HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The Women’s WorldTour calendar is bigger than ever, and it is stretching teams and riders to their limits.
This year has seen the number of top-tier women’s cycling races grow to a record level with some 25 races totaling 71 race days, and it’s getting very busy for the peloton. With illness and injury making an impact, it’s not uncommon to see teams fielding rosters that are smaller than the maximum allowed.
After years where the number of races dwindled, the surge of new events has been welcomed by the women’s pack, but has it been pushed too far too soon?
VeloNews asked some riders for their thoughts ahead of last week’s Classic Brugge-De Panne — the fourth race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar.
There has since been a fifth with Gent-Wevelgem, and the sixth is up soon at the Tour of Flanders, on Sunday.
“I think it’s still manageable. It’s on the limit but the flip side is that a lot of teams are growing in size as well so that can cater for it,” Canyon-SRAM rider Tiffany Cromwell told VeloNews. “You can have more specific teams, like sprint teams, classics teams, and things like this. Maybe it’s impacting the smaller teams a bit more because still in the WorldTour-only about half have bigger setups, but on the bottom end it’s those teams that it is going to be a greater challenge for.”
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Women’s WorldTeams have been gradually growing in size since the category was introduced for the 2020 season. However, the rosters are still only around half of what equivalent men’s teams have.
At present, the 14 top teams must have at least 10 riders and no more than 20. The vast majority of the WorldTeam squads have between 12 and 13 riders, while Canyon-SRAM and UAE Team ADQ have the largest squads with 15 each.
While Cromwell believes that it will prove difficult at times, even on a team of Canyon-SRAM’s size, she thinks that it is part of the process of growing women’s cycling.
She said that teams will need to get bigger and she hopes that the increased attention on the women’s side of the sport will see teams’ budgets step up and see more riders afforded the opportunity to compete at the highest level.
“We’ve been doing it step by step and every year we’re getting more and more. I think that at the end of every year teams take a step back and see what worked and didn’t work,” Cromwell said. “It’s exciting, for sure it’s a bigger thing to manage for teams while we’re still in the period where there is COVID around, and there are injuries. Look at us: We’ve got 15 riders and we’ve had some hit with injuries and illness and now we’re struggling to fill a team with four back-to-back races.
“It’s definitely exciting and great that there are so many opportunities and so many races wanting to have women’s races. Now, we’re also seeing prize money growth. It’s good but, from a team side of things, they’re seeing that they need bigger organizations, more riders, and a bigger support network in general.”
Like Cromwell, Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) hopes that the bulging race program will see more riders be given a chance to race on a WorldTeam squad.
“I think for now it’s fine. With the small teams, it’s difficult because when you get one rider that is injured it’s a lot with all the riders doing all the races, but I think maybe we should increase the size of women’s teams and then I think it will be fine,” Norsgaard told VeloNews. “We will also be able to learn from this but maybe next year we can have 15 or 16 riders where you can switch in between.”
The current 71 race days on the Women’s WorldTour calendar is still within the maximum number of race days for a rider, which is 75, set by the UCI — though top tier teams regularly race non-WorldTour events.
With many of the most active riders racing between 50 and 60 race days, there is definitely room to increase that under the regulations. However, the issue for some riders and their squads is not the number of race days that are on the calendar, it is that just a few illnesses and injuries see teams struggling to field full rosters.
Canadian champion Alison Jackson (Liv Racing-Xstra) is happy to get stuck into as many race days as she can and she is enjoying the wider variety of events.
Jackson is curious to see how teams will balance the increased number of race days and she believes that the growing calendar gives a wider variety of riders a chance to shine.
“I think we’ll be able to assess it better at the end of the season. For me, I love race days so bring it on,” she told VeloNews. “It provides more opportunity for all riders. Before, an all-rounder could target every race but now I think we see a few more opportunities for other girls. Teams have to be a little bit bigger to manage all of the races and I think it’s good for the sport.
“More races for the women is exciting for the fans because our racing is very dynamic. It’ll be fun to see how each team will manage the increased race days.”