Not every rider was excited and enthusiastic about the recent World Cup cyclo-cross races last month in the US. Many racers took to Twitter to thank Trek for innovations like equal prize lists and free live streams, but members of the Beobank-Corendon team were not as free with their praise for the World Cup opener in Iowa City on September 17 and round two in Waterloo, Wisconsin, on September 24.
"I think it is good. Now we can pay for the trip to here," World Champion Sanne Cant said about equal pay after she won the World Cup race in Waterloo. "But yeah, it is a really expensive trip, so this is a good issue."
Despite larger team budgets, many European riders still need to pay for a portion, or all, of their travel costs, a financial burden that North American riders in frequently face when they travel to Europe.
Cant wasn't alone in her concern about racing in North America. Her teammate Mathieu van der Poel had been disappointed with the crowds in Iowa City, and although he saw improvement in Waterloo, Van der Poel echoed Cant's reluctance about racing in the US.
"If you want to win the World Cup you have to be here, it is as simple as that," Van der Poel said at the press conference after winning in Waterloo. "I'm a fan of internationalization, but I think that apart from getting it back here, which is a good thing, we should give a little bit of publicity to the European ones like Switzerland. But I can't say this isn't a good thing for cyclo-cross."
Despite Cant's and Van der Poel's reservations, the Waterloo World Cup was a landmark event. It was the first time a race offered equal prize money for both the men's and women's fields at a cyclocross World Cup race. Both offered a $41,000 prize list, and each paid 40 places deep, a departure from the UCI regulations stipulating that a women's World Cup race pay only 25 places deep for a total of $7,786.
Before the race, Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek) discussed the positive impact of equal pay.
"It is pretty amazing," Compton said. "I'm really proud of Trek for stepping up and paying equal prize money. There is a huge discrepancy between what the men get and what the women get. For now, it is going to be great for whoever wins on Sunday or gets a top five, and it is going to be a good payoff when we are not used to getting paid very well.
"It is progress, and we have a lot to do in regards to equal prize money," Compton said. "I think the UCI can step in and help make that change and facilitate that a little better, but it is progress and Trek has taken the first step for that."
Members of the women's cyclocross peloton voiced their opinions on Twitter and other outlets in support of Trek's decision to sponsor equal payouts.
Waterloo and CrossVegas Race Director Brook Watts is sympathetic to the costs and challenges that European riders and team managers face. Well versed in the perilous nature of cycling's fickle business model, Watts believes the UCI should continue to build the sport outside of its traditional strongholds in Belgium and the Netherlands. Despite the challenges that riders, teams and race directors face, Watts believes Trek's commitment to equal pay was an important step for the international cyclo-cross community.
"It truly was a first, certainly at the World Cup level," Watts said. "It was a priority, and a must do, a ground-level condition for moving forward with even a bid for a World Cup from the beginning. Trek really walked the walk, and they don't feel like they can represent, that they can look their fellow workers in the eye, 50 per cent of them are female, I'm sure, and stage a World Cup on their grounds that doesn't offer equal pay.
"They were very serious about it from the outset," Watts said. "The UCI's view was, 'Absolutely, and we wish we could be the ones to do it. We are inching towards that eventuality, but we can't-do it in one fell swoop.' Trek could, they had the wherewithal to do it, and some of the European race directors are quite envious."
The race in Waterloo is in the first year of a two-year contract, so Cant, Van der Poel and the other World Cup contenders will almost certainly be back for another year - like it or not.