Emma Pooley (Garmin-Cervélo) is one of the most decorated riders in women's cycling but despite the sport's growth over the last few years, she believes that much more should be done to help develop women's racing.
The world time trial champion pointed to greater television exposure and UCI pressure as two key areas.
"There's a huge market out there and it's certainly taken off as a sport in the UK and Australia where I've seen it, there are women riding bikes," she told Cyclingnews.
"I think it could do with more coverage, essentially TV coverage. People watch men's cycling, they find it exciting and that's the whole point of it. Sponsors pay for teams, not necessarily to have the team that wins, but to have the team that gets their name on the television screen. So if our races are never televised it's less interesting for sponsors," she said.
Women's cycling certainly has less air time than the men's racing and Pooley pointed to races like the Tour of Flanders as prime examples where the women's side of the sport could benefit if it was given its chance on television. The men's race is televised almost throughout the day while the women, who race sections of the same course and finish on the same straight, have no television coverage at all. Pooley believes that with just one motorbike camera crew, viewers would appreciate the choice between watching both races, especially as the women's event finishes hours before the men's.
"What would be awesome for women's cycling would be if the main men's races, the big races, had a women's race alongside. So every day the same stage finish, but maybe not the same distances. That would be awesome because the television crews are already in place, the spectators would already be there and it wouldn't cost the organisers much more to put on a women's race in the morning. It would get us infinitely more coverage.
"Can you imagine if there was a women's race at the Tour de France? It would be amazing for us. I can't really see it happening in the near future, but it would be brilliant. It would get more sponsors into the sport and more women involved, too. I get asked by a lot of women if I'm going to ride the Tour de France, so some people have no clue."
Garmin-Cervélo, like HTC-Highroad, operates at the highest level of both the men's and women's sport. Pooley believes that in the future, the sport's governing body (UCI) could enforce all ProTeams to follow Garmin's and HTC's example and provide a structure for women's cycling, although she admits that the shallow numbers in the women's peloton could restrict progress.
"Another thing would be for all men's team to have a women's team alongside them. That's something that the UCI could enforce, like they U23 element. At the moment maybe there aren't enough women that they think it's possible, but it's worth thinking about. Just the publicity that would generate at races would get more women involved."
Pooley's move to Garmin-Cervélo was part of the partnership between the 2010 Garmin-Transitions and Cervélo teams at the end of last season. While most of the focus has been cast on whether the likes of Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar will gel in the spring Classics, the women's team have quietly gone about their business, training in Mallorca while the men bonded in the Caymans.
"I'm really happy with the stuff we've kept from the old team, especially obviously the bike sponsor and some of my old teammates, but it's effectively still a new set-up and a new paying agent," Pooley told Cyclingnews.
"Saying that, I think the culture and the values are actually surprisingly similar between Cervélo and Garmin. The emphasis is on ethos and competing but not necessarily on winning. Of course everyone wants to win, but not at any price. Slipstream has a very strong anti-doping stance and far from pushing doping on their riders they're actually very anti-doping, which is great. Essentially, cyclists are advertising tools so for sponsors it's crucial that we don't cause chaos. I'm really happy with the ethos."
Cervélo, unlike Garmin, started out as a women's team and added a men's outfit a season later.
"Obviously, it's a bit different because we've come into an organisation that was already in place and they had a men's team that had been going for several years, whereas the Cervélo team actually grew out of the women's team so we were a bit more central there.
"I feel like we have to fight our corner and make them realise that we are worth investing in, but I think that will come."
However it's Pooley's and Garmin's stance on clean riding that seems most intertwined.
"I wanted something like what they do in my contract because for the last few years we had a monthly blood test at British Cycling, but they were voluntary. They would chase you up if you didn't have it but British Cycling stopped bothering. I did blood tests whenever I was at home in an independent way, with an independent doctor. You need to provide as much evidence as you can. You can't prove that you're innocent but you can be as cooperative and helpful as possible to anti-doping. I'm impressed with our anti-doping policy."
At present the women's field compete without the UCI's biological passport and are monitored by in and out of competition testing. Pooley is a big advocate of copying the men's testing programme but added that the women's field was cleaner.
"I would welcome the passport in women's cycling but obviously there isn't much money in women's cycling so I can see why they haven't pushed it. I think more testing would also be great," she said.
"I think it's a bit of a joke how infrequently I get tested. It's not often. I think I had three out of competition tests last year. I had quite a few in competitions so I don't know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult... but seriously, I do understand that it's expensive to send someone to your house but we fill in all this information on our whereabouts to make it as easy as possible to test us.
"I think women's cycling is cleaner. There are still cases because people still test positive but I know the races I won last year, I won clean so either my competitors were taking something really rubbish or they weren't taking anything. Most of them were clean from what I know of my competitors and certainly my teammates."
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