PARIS (VN) — UCI President Brian Cookson was in Paris on Sunday for the final stage of the 2017 Tour de France. VeloNews caught up with Cookson for a wide-ranging interview about the state of professional cycling.

We asked Cookson for his perspective on the current inequality in prize money between men and women at many UCI-sanctioned races. This past week organizers of Oregon’s Cascade Cycling Classic received widespread criticism for offering the UCI minimum prize purse for both men ($23,979) and women ($8,025). Cascade stepped up to the UCI 2.2 level for 2017 and was required to offer at least the minimum.

An 11th hour campaign by sponsors and a Gofundme page helped bring the women’s prize money equal for the men’s.

Cookson was not familiar with the specifics involving the Cascade Cycling Classic, but said he hopes the UCI can move its prize money minimums toward a more equitable level in the future.

“The role of the UCI is to make the women up to the level of the men, not to reduce the men’s. Organizers have to make those decisions themselves within the budgets and sponsorships that they have available. We set a minimum [prize money] limit, and at the moment the minimum limit is lower for women than it is for men. We are going to move towards increasing those minimums across the board. I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that some organizers can’t just flip a magic switch and do that.”

The role the UCI can play within this space is to lead by example, he said.

“I don’t think we get enough credit, those events that we control the budgets—like the UCI World Championships—we have absolutely equalized prize money between men and women. We can impose rules but rules don’t necessarily generate funding and sponsorship. You have to find ways to support organizers so it will generate sponsorships. I think that’s what we’re doing with our Women’s WorldTour is to start that journey by raising the profile of women’s racing and making sure the events are high-caliber.

In addition to raising the minimum prize purses for women’s races, Cookson said he also wants to create a hierarchy amongst professional women’s teams in which the top squads can pay a minimum salary. Currently, UCI-registered pro women’s teams are not required to pay salaries.

Cookson has discussed similar plans throughout his four-year term as UCI President. He said that the solution to creating a minimum salary requirement for pro women’s teams has presented serious challenges.

“Four years ago this was something I was saying, that we’ll have a minimum wage for women. It’s not that easy to just pass a rule. You can’t just pass a rule. What the women’s team directors and riders told me is if you pass that rule you will kill half the teams because they cannot afford it. They will re-register as club teams.”

“Four years ago this was something I was saying, that we’ll have a minimum wage for women. It’s not that easy to just pass a rule. You can’t just pass a rule.”
– Brian Cookson

Whether Cookson will work on these reforms depends on the upcoming UCI election in September. Cookson is seeking his second term, and is running Frenchman David Lappartient and Belgian Tom Van Damme.

“We want to achieve a stronger financial base for the women’s scene that enables miimum wages and gives good prize money and equalizes the situation. It’s not a matter of flicking a switch or passing a rule. It’s a developmental process.”