The state of women's cycling

Hatch debates what's needed for the sport to grow

It's been a while since I checked in last and a lot has been happening. So, where shall I start?

Well, I've been in Spain for the last six weeks, Javea specifically, training very hard for the start of the new season. I'm in better shape and lighter than I've ever been thanks to my new coach Chad Andrews. He's given me renewed motivation and understanding of training and my body and what I'm capable of mentally and physically. I'm working with an SRM now, which is also something new for me. It's a vital and amazing tool when racing at a high level these days, gone are the times of just getting on my bike with no specific goal.

But with all of this extra attention to training and preparation for 2010 comes a load of frustration. The off-season is always an interesting time of year with new teams coming and old ones sometimes leaving. Of course, always with the hope that an exiting sponsor is replaced with a new one in order to keep a team infrastructure intact and riders with the team as well as support staff.

Cycling is always in a precarious situation, but even more so for the women's side of the sport. The shocking news that the former Nurnberg team - which was set to be taken over by a new sponsor Skyter - would not fulfill their obligations left many of the top pros’ futures hanging even before the racing had begun this year. While I have no inside knowledge or real idea of what happened, what I do know is that this is bad for the sport!

Nurnberg was a team with a long and rich history, and to see women like Nicole Cooke and Amber Neben left without a concrete idea of where they would be racing for 2010 was for me, unfathomable. These are some of the best athletes we have. Both have world champion jerseys to their names as well as Tour wins and Olympic medals.

To add insult to injury, we now hear of the loss of one of our World Cup races in Montreal along with the Tour of PEI. Given as one of the reasons for this was the creation of new men's ProTour races in Canada and the funding being directed in that direction instead, it's the case of big fish eating smaller fish.

It leaves me with two questions: What can we do to strengthen the sport of women's cycling? How can we help it to grow and give it the recognition it deserves?

I tweeted about this subject a week or so ago and got an astounding response to the question and many varied perspectives. There were many responses from men and women alike that were also eager to see more women's races, better funding for teams and races and more publicity overall given to the sport. And of course there were those who said it would never happen because women just aren't as fast and the racing isn't as interesting.

Call me biased but I can attest to the fact that this is simply not true. The women's peloton has grown in size and strength over the years and while we might average a bit slower speeds, the tactics and heroic wins are not lacking! Of course when you cannot follow a race in detail on television it's very hard to get a good idea of what's really going on so I'll excuse the notion as a lack of understanding.

If you look at the World Championship road race the year Nicole Cooke won it was a textbook case of perfect tactics being employed and also a nail biting finish. Emma Pooley's win last year at the Montreal World Cup (yes, same race that has been cancelled) was OUTSTANDING!

For god's sake, the girl attacked in the first 400m and went on to win solo by over 1:14. And the funny thing is people will say "yes, because there is less depth of talent in the women's peloton so it's easier to do things like this" but if the shoe were on the other foot and a man is attacking and winning in this style it's lauded by the cycling milieu as something remarkable.

Emma and every other woman racing can tell you, this was no easy feat and was not aided by having no rivals to challenge her. Her own teammate, Claudia, gave her a bit of a fight in the women's Giro last year and ended up winning the overall. So I dispute these claims wholeheartedly.

In the long run, women's cycling needs nurturing from "the ground up". Better development of juniors and support of racing moving through the ranks. In my opinion for it to become a sport more closely related to its brother it has to be seen as a viable career for more women.

I applaud the teams that are out there and supporting us, Lotto for sure, because it's not easy; a labour of love for sure. Another thing I'd greatly like to see is more men's teams taking the initiative to field women's teams such as HTC-Columbia and Cervelo have done. I feel what both these teams have done is very progressive thinking and commendable. A cycling team is meant to be a form of advertising and I can tell you from first hand there are many women turning their attention to cycling in recent years.

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