The long-running discussion about prize money inequality in cycling has been reignited ahead of Strade Bianche, which is the opening Women's WorldTour round on March 6 in Italy, after prize money discrepancy was revealed at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend in Belgium.
A crowdfunding campaign has now been set up by fans to try and raise the women’s winning prize from its current total of €2,256 to match the men’s winning prize of €16,000 at Strade Bianche. The “Equal prize money for the Women’s Peloton” GoFundMe campaign had raised more than €6,000 so far. The Cyclists' Alliance will award the winnings to the top five women after Saturday's Strade Bianche.
On the subject of prize money discrepancy between men's and women's purses at some races, Lizzy Banks (Ceratizit-WNT) says she has been following along and believes that while there may be higher-priority problems in women’s cycling, the issue of inequality when it comes to prize money should not be forgotten.
"I remember looking at the Strade Bianche prize money on the night before the race last year, and thinking, '€16,000 and some €2,000' and my teammate [Leah Thomas] was third and the amount she got was the same amount for a much lower place in the men’s field.
"The topic of prize money is a difficult one, and there is no magic answer, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had and it’s all part of creating an environment where women feel valued," Banks told Cyclingnews, as she aims to be a protagonist in her favourite one-day race at Strade Bianche on Saturday.
"It seems petty when there are bigger things, but I just ask 'why?' There’s no simple answer, no magic money tree for the organisers. It just makes me a bit upset."
The prize money discussion was at the forefront of news following Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, when it was revealed that World Champion Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) earned five per cent of what Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep) earned for winning the Classics opener in Belgium.
To break down the figures, Van der Breggen earned €930 of a total €4,660 prize purse that Flanders Classics offered to the women's 1.Pro race and Ballerini earned €16,000 of a total €40,000 prize purse offered to the men's 1.WorldTour race. These payout amounts, much like the prize payouts at Strade Bianche, meet the requirements stipulated by the UCI.
The crowdfunding campaign was set up following Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and ahead of Strade Bianche.
"I’m not a race organiser and I don’t know exactly how much it costs to put on a race. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than just bumping up the women’s prize money from €930 up to €16K because there are so many other things going on behind the scenes," said Banks, who spoke with Cyclingnews about the prize money discrepancy.
"This is something that I always look into. On Friday night [before Omloop] I got the manual, flipped to the men’s page and saw €16K and flipped to the women’s page and saw €930. The race was awesome, COVID-19 protocols were so good, the organisation was amazing, the race was incredible and we’ve got live TV coverage, and they don’t require it, but why this huge discrepancy in the prize money? €930 to €16K, like, what the fuck, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I just think, 'why?'
"The organisers are stuck between a rock and a hard place because they can’t decrease the men’s prize funds because of the UCI rules, and maybe they don’t have enough money left to raise the women’s.
"So, we look to the UCI, and we see there is a problem in that maybe they think that women don’t deserve to have as big a prize as men, and the other thing is that €16K is more money than most female cyclists earn in a year. So we have to ask; what is the UCI doing and why aren’t they doing something?
"I don’t think that [prize money] is the most important thing, but I do think that it’s a battle worth fighting, because this devalues our achievement," added Banks.
Flanders Classics CEO Tomas van den Spiegel told Cyclingnews that they have a four-year plan called 'Closing the Gap' launched last year, which included offering live broadcasting and bringing parity to the prize payouts.
The specific action points for 'Closing the Gap' include hosting women's events in conjunction with all six of their Spring Classics offered for the men's peloton, which they have already met in 2021. In addition, they aim to move at least one race up one category every year. For example, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women moved up from 1.1 to the ProSeries, and that upgrade included a net investment in fees of €51K. The initiative also aims for equal prize payouts by 2023.
Currently, only events that are part of the Women’s WorldTour are required to offer live broadcasting, so Flanders Classic took an extra step to provide live coverage for the women’s 1.Pro event. It was a good decision, too, because Daam Van Reeth, professor Faculty of Economics and Business, KU Leuven, pointed out in a post on Twitter that the Dutch TV audience at NPO Start, a video on-demand service of the Dutch Public Broadcasting, for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women was almost double the audience of men's race. Those figures included approximately 330K and 21.5 per cent share for the women and 170K and 18.6 per cent share for the men. "This is a huge result," he wrote.
Banks believes that the sport needs to strike a balance between following the requirements that are in place to help progress women’s cycling while also taking the initiative and doing what is morally right by building more equal standards between women’s and men’s cycling, particularly now that women's cycling has grown in the last five years.
"We have to find a balance where the organisers are able to fund the women’s race, fund the live TV, and keep our races going. We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where organisers can’t do it because they don’t have enough money. However, equally, someone has to put their neck on the line and say, 'I’m just going to do the right thing,' and in a couple of years it will pay off because we’ve all seen the growth of the sport in the last five years," Banks said.
"If we look at the paradigm shift over the last four of five years, we know that women’s cycling is really going somewhere, that it will be a great opportunity and the viewing figures are going up because people are wanting to watch women’s cycling. The investment will pay off."
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