Op-ed: Simple changes needed now for women’s Louisville worlds field

European cyclocross champion Helen Wyman argues for a rule preventing federations from shorting their women's worlds rosters

Editor’s note: Helen Wyman is a seven-time British cyclocross national champion, is the current European champion, and is ranked second in the UCI standings. The British federation on Wednesday named her to its team for the UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, on February 2-3, where she will start a medal favorite. On the same day, a number of qualified women from countries including France and Denmark were left off national teams not filling their selection allotments.

Selection for any world championships is always a contentious issue. Riders feel they have missed out or been let down by their federations, many having met selection criteria or worse still, not known of criteria to meet, ultimately resulting in them missing out on the opportunity to compete in the most prestigious event on the annual cyclocross calendar.

In cyclocross, there is a UCI rule in place to ensure that the elite men’s field has huge strength in depth, giving the top riders from each nation a set goal to aim for. UCI Rule 9.2.045 states that each federation shall be required to include the top three riders from its country in its worlds selection, as long as they are in the top 50 in the UCI ranking published after the national championships:

Each federation shall be required to include the following riders in their Men Elite’s team, as long as they are in the top 50 of the UCI Cyclo-cross Classification as published after the national championships in Europe:
federation with a selection of six riders: its first three ranked riders;
federation with a selection of five riders: its first two ranked riders.

This rule shall not apply to riders who have failed to fulfill their obligations under the regulations. In the event of a dispute on this issue, it shall be the responsibility of the National Federation to decide whether the rider will be selected.

For a non-Olympic discipline I believe this is an excellent rule as it ensures that the top athletes of the sport are represented at the ultimate event in cyclocross.

Unfortunately there is no such rule for the women.

This year, with the world championships being held in the United States, many countries are using the excuse of travel costs to take minimal female teams much to my personal dismay. Having raced in the USA, I honestly believe that it is the future for women’s cyclocross. Not only do the majority of races provide equal prize money between men and women to at least the top three in their UCI races, they also use us for advertising and every race is immediately before the elite men. I have never felt so equal than when competing there. Among the spectators, Katie Compton is as famous as Sven Nys and this shows in the number and quality of the female riders racing.

I personally want all top European elite women to experience this for themselves.

In my world, every nation should fill its quota of participants, although I understand that some nations genuinely don’t have the quality to do that. However, the Danish federation, for example, not allowing its national champion (32nd in the world ranking) to compete or the French federation only taking two riders when its third and fourth riders are 16th and 23rd in the world ranking, is an outrage. I know for a fact that both Julie Krasniak and Caroline Mani (the third and fourth French riders) have even stated that financing themselves is no issue.

So, if the UCI applied the same rules to elite men and women, at least two of these three riders would be going to the worlds in Louisville, along with Belgian Joyce Vandebeken, German Sabrina Schweizer, and Luxembourger Christine Majerus. That’s just by briefly reviewing the world ranking; I could easily have left some out and the later may have chosen not to attend.

For years, the Americans have been traveling to Europe to race at the extra costs involved and still they come in droves. Why should we not give them the same respect they have us? After all, they have provided podium finishes across all categories since at least the beginning of my career if not earlier.

I don’t know if it is too late to rectify this for Louisville, though it costs nothing to implement. I hope that at the latest, it can come in force for 2014. I know the world championship for women will be an incredibly hard-fought, exciting race with so much talent fighting for that prestigious jersey and we as a group of racers will not disappoint. I also know that the UCI Cyclocross Commission is always working on new aspects and this involves the women, too. I just hope for the future, riders have the same rights as the men; after all, the clue is in the “elite” part, not the following gender description.