Philippa York: Women's cycling and the road towards equality

We often talk about women's equality in cycling as if it's a luxury that's lent out on the odd occasion to soften the demands for parity. To enjoy the same conditions and benefits that the men take for granted has in the past been treated as a reluctant step, and there's the perception that women won't be able to cope with climbing the same hills or providing anything like the same level of entertainment.

If you're wondering, that kind of neglect or lack of respect is described nowadays as unconscious bias. If you've been on the appropriate HR training course you'll be au fait with the correct terminology but it partly boils down to whether women's racing will provide a similar value to men's for all the effort of organising a race and incurring the associated costs.

Of course there's always someone who pipes up with the chicken and egg argument and that the majority of people don't follow female races. But then if there's no women's race then there's no possibility of media coverage and then there definitely won't be any interest.

But for proof that interest can grow and that there is interest in women's sport we only have to look at the big steps women's football or soccer has taken in recent years.

At the recent the Tour de Yorkshire, organisers ASO have taken that step in having the men and the women race the same route with exactly the same organisational quality. Safety, media opportunities, promotion and prize money have all been given equal billing. There are no ifs, buts or maybes involved. The Women's Tour de Yorkshire is a proper full on ASO bike race with everything that entails. Same signage, same road book and enjoying the same crowds, although it does remain at two days while the men race over four.

Hannah Barnes, who has raced all over Europe, added her thoughts to the situation when I spoke to her after the final stage.

"It's great for us to have this length of race. It's a first to do the exact same so it's really good. I think also for the men to do a shorter race is more exciting for them and they can watch it on TV too so they see what they are going to be in and what their race is going to be like."

The women's race in Yorkshire, for anyone that did follow or watch, proved that if given the proper conditions and set-up, female cycling will be interesting, entertaining and more than likely provide an exciting race. Along with the Women's Tour of Britain the female racers here at the Tour de Yorkshre certainly have noticed the difference it makes when treated in the same manner as their male colleagues.

"Racing in Britain is notorious for being really well organized," Barnes added.

"We all notice how everything runs so smoothly, the fans are great and in our briefing it's great to be able to go over what we did right and what we did wrong.
For us to get as much of it on TV pushes the sport forward, for us the riders and for the sponsors. If we can get more races on TV that's great. Things are moving in the right direction so it’s really positive."

Marianne Vos, who won the two-day race, echoed her female colleagues.

"This is a benchmark. It sets things up for other races to follow and I'm really happy that we had some good racing. It was a high-class field and it felt like we had the support of the people and the media. I hope more will follow. This race shows that things are going in the right direction."

Vos and Barnes weren't the only headliner in Yorkshire. The women's field was more impressive than the men's with 14 out of 15 top-ranked UCI Women's Teams present over the two-day event.

"Riding the same course as the men and having the same organisation is really good. We would like to see an organisation like this more often," world champion Anna van der Breggen told me at the race.

Those words, from the current world champion no less, are a perfect illustration of the road that women's cycling is heading towards and, if the way Yorkshire finished, with exciting all-out racing, then it's totally merited.


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