Thursday, August 19, 2010

Women's Bike Racing

Over the past two weeks, the cycling blogosphere has been buzzing  about the lack of equality in women's bike racing.  Four recent events seem to be garnering the most attention from cycling blogs and have fanned the flames of a long standing smoldering topic:

1) The NRC categorized Atlanta 100K race, so named for the distance the men's race covers, is actually only a 10K race for the women.  Whereas the payout for the men's Pro 1/2 is $10,000, the women's payout is listed as $2,000 (down from what once was $7500) and comprises cats 1 through 4 - an open field.  Because the women's payout isn't 50% of the men's, this race has subsequently been eliminated as an NRC event for women.  The short 6 miles of the women's race is not even considered long enough to qualify for upgrade points.
Image courtesy Beth Newell whose blog is found here.

2) The recent announcement of the mid-September released date of the 2011 Cyclepassion calendar.    For several years now, a calendar has been produced featuring provocatively dressed and posed professional women cyclists. 
The 2011 calendar will feature US cyclists Willow Koerber, Hether Irmiger and Liz Hatch.  Versus cycling blogger and author Neil Browne asked if the production of such a calendar helps or hinders women's cyclists, and as one would expect, those posing were all in favor of it..."We can be really good in a sport and feel beautiful," said Irmiger or Subaru-Trek Racing.  An equally inciteful comment was made by Lotto Ladies pro Veronica Andreasson who said "We are female riders and we can use it for profit."  (Despite actual figures being difficult to find, it's a well known fact that female pros make a fraction of what the men's potential salary is.)

3) The recent announcment of the Quiznos Pro Challenge stage race in Colorado in 2011 had a glaring omission compared to something that its predecessor, the Coor's Classic, possessed:  a women's  race.  The lack of a women's component in next year's Colorado stage race has frustrated Peanut Butter and Co's pro, and Boulder native, Mara Abbott.
Photo courtesy of the dailycamera.
In an excellent piece published on the dailycamera site, Abbott describes what she felt when she heard the story on NPR regarding the forthcoming Colorado race.

"I actually had to turn it off just because it made me so sad, because I don't necessarily see it as very likely that they'll have a women's race.  It's probably my lifelong dream to have a stage race in Colorado.  I invent them in my head.  If there's a men's stage race and they don't have a women's one, I'm going to have to leave town....When you have Lance Armstrong on your side, it's easier.  But we need Lance Armstrong to say, "And we also would like to have a women's field."

Abbott's accomplishments are impressive:  She won the  Tour of Gila in New Mexico, the US Road National Championship in Oregon, was the first American to win the Giro Donne in Italy (the women's version of the Giro d'Italia) and then another overall victory at the Cascades Classic.  Her next goal is the road world championships in Australia in October.

4) A debate is occurring between two cycling blogs authored by women over what is considered appropriate racing etiquette for women learning to race.  A contributor to the heavily read DrunkCyclist blog named Judi Rothenberg wrote a piece entitled "Sad truth about women's bike racing" in which she referenced an experience she had while trying to race crits but being forced to compete against the men's 4/5 group because of the organizers not offering a women's race.  She wrote a letter to the USAC rep and race promoter requesting a women's C race.  The letter concludes with the remark, "USAC needs to stop permitting races that don't treat women equally.  It's bad for the sport."  This resulted in her being verbally accosted by a male member of her community, but also invoked a sharp repsonse from amature female racer Kerry Litka whose advice for women entering the sport included: "Don't cry about getting dropped in a training race because the promoter doesn't offer a women's race."  She goes on to say:

"The promoter does not owe you, me, or any other person anything. You can promote a race for any category you want – Pro-1 men, P12 Men and P12 Women only, Masters Men 35+ only, Transexual Metermaids 30-44 – there is no rule specifying who they have to cater to."

I wish I could find the transexual metermaid 30-44 catetgory in the next race I enter, personally.  I think I might be able to take a few of them at the line.....But in all seriousness, I'm not even about to try to conclude this post with some over-arching synopsis of the state of women's cycling, as 1) I'm not a woman, and 2) I probably can't even be considered a decent cyclist most days.  But even I know that something needs to change.  Unfortunately,  money talks and bullshit walks....and until women's races can attract more attendance and participation, this is going to be a battle....but one very much worth fighting. 


  1. I strongly approve of the women's "Cyclepassion" calendar! Women can ride bikes and be hot.

    Women races should be funded equally with the mens, with out a doubt. Field size is a factor of course.

    I think perhaps triathlon is the competitive bike world's savior for many women. It's got the athletic, and social aspects, but isn't hyper-competitive compared to Crit and road racing. Crit racing seems to attract a more aggressive, dominating, goal-oriented, hyper competitive women. It's not the most friendly environment for a lot women (or men for that matter).

    I do not see a future of bike racing with lots of women participating. The one's that do should be strongly encouraged, praised and rewarded. It's a tough sport, not for sissies.

  2. $$$ That's what it's all about. Joe promoter has only so much of it and he's going to put it where the most people are. You want better racing for women? Find a sponsor.Does anybody remember what Virginia Slims did for womens tennis? Find somebody to underwrite a womens race and put a few bucks into a prizelist that any promoter can dip into for his race and watch the women show up. More races equal more racers but until there is some seed money it ain't gonna grow.