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A month before the Colorado Classic, Lucy Diaz, the race’s chief operation officer, wrote an article on Bicycling’s website that left me seething. She was passionately in favor of equality for female athletes and advocated, “The time is now for race organizers to lead by example and the riders to make their needs heard. This means equal pay for men and women, streaming coverage, and prime TV placement for both. It’s time for comparable team support, race opportunities, sponsor backing and race support, including balanced start times, prizes, routes, and media coverage.”
This riled me up because I’ve spent four years hustling to build the best team possible while facing tough economic realities in this business. I’ve been one of many women’s team owners and event promoters who have tried to professionalize the women’s side of the sport while facing bleak limitations. No emotional decree, mandate from UCI, or eloquent demand from The Cyclists’ Alliance has made more money appear to improve our sport. So, I got angry and decided to write a scathing rebuttal, an intention blunted in the following weeks by a lack of time and the realization that there was little point in trying to criticize somebody who was only trying to help. Let the race come and go, I thought self-righteously. I don’t need to point out the flaws in this argument; the unfolding of events will do that in time.
I’ve never been more wrong, nor happier about being wrong.
The night before the Classic began, I dropped by a VIP race event and within moments was introduced to Lucy. “It’s great to meet you,” I said (heart pounding with relief that I’d never gotten around to writing anything harsh). “I read your article in Bicycling Magazine a few weeks ago.”
Then she asked if I’d give a speech at that event.
A speech. About the race, on behalf of the riders. I had 20 minutes to prepare. Of course I said yes, because I love a good challenge and an opportunity to sweat through my shirt with anxiety. What was I supposed to say? Thank you for pushing so fervently for something I sometimes struggle to believe in myself? Thanks for being here, I hope this race actually comes back next year? Clearly I needed to find a message that transcended my skepticism about the #WeRide movement started by the event. I picked up one of #WeRide bracelets I’d scoffed at a dozen times before, thinking what good is wearing a bracelet going to do for creating sustainable growth in women’s cycling? I’d soon find out.
I put the bracelet on, cobbled together some hopefully coherent thoughts, and stood up to speak. They’d asked me to share a certain message and, in finding my own voice for delivering it, sold myself on their cause. While praising their work in putting on the race and supporting women in sport, I realized I’d failed to see the magnitude of the steps they were taking. They weren’t just talking a big game and making demands; they were deliberate and calculated in their approach to building a sustainable future for women’s cycling and were creating the change they wished to see.
Each day of the race left me speechless and breathless (the latter likely from altitude). Four stages of aggressive racing on courses designed to keep spectators engaged. Live coverage across multiple platforms to showcase the racing to fans at home. Huge crowds lining the streets. Prize money, primes, and jersey competitions designed to animate the racing and keep people cheering from the start to finish. Everything an event could do onsite and offsite to sell the thrill of women’s cycling to a huge audience; this was the work of a stellar marketing engine that had clearly considered how to provide value to every stakeholder and audience member. As a rider, I was spoiled with a generous schwag bag and opportunities to win piles of money after bleeding my eyes out on hard courses. As a team owner, I was blown away by the seamless execution of every behind-the-scenes aspect of a race that should have been a pain in the butt with long transfers, multiple hotel stays, and a thousand moving pieces. As a skeptic of events that promise to be too good to be true, I was eating my words every day.
Late Friday night after stage 2, I was asked by Race Director Sean Petty if I would come give a similar speech at a dinner the following night. The dinner would include the CEO of VF Corporation (the race’s title sponsor), a number of VF Corporation executives, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis, and key CEOs and business leaders from around Denver. While I still see myself as that epic dork who lip synced ‘Timber’ while riding the trainer in a slightly viral Internet video, I agreed because it was an incredibly cool opportunity and by that point I was a huge supporter of the event and everybody behind it. After Saturday’s stage (yes, I was caught in a crash; yes, I’m fine, the poor soul who went down in front of me took the brunt of my weight), I sprinted to the nearest mall and bought a dressy outfit that did not scream HAGENS BERMAN-SUPERMINT nor reek of stage racing and AMP Performance lotion. The best thing about a little black dress is that you can sweat as much as you want and nobody will know unless you leave a puddle.
