The Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA) women's section is hoping to quell concerns that women's cycling has been underrepresented in the UCI's stakeholder-discussions surrounding the revised 2020 International Road Calendar.
Cyclingnews spoke with the association's manager, Alessandra Cappellotto, who said that she has been in constant communication with the UCI as it tries to navigate a new late-season calendar. She also stressed that any potential date changes were dependent on government restrictions, guidelines and health precautions in each country amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"The calendar is a very important issue and very complicated point of discussion," said Cappellotto, who told Cyclingnews her most recent meeting with the UCI was on Friday, April 17, to discuss a potential new calendar. "We were also there for all the other things that concern women's cycling, especially in this particular period concerning COVID-19."
The CPA, which was launched in 1999 and is currently headed by Gianni Bugno, announced that it had started a women's section in July of 2017, with Cappellotto, the 1997 road world champion, appointed as manager. It had an initial focus on improving business aspects for female racers. Earlier that year, retired professional cyclist Iris Slappendel was invited to speak at the association's meeting.
Slappendel went on to co-found The Cyclists' Alliance (TCA) – a successful women's riders' association that has gained notoriety for being the de facto union for women's cycling because of the immense amount of positive work it's done to develop women's cycling from contract and educational support, career advice, and legal and retirement assistance; all in support of its 120 members and some 150 competing cyclists.
Since it began at the end of 2017, TCA has expanded to offer services to improve career opportunities, advocate for fairness and equality, resolve disputes, and to support and elevate the popularity of the sport. It landed a $75,000 grant from Rapha Foundation this year to put toward a new seven-point plan to revolutionise the compensation and culture of professional women's cycling.
Cappellotto claims, however, that the UCI has recognised the CPA Women as the riders' representatives within the UCI. It is made up of national riders' associations such as the Association Française des Coureures Cyclistes (AFCC) in France and the Associazione Corridori Ciclisti Professionisti Italiani (ACCPI) in Italy, among others, and includes rider ambassadors from nations that don't have riders' associations.
"The role of the CPA Women is the same as the men's – it's the official association that represents riders inside the UCI," Cappellotto said. "In the countries where there are national associations, then we are very close and have daily, constant communication with the riders. In the countries where we don't have national associations, we have ambassadors. The national associations and ambassadors are inside of our group [newsletter] and are continuously updated about what is happening from us.
"Many of the riders are in a hurry and tired because of this [COVID-19] situation, and this is completely understandable. The riders are waiting to go out, to start training, and of course, we understand very well what their concerns are, but this isn't something that only concerns cycling, the UCI or the federations – it also depends on the governments, and so it's a very complicated situation."
Only one round of the 22-event Women's WorldTour has been contested this year. Fourteen events have been either cancelled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. There are currently only eight top-tier races that remain with their original dates.
In an announcement last Wednesday, the UCI stated that, due to health precautions, it had suspended all racing until July 1. When making revisions to the international calendar, it said that priorities would be placed on the three Grand Tours and five Monuments, along with the World Championships, European Championships and various National Championships.
The only reference to women's events was that a revised version of the UCI Women's WorldTour calendar and a new version of the entire UCI International Calendar (men's and women's races across all cycling disciplines) could be expected by May 15. The limited communication about the women's calendar led to concerns that the women's side of the sport was underrepresented in the process of re-organising events.
Marianne Vos was one of eight members of TCA's Rider Council that wrote and signed an open letter to the UCI calling on the sport's governing body to engage with them to navigate the coronavirus pandemic. The letter expressed concerns about the impact [of the pandemic] upon women’s professional cycling and that there wasn't adequate representation from the women’s side in the ongoing discussions. Particularly, too, that the UCI's stated that it had collaborated with organisers; AIOCC, and leaders of ASO, RCS, Unipublic and Flanders Classics; teams (AIGCP) and riders (CPA) to determine a revised calendar, but did not mention specific involvement or discussions with women's events, riders or team representatives.
Former world champion Marion Clignet, who leads the French riders’ association, the AFCC, told Cyclingnews that she understood why the UCI's initial press release would have caused some concerns. She said the CPA Women has called for improved communication from the sports governing body, specifically regarding women's cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"One of the things we asked is for the UCI to make update-statements directed towards the women's peloton because the last one was sort of general," Clignet said. "I think everyone needs to be reassured, and that [reassurance] is not something that has been communicated to the women."
Clignet also reiterated that the AFCC and CPA Women are working to ensure organisers, teams and riders are represented in the ongoing discussions and meetings with the UCI.
"We are doing our absolute best to represent all of the riders," Clignet said. "A lot of the riders within the CPA are former world champions, so we know what we're talking about, we know what we need, we know what needs to happen to make changes for the women, and we are doing our absolute best to make sure everything goes onward, upward and forward."
Potential calendar changes, Giro Rosa in September
The UCI is expected to announce the latest developments that are taking place for the women's road cycling calendar amid the COVID-19 outbreak this week.
CPA Women recently announced on Twitter that the postponed Giro Rosa, which was originally scheduled to take place from June 26-July 5, has requested new dates of September 5-13, during the second week of the rescheduled Tour de France.
However, Cappellotto told Cyclingnews that any potential changes are dependent on the evolution of the pandemic over the next few months.
If the number of cases of COVID-19 improves, and governments lift health restrictions across Europe, Cappellotto and Clignet said the CPA Women requested that the UCI extend the racing calendar to the end of November. They agreed that this would allow for the majority of the postponed Women's WorldTour races to be rescheduled during the 2020 season.
"First, we brought forward the idea that the riders would like to start the races as soon as possible," Cappellotto said. "The [majority] of riders were in agreement to go on with the racing calendar until the end of November."
Clignet echoed that strategy but stressed that it's also challenging for organisers to establish new event dates without being certain when the governments will lift their COVID-19 restrictions.
"[The UCI] said they would come back with a comprehensive schedule for both men and women in mid-May, but, because every country has different confinement dates, that isn't set in stone – that may change. They can't even establish or set dates now," Clignet said. "It depends on the evolution of the virus."
Several of the Women's WorldTour races that have been postponed are held in conjunction with men's events, such as Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, the Ardennes Classics and La Course. The CPA Women requested that the UCI make sure all event organisers reschedule both men's and women's events at the same time.
"This is something we have asked; that all of the major men's races that also have women's events, too, must reschedule them both. This is what we asked UCI President David Lappartient because he's the one that is speaking personally with all of the organisers. So, we made an official request to the president to hold both the men's and women's races."
Clignet said the CPA Women have also suggested scheduling the dates of women's events that are held in the same country closer together to reduce travel expenses and additional financial strain on women's teams.
"It's all in the works. We've asked to meet with the UCI once a week until the season restarts. But even they are struggling to get their heads around all of the government restrictions," Clignet said.
"Ideally, we have asked if the women can race in events in blocks in each country, rather than travelling back and forth. Economically, it would be difficult. So, if the first WorldTour races were in Holland or Belgium, then do a two or three-week block there, and then go to the next country, and then the next country, to make it more economically feasible for each team.
"All of these ideas have been put out there to consider, but it's still not easy to answer – there are no answers yet. Until we know when each government confinement date ends, and then consider when organisers want to organise their races, there is no cut and dry answer.
"Everyone has different ideas that can help and uniting all of those ideas together can only make us stronger. The whole idea behind the CPA Women is to work together, to listen to everybody."