March 5 will mark a big step forward in women’s cycling with the launch of the new Women’s WorldTour at Strade Bianche in Italy. The UCI announced the world-class series that combines one-day races and stage races last fall, and marquee riders Lizzie Armitstead and Evelyn Stevens have expressed their support for the series, and gave a nod toward the continued development of women's cycling.
“I see the UCI Women’s WorldTour as a clear indicator of growth and excitement around women's cycling,” Women’s UCI Hour Record holder Stevens said in a press release from the UCI. “I'm looking forward to the series as a whole, especially the races on American soil - the Amgen Tour of California and Philly Classic.”
The UCI created the Women’s WorldTour, which was several years in the making, after consulting with race organisers, teams, rider representatives, media and sponsors, and the UCI Women's Teams Working Group.
“Under Brian Cookson’s administration, we set out to place women’s cycling on the same platform as men,” said Tracey Gaudry, UCI Vice President and Chair of the UCI Women’s Commission in a press release. “In less than three years we have created the UCI Women’s WorldTour. Teams, riders and event organisers are all on- board, and fans will now be able to see the best female cyclists all around the world.”
The Women's WorldTour replaces the former World Cup, which included 10 one-day races, and instead brings together 17 of the world’s most prestigious one-day events and stage races, which will be 35 days of racing in 2016. The riders will compete for the win during each event and for the overall UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings in individual, under-23 and teams categories.
“The UCI Women’s WorldTour is about bringing together the best riders in the top women’s races in a coherent, exciting and expanded calendar of events,” said UCI President Brian Cookson. “It will provide the perfect platform not just to grow women’s cycling around the world, but also to boost the profile of women’s cycling. I am convinced that the new structure we now have in place is an important milestone in the evolution of women’s cycling.”
The series will include four stage stage races; the Tour of Chongming Island, the Tour of California, the Aviva Women's Tour in Great Britain, and the Giro Donne in Italy.
Former World Cup events on the calendar are Flèche Wallonne, GP Plouay, Tour of Flanders, the Open de Suede Vargarda road race and team time trial, the Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and Philadelphia Classic.
One-day races that were not on the World Cup last year but made the jump up to the Women’s WorldTour are Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, La Course by Tour de France, La Madrid Challenge, and Prudential RideLondon.
According to a recent press release from the UCI, “The UCI Women’s WorldTour has been established to accommodate the fast growth of women’s cycling and provide a significant boost to the sport. In total, competition days will increase by more than 60%.”
Organisers of events on the Women’s WorldTour are obliged to invited the top 20 teams on the 2016 UCI women’s world ranking for one-day races and the top 15 teams for stage races, “with some organisers choosing to increase the size of the peloton by offering a greater number of teams the chance to race,” the UCI added.
One of the most important stipulations for events that want to be apart of the Women’s WorldTour is to build promotional packages that include social media platforms, race highlight packages and, in some cases, live streaming.
World champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) recently won the Belgian Classics opener at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and will be on the start line at Strade Bianche on Saturday. She noted the importance of continued hard work in the development of women’s cycling to ensure it has a strong and viable future.
“It is important for women's cycling to have new developments and challenges to continue to grow,” Armitstead said. “I think the new structure and specific initiatives involved in the UCI Women's WorldTour will hopefully lead to more positive change.”