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In Yorkshire, a step toward gender parity after two steps back

After a dark week for women's cycling in Britain, Tour de Yorkshire offers hope with equal prize purse, same course for Women's WorldTour

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YORK, England (VN) — Just days after allegations of discrimination and sexism rocked British cycling, the same nation will take nearly unmatched strides toward gender parity in bike racing.

At the Tour de Yorkshire on Saturday, female pros will race over the same route as the men, rather than on a shortened course as they do at the Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne; they will see an equal prize pot, the biggest in women’s racing, with 20,000 pounds going to the day’s winner; and perhaps most importantly, television coverage will be identical between the two events.

The women’s race will set off in the morning and finish around lunch, and the men’s race will follow shortly after.

Yorkshire’s pre-race press conference was tinged by the scandal that unfolded this week when British Cycling’s technical director, Shane Sutton, was first suspended and then resigned following allegations from athletes of both sexism and discrimination. Track sprinter Jess Varnish claimed that Sutton told her to “go and have a baby,” and Para-cyclist Darren Kenny claimed Sutton called him and other Para athletes “gimps.” Sutton has denied Varnish’s allegations.

Particularly in the context of British cycling’s dismal week, which also saw star cyclist Simon Yates fail an anti-doping test, Yorkshire feels like a single step forward following two steps back. But it is a step nonetheless.

“I feel proud that the UK is leading the way,” said Wiggle – High5’s Dani King, a former Team GB rider with three team pursuit world titles. “We’ll have the same media coverage, the prize money; it’s a positive step forward for women’s cycling.”

King, who raced under Sutton as part of Team GB, told reporters on Thursday that she never experienced the type of treatment described by Varnish and others, nor was she aware of any such treatment. “I never, ever, thought I was treated any differently because I was a woman when I was part of British cycling,” she said.

King expressed a hope that the scandal would bring about positive results in the end, as the general public is made aware of the difficulties women often face in sport. “Hopefully that will change for the better going forward,” she said.

The men’s Tour de Yorkshire is a three-day event and sets off on Friday. Women race a single day, Saturday. Though complete parity is still two stages away, King and teammate Lucy Garner both stressed the importance of the steps Yorkshire has taken.

Those steps, and what they might represent for the future, are particularly significant because Yorkshire is managed by Tour de France owner ASO. The director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, did not take the bait when asked if Yorkshire might be a model for other ASO races, though he did speak in positive generalities. “We have to work step by step. We have to improve all our races every year,” he said, smiling but avoiding any further details.

Yorkshire’s big prize purse may attract the most attention, particularly since the prizes awarded at many women’s races barely cover gas for the drive home, but King pointed to the same-day race schedule, and the fact that the two routes are identical, as even more central to the development of women’s cycling.

“I think you see the importance of the races that are already run alongside the men, they’re the most important regardless of the prize money,” she said. “The fans can see that our racing is just as exciting as the men’s, we can get over the same climbs, we can cover the same distance. It’s really important.”