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.
It might not be as easy as all that, but is there a more viable way to develop women’s professional cycling? The idea of holding equivalent women’s events alongside the men’s events is obvious, relatively simple and has been done with a great deal of success in the world of long-distance running and in rowing, sports where men-only events were common until relatively late in the 20th century, but where women’s competitions now receive a great deal of attention and prestige.
There are certainly significant obstacles, not least being almost Victorian sexism - for example, this display at the Tour of Flanders Museum (thanks to Jeremy Rauch for spotting and sharing it!). It’s an embarrassing reminder of a time, not so very long ago, when women were not allowed to take part in running competitions for distances greater than 1.5 miles because this would supposedly cause such damage to the reproductive organs that they would be unable to bear children. Those attitudes still prevail, to some extent, in the world of cycling, and they do constitute an obstacle, but the proper response is not to wait for people to come around - we know this doesn’t work. The UCI has the capability to use its power and the will to expand cycling for something bigger than a bunch of new races in China.
As Ms. Fietst points out, waiting for the money to start coming into women’s cycling is futile, and it holds women professionals hostage against a problem that is not their fault and that they cannot solve merely by riding harder. Women pros have been riding hard and kicking ass for decades, and have little to show for it in the permanence of their events and respect for their achievements. They are given no opportunity to build a history around the great events, because they have never been allowed great events. But those events exist! Let them in - it’s about damn time.
UPDATE: It’s worth adding that I don’t want to oversimplify the situation with the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Yes, the Ronde museum literature is appalling, but the race itself is one of the few in the vanguard, running a women’s race on the same day and same course (albeit one of considerably reduced distance). The pamphlet does not reflect well on the organization, but on the other hand, most races are not running events for both men and women. I suppose that race organizers need not see 19th century beliefs about sports medicine and running professional racing events for women as entirely contradictory.