The organisers of the Prudential RideLondon Classique are fighting for their place on the 2020 Women's WorldTour after the UCI left the race off the calendar for the first time since the series started four years ago. In an interview with Cyclingnews, event director Hugh Brasher said that he hopes the UCI will reconsider its decision. He also announced a new 12km circuit along with a team appearance fee equal to the men's WorldTour, continued live TV coverage, and its €100,000 prize purse.
"We are in conversations with the UCI," Brasher told Cyclingnews. "They, and the UCI Road Commission, have been provided with the details of our new course, information on our prize money and the information on our new appearance fee, which is pretty revolutionary for women's cycling.
"We feel that we are moving things forward in an incredibly positive direction and we hope that common sense will prevail."
More choices, more opportunities
The UCI announced the 2019 22-race top-tier calendar in June, but the RideLondon Classique was noticeably absent. The organisers had already been forced to change the race date from August 3 to August 15 next year to avoid conflict with the Olympic Games (July 24-August 9). However, the date change meant that the one-day race overlapped with the Ladies Tour of Norway held from August 13-16.
"If you want to promote women's cycling, surely you should be offering more choices, more opportunities and you should be looking at where you can maximise the value for the teams, riders and sponsors," Brasher said.
The UCI wants to avoid the overlapping of events that could lead to logistical difficulties for teams wishing to participate in all of the Women's WorldTour events, particularly after last year's conflict between the Tour of California and Emakumeen Bira. The UCI stated that it hoped RideLondon would return to the calendar in future.
"It is unfortunate that the 2020 date clashes with the Ladies Tour of Norway but we see no reason why both races could not have UCI Women's WorldTour status for 2020," Brasher said, pointing to the fact that the new UCI 1.1 Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa was held on the same day as the RideLondon Classique and both events had strong participation from the top teams.
Brasher said the event had to change dates, too, because the RideLondon Classique is annually broadcast on live TV through the BBC. The BBC is also the rights holder for the Olympic Games and therefore would not have been able to have shown the Prudential RideLondon live if it clashed with the Olympic Games.
The UCI will enforce 45 minutes of TV coverage for any race that wants to be part of the Women's WorldTour, beginning in 2020. The RideLondon Classique has historically provided live TV coverage of its women's race through the BBC.
"We are proud of our partnership with the BBC and the exposure its coverage gives to women's cycling," Brasher said. "The BBC shows the entire race live on its Red Button service and shows the final hour live on BBC 2, generating a UK audience of more than 500,000 and a European audience of two million viewers. The race is also broadcast around the world.
"Women's cycling is underfunded and underexposed and it needs all the support it can get. The value of broadcast is huge as it provides return on investment for sponsors and exposure of the sport. There is no better way of showcasing the sport."
New, longer 12km course
Organisers have received some criticism for offering a short circuit race compared to the men's Surrey Classic. The circuit race was reduced from 5.3km in 2018 to just 3.4km this year. The women raced 20 laps for a total of 68km, won by Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg). Brasher said that the reduction of the circuit race was due to prolonged building work to Admiralty Arch.
"We recognise this was not an ideal solution and we have been working with our partners at the Mayor of London's office, Transport for London (TfL), Westminster City Council and the City of London to come up with a better, longer-term solution for 2020 that is fully UCI compliant. We have now found this," Brasher said.
Brasher told Cyclingnews that the event will roll out a new 12km circuit that will start and finish on The Mall but will also venture onto some of the most iconic landmarks in central London.
"Yes, we have a new extended route," Brasher said. "The new 12km circuit remains in central London and will start and finish on The Mall, the iconic stretch of road in front of Buckingham Palace, and will then head out further into the historic City of London on a longer, more challenging parcours.
"We are really excited by this new route and are confident it will create a fast, thrilling and demanding course for the riders, which will be a wonderful spectacle for the thousands of fans on the roadside and for those watching on TV."
Appearance fee equal to the men's WorldTour
The Prudential RideLondon Classique also offers equal prize money to its Surrey Classic men's event, and has been known for its push for equality among men's and women's cycling since it joined the Women's WorldTour in 2016. It has offers a €100,000 purse for its women's one-day race, and the winner takes home €25,000. It's the richest one-day race in women's road cycling.
Brasher told Cyclingnews that, new for 2020, the race will offer free hotels and an appearance fee of €8,500, which is equal to what they provide the men's WorldTour teams that compete in the Surrey Classic. The standard women's teams appearance fees for next year will be roughly €2,000 and hotel fees come out of that, Brasher told Cyclingnews.
"To remove what is not only the richest race in terms of prize money, but one offering an appearance parity surely means that there should be a rethink," Brasher said. "I do hope that common sense prevails.
"We are continuing our commitment to gender parity. It is massively important. We passionately believe in gender parity in sport and have been world leaders in creating a high profile UCI Women's WorldTour event on a spectacular route in one of the world's greatest capital cities. We offer record prize money and full gender parity and live television coverage around the world.
"For all those reasons and more, the Classique is one of the most popular races on the Women's WorldTour and the riders love racing here. We believe that our new initiatives for the Prudential RideLondon Classique in 2020 continue to be innovative and ground breaking for the sport and will help women’s cycling move forward.
"As we all know, at present the business model for women's cycling is even more challenging than men's cycling, and the Classique offers currently unrivalled returns for sponsors and teams. We believe that our new initiatives will be warmly welcomed by the team owners, the riders who are trying to make a living and the media, and our plans are designed to ensure that there is a proper business model that is sustainable and allows a further expansion of the sport."
Brasher said that he is in contact with the UCI President and Director General, and is urging them to reconsider the decision, and to grant the Prudential RideLondon Classique Women's WorldTour status for 2020. He said the considerations will be discussed at the UCI Road Commission meeting on August 21 through this weekend, and hopes there will be a decision made prior to the World Championships in Yorkshire.
Asked if the RideLondon Classique would continue next year if they were not added back onto the Women's WorldTour, Brasher said: "We are committed to inspiring cyclists of all ages, abilities, and male and female cyclists, which was the reason we set it up in the first place. We would look to do that. How we would look to do that we haven't determined, but we are absolutely committed to inspiring cyclists."