on the calendar. Clearly the crowds have an impact here. Being new to the cycling game, UK crowds seems much less bothered about which gender is riding the bikes. It’s all about the free spectacle, of top class athletes sweeping past on roads that are used on a daily basis and never given a second thought.
What I fail to understand, and it is a failing in my part, is why the women’s race looks and feels different to the men’s race. That’s not to say it has to feel the same, just that it’s the same sport, with people doing kind of the same things. Whilst there is talk of teams, the women’s race feels like a much more individualised affair. There is rarely images of team leaders sitting in, protected by their loyal domestiques, such as I might expect in men’s racing. There never seems to be more than two or three teammates on the front driving the peloton on. There also appears to be a roster of names which constantly appear on podiums all year long. The men seem to have more focus in certain times of the year than others. Either some women can hold their form for a very long time, or there is, perhaps, a lack of competition in some areas (there might be a set of other reasons).
What this says to me, is that yes, we need to work harder at paying more but at the same time we need to be making a connection with just riding your bike, and being able to make a big impact on the world stage. I wonder how many women are in gyms, right now, furiously thumping round the pedals on a spin bike, who would never connect that to a career as a professional cyclist? This seems like it's currently more of a possibility for women. The men’s arena feels much more sewn up: tell me how anyone breaks into that! But the women’s seems (from the outside) to be a world of (poorly paid) opportunities.
I can honestly say I enjoyed watching the women’s tour as much as any other bike race. 5 days is great, but really it needs to be 7 – a regular week-long stage race – not some tokenistic criterium (La Course anyone?). But more than this, it needs to be seen as something that women riding bikes could actually come and try. And the more people believe that, the more we will see increased strength and depth, and the more exciting it will become and the more sponsors will be attracted to it, and the more cycling will come to be seen as a place of (less) inequality. And it could happen, if more people just ride their bike.
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