La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes could be missing from the Women's WorldTour in 2020, after the organisers and broadcasters of the two races, the ASO and RTBF, refused to provide the 45 minutes of live television coverage mandated under incoming UCI reforms. Reigning world champion and five-time Flèche Wallonne winner Anna van der Breggen told Cyclingnews that if race organisers like ASO aren't willing to be part of the development of women's cycling than they shouldn't be part of the Women's WorldTour.
"There's still a chance to have a broadcast and if ASO don’t do it then they will take out their races [from the Women’s WorldTour]," van der Breggen told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 1 of the Tour of California Women's Race on Thursday. "I think that's a good thing because we would like to have our races broadcast. We deserve a broadcast and those race don’t provide that over all these years.
"We need races that are organised very well and apparently they don’t want to cooperate with the development of women’s cycling, so I think then you have to make a decision, and it’s not bad for us if they pull out their races, to make a statement that we deserve broadcasting."
When van der Breggen spoke to the press after winning her fifth consecutive title at Flèche Wallonne in April, a feat unprecedented in the history of both the men's and the women's races, she expressed her disappointment that organisers ASO did not televise the women's race.
"By now I think we deserve to have live coverage so that people can follow us," Van der Breggen said at the time. "Because many people would like to, and we would like to show it. I think it is time."
ASO's move was confirmed by Tom Van Damme, President of the UCI's Road Commission, to DirectVelo on Thursday. "One of the conditions for being in the Women's WorldTour is the guarantee of live television coverage of at least 45 minutes," said Van Damme. "The ASO and the Walloon public broadcaster RTBF are not able to provide this service next season."
UCI President David Lappartient had previously warned the ASO over their lack of coverage of women's race in comments to Dutch broadcaster NOS last November. "I addressed the ASO, the organiser of La Flèche Wallonne, and told them that they do not comply with the requirements for WorldTour races," he said. "I have asked them to make a serious effort to get their race on television."
Both races are now likely to drop down to the new UCI ProSeries, the second-highest of four race classes, which will be introduced next season as part of a raft of reforms to women's cycling.
45 minutes of TV
News of ASO's unwillingness to provide live TV coverage is not a surprise. The UCI held an annual meeting in Geneva during the winter to discuss the Women's WorldTour and proposed reforms. At that meeting they told the attendees; race organisers and team managers, that there would be the introduction of 45 minutes of mandatory TV coverage for events that want to be part of the Women's WorldTour.
"I was at the UCI meeting in Geneva in December," Tibco-SVB team owner Linda Jackson told Cyclingnews. "At the time, it was brought up from the UCI as part of the cycling reform that they were going to require Women’s WorldTour events organisers to provide 45 minutes of live TV coverage. ASO were there, and they said 'if you’re going to require us to do that than maybe we just don’t participate.'
"There are two ways to react to that. First, is that it’s terrible and they should be doing this TV coverage. The other reaction is from a business perspective. I’m all about equality for women but I believe that we need to achieve it and not demand it. We have been doing pretty well on a trajectory by achieving it. I don’t like ASO’s decision, but I understand it from a business perspective. It can’t be forced, it has to be achieved gradually and I think we’ve been doing that."
The TV coverage is all part of a bigger push from the UCI to reform the Women's WorldTour. The overall attempt with the reforms is to improve both the development of women's professional cycling and the working conditions for female athletes. There will soon be better standardised contracts that offer social insurances and minimum salaries for top-tier teams beginning in 2020.
"It doesn't make any sense to me" says Ina-Yoko Teutenberg
Cyclingnews spoke with Canyon-SRAM classics specialist, Tiffany Cromwell, who said that it's less about the business behind providing live TV and more about being part of the progress of women's racing, and that ASO isn't providing enough support. She also felt that losing La Flèche Wallonne, a long-standing women's race, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which was only added to the calendar in 2017, from the Women's WorldTour would have an impact on the Ardennes Classics.
"It's really disappointing because Flèche Wallonne has been on the calendar for many years, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is newer for the women, but it's always nice to have the status because they are prestigious races," Cromwell told Cyclingnews. "But if they're not willing to provide live TV coverage, it shows that they're supporting the women side in terms of giving the races but not in terms of full and proper support. If they wanted to do things properly, they would be supporting more races and encouraging TV coverage. It's really disappointing."
There are some smaller organisations that might struggle to find the additional funds to provide live TV coverage but Cromwell isn't convinced that an organisation as big as ASO has a problem locating funds to provide TV coverage.
"They can say there's no extra budget, maybe it's true, but they are the biggest race organisers in the world, they run the Tour de France. To tell me they can’t take some budget from somewhere else ... if they really wanted to they would be able to find it. We are trying to grow the sport and we need organisers to get behind it."
Trek-Segafredo director Ina-Yoko Teutenberg believes that covering the women's final live during the middle of the men's lengthy races would offer more marketing value to ASO events, and bring in more viewers. She expressed her disappointment in ASO's decision to not provide TV coverage for the Women's WorldTour races but she said she was not surprised.
"I don't think this is a surprise to anybody," Teutenberg told Cyclingnews. "I think they need to realise that when the women finish the men’s race is ongoing and not much happening, so if they would provide the TV time for the women’s race, they would actually get more people watching their event – people who can see an exciting women’s finish and then watch the rest of the men’s race. It doesn’t make any sense to me."
ASO also organise La Course by Le Tour de France and La Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta, and are technical partners with AEG at the Tour of California.