Helen Wyman blog: Fighting for equality in 'cross

Should American companies sponsor European races?

Phase one of the season has come to a close. I've just had my first weekend away from a race since CrossVegas, which opened my season. I hadn't been there for six years, so thought I was long over-due a trip there to try my hand at a race often billed as a potential World Cup event. It's progressed so much and Brook Watts truly puts on a world-class presentation.

Having a weekend off is often a luxury during the 'cross season, which seems crazy when you compare it to the program of a road or MTB rider. Cyclo-cross is very intense and although we're not racing as long, there is still a huge amount of similarities in the effort, including the stress and preparation in the run up to each important event. I work really hard to ensure I get certain weekends off to allow me to train hard as much as recover.

This season has started well. I've had a few wins, a few podiums and currently sit in second place in the world ranking, second in BPost ranking and second in the World Cup ranking. However as I say every year, that's not really important in October as so much can change with just one bad day.

Another way the season has started well is the progress of the women's side of the sport. I'm now on the UCI commission and I'm using that role to try to move forward equality within the sport. I feel there is no reason for inequality in cyclo-cross, and I'm also very grateful that my chosen discipline is a lot easier to "fix" than the incredibly complex spiders web of road racing for example. I'm on the commission for four years and I want a pathway for change to be laid out so that when my time is up, we know the date that the sport sets a new standard in cycling for equality.

Part of that change is Prize Funds, and this week is a pretty historical week when it comes to payouts. Twenty20 Cycling, a Baltimore based cycle store run by Kris Auer has stepped up to the mark and invested in the Koppenberg Cross, who's women's race is to be known as "GP Twenty20 Cycles". Should it need a US based company to do this; No. Should others follow; Yes. Some of these races should be embarrassed they haven't already done the right thing. Ultimately, it is the right thing to do.

Why would a US company do this in Europe many have asked? The answer really is that in the USA, they lead the way with equality. Some of the rule changes we are implementing in 'cross actually bring Europe up to American standards, rather than raising standards across the board. Start times for women for example, and prize money, where equal payouts aren't a historic event but an expectation now in the USA.

There is always the argument of "Shouldn't the sport be at the same level before giving equal money?". However I would argue that women's sport is suffering the legacy of years of underfunding and discrimination, and ultimately it will take several years of full equality before we get to the same level. We can't have the strength in depth, because we haven't got the opportunity at the top of the sport, let alone further down the food chain.

This week however puts a line in the sand. Twenty20 and Koppenberg have shown us what can be done. Now others needs to step forward to that line and become responsible for what is right, because I can promise people if I have it my way, the rules will make them do it very soon anyway.

GP Twenty20 is the start of really important November for me. Following it we have the European Championships and a first ever World Cup in the UK, to be held at a great venue in Milton Keynes. So I'm excited and nervous about the racing that's coming up and very proud of what we've achieved with Kris Auer and Twenty20 Cycles.

Thank you America.



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