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Elizabeth Banks: What’s the point of having a race if it’s not on TV?

IMOLA ITALY SEPTEMBER 24 Elizabeth Banks of The United Kingdom Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari during the 93rd UCI Road World Championships 2020 Women Elite Individual Time Trial a 317km stage from Imola to Imola ITT ImolaEr2020 Imola2020 on September 24 2020 in Imola Italy Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Elizabeth Banks (Great Britain) during the Worlds time trial in Imola (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Elizabeth Banks has called on all stakeholders, most notably the UCI, to step up and ensure that major women’s cycling events are broadcast to international audiences.  Her comments come after an exciting edition of the Giro Rosa was virtually impossible to follow with fans and journalists forced to pick up text updates on Twitter or wait for limited highlights to air.

The Giro Rosa is arguably the biggest women’s stage race in the WorldTour and its limited television came in stark contrast to the Tour de France, which was broadcast from start to finish across the globe. 

Banks, who is currently competing at the UCI  Road World Championships in Imola, called on the UCI to step up. She has won back-to-back stages in the Giro Rosa for the last two years and knows first hand how delicately balanced women’s teams can be from a financial point of view after her own trade team faced an uncertain future. 

“This is quite a complicated one. Basically, at the beginning, the organisers were getting a lot of stick for not providing live coverage. The organisers then hit back and said that the reason we’ve not had live coverage is that we’ve been struggling to save this race,” Banks told Cyclingnews and a small gathering of media on the eve of the Championships.

“If that’s true then this is where the UCI needs to step in. we need to further women’s cycling but what is the point in racing if it’s not on TV? If the people can’t watch it then there’s no point in having the race in the first place.” 

“We’ve had a step back since last year. Last year you could watch a huge amount of the race and you could watch highlights of everything that happened. This year you’ve got maybe half an hour of the race and trust me that doesn’t explain what happened in the race.”

As of last year, UCI rules stipulate that all women’s WorldTour events should come with at least 45 minutes of live television coverage, in addition to post-race highlights packages. This rule was brought in to help raise the level of awareness around women’s cycling and was seen as a step in the right direction for the sport. 

When contacted the race organisers told Cyclingnews that near-live coverage would be offered for the nine-day event. However, this was heavily criticized by riders and fans as simply not being good enough for a premier women’s cycling event.

Banks made the fair point that without exposure women’s cycling would always be on the back foot when it came to attracting and retaining sponsorship dollars. She highlighted all the drama that was sadly missed at the Giro Rosa.

‘If you follow my Instagram you’ll see my story from stage 8 which shows that the shit was hitting the fan after 10 minutes," she said. "The whole peloton exploded. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio was in the third echelon. My teammate in the white jersey was in the first echelon and then she hit a pothole and her bike exploded into six pieces.

"Suddenly we were all in the second echelon trying to get her back then she was on her second bike but the saddle was too low. It was carnage but my point is that women’s cycling is really exciting and I know that people want to watch it. I know that there’s a hugely increased fan base for women’s cycling but the UCI needs to step in. They need to put their money where their mouth is and say we’re going to help you finance this for this year and then after this year it’s your responsibility to get a sponsor."

Banks said that proper TV coverage will only help with the progression of the sport, saying that it will only make it easier for teams to meet minimum salary requirements and attract new sponsors.

"If women’s cycling is stipulating that we’ve got to have Women’s WorldTour teams, we’ve got to have minimum salaries then they’ve got to help with the TV coverage. They say that they want to help us but they’re not actually helping the organisers, who need that help in order to get it out there."

“I’m sure that if we had the live coverage then there would be someone out there that would be captivated by it and would have said that this is so bloody good that I’m going to sponsor it for the next five years. Someone has to put their balls on the line and say 'yeah I’m going to help you so that in the future you’ve got this coverage that you need'.” 

“We don’t want to lose races like the Giro because it’s such a good race. Yes, the organization is crazy; yes the race is crazy, and yes sometimes you end up going down a motorway and into oncoming traffic but welcome to the Giro! We want to keep this race but we need to help further it and the UCI need to help the organisers and all the stakeholders need to work together.”