Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel confirmed that the UCI denied Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women a spot on the Women’s WorldTour calendar in 2022. In an interview with Cyclingnews, Van Den Spiegel said he understood the UCI's decision to deny the race a spot on the top-tier calendar as it continues to shape the structure of women's cycling.
Flanders Classics intends to submit new applications for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen to join the Women's WorldTour in 2023, while aiming to add a seventh race to its current range of six women’s events.
"We requested Omoop Het Nieuwsblad to become WorldTour this year, but I understand that the UCI asked us to be patient because women's cycling is still shaping itself," Van Den Spiegel told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on Friday, the eve of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
"We are ambitious, so for the men's races that are WorldTour, we would like to have a women's WorldTour version. Dwars door Vlaanderen is a WorldTour race for the men, and in the end, we would like it to become Women's WorldTour as well," Van Den Spiegel added when asked about the changes to the status of the Flanders Classics events for 2023.
“We will add another race, that’s also the goal, we are working on a seventh women’s race.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the kick-off to the Spring Classics season with a WorldTour men's event, and a 1.Pro Series women's event held on February 26.
Although the women's race is not on the top-tier calendar, it annually attracts the top teams and riders because of its prestige as one of the so-called 'Opening Weekend' events.
The event is also the first of Flanders Classics six rounds during the Spring Classics that also include Gent-Wevelgem (WWT), Dwars door Vlaanderen, which moved up to 1.Pro, Tour of Flanders (WWT), Scheldeprijs (1.1), and Brabantse Pijl that also moved up to 1.Pro.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad began in 2006 as a 1.2-level event, and it moved up to a 1.1 race in 2016. Last year, it made another jump up to the 1.Pro Series. Organizers attempted to acquire Women's WorldTour stats for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2022; however, the UCI denied this request, a decision Van Den Spiegel said was 'understandable' due to the re-shaping of the Women's WorldTour.
"We came from 1.1 two years ago, went up to Pro Series last year, and then requested to become WorldTour this year. I think the UCI is still looking to shape the calendar, and they don't want to end up with … I know they get a lot of requests, as well, and they are shaping the calendar a little, but I think it's understandable," Van Den Spiegel said.
"I do understand that women's cycling is developing quickly, and they are still in between; we have these women's versions of men's races, but at the same time, there are other organizations that only have women's races," he said.
"I think [the UCI] is still looking for a balance in the Women's WorldTour calendar. It doesn't change too much for us because as a Pro Series event, you can start the WorldTeams, so it's not a huge difference whether you are a Pro Series or WorldTour. Last year it was because not all the WorldTour teams could start the Pro Series, but this year they can."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will host 12 WorldTeams and 12 Continental teams for 24 teams set to compete in the women's 128km race between Ghent and Ninove.
Flanders Classics has been applauded for its four-year initiative - Closing the Gap - that aimed to elevate women's cycling with a primary objective of offering live broadcasting and live streaming for its six women's events. It also seeks to increase the category of its women's events to match its men's events and have equal prize money by 2023.
The 2022 edition of the Women's Tour of Flanders will offer the same prize money purse as the men's race with Van den Spiegel confirming €50,000 as a total prize purse for each of the women's and men's events, while the winners of each race will be paid €20,000.
"We will see equal prize money in all the races [next year]. We promised that in 2019 and we need to keep that promise. This year, we levelled prize money at the Tour of Flanders because we wanted to make that statement. We hope that other organizers will follow. We are already here but want to level our prize money for all the races next year, so the other organizers better be ready because we have six races next spring, and we are going to level," Van Den Spiegel told Cyclingnews.
Van Den Spiegel confirmed that for 2023, the cycling community can expect to see Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen join Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders as part of the Women’s WorldTour, while Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl will be 1.Pro. Regardless of category, however, Van Den Spiegel said Flanders Classics would continue to organise all of its races at the highest level.
"We organize at the [WorldTour] level whether it's a 1.1 or Pro Series or WorldTour race, we organize for women the same way we do for the men," he said.
Check back soon for our in-depth interview with Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel about the organization’s four-year initiative to increase the level of its women’s races - Closing the Gap.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.