Mitchelton-Scott rider Gracie Elvin says that women’s cycling can take heart from the growing success of their tennis counterparts and thinks that there are major opportunities for the sport to grow. Elvin is one of the founding members of riders’ association, the Cyclists’ Alliance, which was announced last month.
The Australian believes that the sport is not shackled down by the weight of history and has a chance to “push for change”.
“I truly think that women’s cycling has the potential to be one of the leaders in global women’s sport,” said Elvin. “The success of women’s tennis can be a great example of how a unified body can push for change and prove the audience is there. The financial opportunities for the sport, for teams and for individuals are endless given the right platform and not stalled in the hands of a few.
“Even though cycling is entrenched in tradition, women’s cycling is relatively new and thus less hindered by “doing it how it has always been done”. Giving riders a voice will ultimately show them that they have choices.”
Elvin says that there is currently a disparity in support across women’s cycling and that she was surprised to find out how little some of her counterparts were paid to race. Elvin is about to start her seventh season as a professional, but she says that even she was shocked by the results of a recent survey compiled by the Alliance ahead of their official launch in December.
The survey, completed by almost 300 riders, showed that around 50 per cent of riders in the women’s peloton are paid less than €10,000 per year. She added that the lack of legal assistance was also worrying, with some 91 per cent of respondents saying they’d signed a contract with no legal aid.
“It’s been great to see women’s cycling progress so much since I have been a professional rider, so it was surprising in some results to see how little so many riders can live on still,” Elvin said. “More of the bigger teams are offering better salaries and professional operations, but clearly the majority of riders are not seeing the support that the top riders are getting yet.
“It is also worrying to see that so many riders enter into a contract with no legal assistance. Even without introducing a minimum salary, providing a support network and information for women to utilize when making big decisions will ensure the teams become more accountable for how they look after their riders.”
A balancing act
Another factor that the rider survey threw up was the number of riders who are in some level of education. There are some, such as former world champion Amalie Dideriksen, who are finishing school studies while racing, and many are dovetailing university degrees with racing. Some 67 per cent of riders had at least a college or university diploma and 35 per cent of riders are undertaking some kind of study while they race. Elvin is a member of that 35 per cent and she must now balance all three parts of her career. However, she says that it is her racing that must take priority for now.
“My racing takes priority at the moment, and secondly my university commitments. I am lucky that I can call my cycling career a real job and treat it as such! I have enough experience now to know what I need to do in a season to get the best out of myself and manage my time and energy around that to do any extra work that I need or want. I feel like I have enough capacity to take on this role and it is the right time to start giving back.”
Elvin is the Communications Director, which involves giving the Alliance a social media presence, but as a current professional she is also a visible presence for them in the peloton. She is also one of three founding members of the Cyclists’ Alliance, which at present is solely for female cyclists but could take in male riders in the future. Former rider Iris Slappendel, who spent time as a rider representative for the UCI, began developing the project over a year ago. She then approached US rider Carmen Small, since retired, and Elvin. The 29-year-old was unsure if she had the time to commit with the project, but felt the pull in what she believes is an important moment for women’s cycling.
“I was hesitant at first because it is an extra stress and responsibility on top of my own racing and university but after talking with her and knowing her passion I knew I wanted to part of it and do what I could,” said Elvin.
“I am very passionate about women’s cycling and have always wanted to find a way to give back or encourage more women to participate and watch our sport. To be part of this project that represents the best interests of the riders is very important to me, and something I wanted to be involved in at this point of my own career as well as this point of critical mass in the sport.”