The pie chart illustrating the prize money given to Anna van der Breggen and Davide Ballerini after Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad almost looked like a mistake: Ballerini’s €16,000 was like an engorged Pac-Man swallowing van der Breggen’s €930.
The inequality in pro cycling’s prize money is not new, yet the tenor of the conversation seems to be changing. As the season opener for the women’s peloton, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad came under quick scrutiny when the amount of the prizes was revealed.
On Twitter Monday, Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel responded to hundreds of comments about the chasm between the payouts.
“Quite disappointed with all the reactions we are getting about prize money after all the financial investments we have continuously made into women’s cycling for years now,” the tweet read.
I do absolutely understand the concerns about equal pay in cycling and I do not mind the debate but let me try to give you some more context. Cycling in general, for most stakeholders (there are few exceptions most of us know), is not the most economically attractive sport.
— Tomas Van Den Spiegel (@tomasvds) March 2, 2021
Van Den Spiegel went on to address how Flanders Classics had invested “six figures” into moving the women’s race up in category from 1.1 to 1.Pro, as well as securing live TV broadcasting for the first time in the event’s history. According to Van Den Spiegel, these important milestones were being unfairly overshadowed.
“If equal pay is all you are asking for, you clearly have no idea about the challenges women’s cycling is still facing,” he said.
Van Den Spiegel then laid out the ways in which an event organizer makes money: sponsorship, media rights, and hospitality. Regarding sponsorship and hospitality, he said, the fact that the men’s and women’s races are usually held on the same day makes it hard to sell them as separate events to sponsors.
“In an ideal future, the women’s race is a popular stand-alone event on a different day.”
Regarding media rights, “Until a few years back there was almost no interest at all with the broadcasters,” Van Den Spiegel said. “This has changed recently, although the amounts remain negligible.”
Van Den Spiegel highlighted the lengths that Flanders Classics has gone to invest in women’s cycling. Its ‘Closing the Gap’ initiative, launched in early 2020, set specific goals to be met by 2023. Some, like bumping one race per year up in category or having a women’s race for each of the six men’s spring classics, have been met. Others, like equal pay, have not.
In much of the conversation on social media surrounding this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, some wondered why the organizer couldn’t offer both live broadcasting and equal prize money. Or, why the men’s and women’s prize purses couldn’t simply be pooled together and then split evenly among the fields.
According to Van Den Spiegel, the UCI has different prize payout scales for different categories, and he would have needed additional funding to pool the monies for the women’s ProSeries and men’s WorldTour events.
“The prize money was according to the UCI financial obligations,” he said.
Van Den Spiegel repeated the importance of more media coverage as a driver for “more sponsorship money to be drawn into the sport.” Iris Slappendel, the co-founder and executive director of the advocacy group The Cyclists’s Alliance, echoed his sentiment.
“Coverage should be a priority to grow the sport,” Slappendel said. “Prize money is an easy “target’ and should be higher in the future, but also only benefits the top riders that already make a reasonable income. Live coverage benefits everyone.”