Speaking at that dinner was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, and this is coming from a person who has raced a Belgian Spring Classic in freezing rain and birthed a tiny human (separate events, in case that was unapparent). I wanted to represent the race, every person involved in it, and every woman in this sport who has pushed to make it greater, and when the time came to stand up and do that, I’d like to believe it worked. This is what I said:
“Hello. My name is Lindsay Goldman. I’m the owner and General Manager of the Hagens Berman Supermint Women’s Professional Cycling Team. I’m also a rider in this race and the mother of an 18-month old daughter. Reporters and announcers have talked to me about these things throughout the race because they think it’s a great story – they ask how I’m able to juggle all three and while I usually make a joke about how I don’t sleep, the reality is that I do all three because I love doing each one and refuse to compromise. I believe I can do them all well. That’s my story. But my story is only one of 89 fascinating stories you’ll find here in the women’s professional peloton. Every woman racing has an incredible story – there are Olympians, lawyers, PhD candidates, coaches, mothers, and so many more amazing women in this race.
There’s been a lot of talk recently in our culture about women. Equality, parity in salaries, sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement, and a big focus on women in sport. With the US National Women’s soccer team winning the World Cup and through advocates in our own sport, there has been a momentous push for equality for women.
But I’ll take a somewhat controversial stance among the women campaigning for equality and tell you this is not about fairness. I don’t need to talk about fairness, because there is a product here with a real marketing message that can resonate and sell. Everybody in this room operates in the business world and fair is not a concept that appears in business. You don’t write fairness into your business plans or budgets next year. But everybody here understands marketing value and that’s what women in sport have to offer. We have incredible, engaging stories that can be paired with impressive athletic feats and exciting competitions to win over audiences. We don’t need to play the fairness card because we have something real and tangible to offer, something that can provide a measurable return on investment.
The push for equality in women’s sport isn’t new. Decades ago, female professional tennis players were undervalued and undercompensated. The women who came to be known as the Original 9 – including Billie Jean King – decided to take a stand against that inequity. They each took a huge gamble, foregoing other opportunities and signing contracts for $1 to go out on their own and build a structure that valued what they offered as female athletes. That structure went on to become the empire that is women’s professional tennis today.
That’s what the promoters and sponsors of the Colorado Classic have done here. They didn’t just talk about what should be; they took action. They built an incredible event to showcase female athletes and their stories in a way that is connecting with a worldwide audience. The race is treating riders like top professionals, providing a seamless experience for teams under conditions that would normally be stressful and challenging, actively promoting the sponsors, and creating an incredible experience for fans. Every host city has welcomed us with thousands of spectators lining the streets. The race is showcasing women’s cycling to the world and providing invaluable opportunities to connect with fans and inspire people everywhere. There have been kids at every event watching and cheering the riders. My team signed a jersey for one young fan and later saw on Instagram that she called it the best day of her life. This race has created these fantastic opportunities and, in doing so, showed the world what is possible when you support women’s cycling. They have raised the bar for every other event on the calendar. The greatest testament to this race’s success may have come when, on the day before the race began, Billie Jean King herself took to Twitter to commend the event for their work in promoting women in sport.
So thank you. To the event management group, to the sponsors, to each of you sitting here, thank you for supporting women’s cycling. We have stories to tell, stories that are engaging and marketable and worth your investment. If you keep supporting us, we will keep showing up, racing hard, and making it worth every penny.”
When the group gave a standing ovation, I nearly cried (partly with relief and the mistaken assumption that nothing else that weekend would be as hard, a fallacy quickly smashed by the crushingly difficult stage 4 the next day). Also, what are you supposed to do during a standing ovation? Sit? Wave? I think I turned red and waved a little while staring at my dinner plate.
I meant every word, though. My skepticism from weeks earlier was obliterated in the face of overwhelming evidence that this event was a watershed moment for women’s cycling. Everybody behind the race delivered an incredible product and message that will echo for a very long time. This #WeRide bracelet represents something real and exciting created by people with the power and smarts to actually make change. I’m still wearing it and marveling at everything that just happened and everything still to come. The time really is now for us to all step up and keep pushing to build the future we want to see.