After a cascade of uncertainty, postponements, and rider discontent about lack of guidance from cycling’s governing body, Tuesday’s announcement of the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix helped ease some pent-up frustration.
“Obviously this is an amazing surprise, I’m really delighted,” said Trek-Segafredo‘s Lizzie Deignan. “I think Paris-Roubaix is an iconic race, one of the races that attracts most fans in cycling. And if we can attract those same fans to women’s cycling, I think it’s a really positive thing.”
The revised 2020 women’s WorldTour calendar — set to include 18 events, with 13 one-day races and five stage races — comes after a few intense months.
So far in 2020, only one WorldTour race has come to fruition. After the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in early February, women’s WorldTour racing ground to a halt. Since then, the health crisis has taken a heavy toll on the women’s calendar with the cancellation of three important races: the Women’s WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and the OVO Energy Women’s Tour.
Voices across the peloton praised the addition of Paris-Roubaix, which will be contested across some of the punishing pavé in northern France. Course details are not yet known, but the race will likely include several famous cobblestone sectors and is expected to conclude in Roubaix’s historic outdoor velodrome.
“It’s a step forward for women’s cycling to have another monument added to the women’s calendar,” said Trek-Segafredo team director Ina Teutenberg. “It’s a historical race which is always epic; it has cobblestones and it gets a lot of media attention, and I think a lot of our riders will be super stoked to ride over these cobblestones.”
The surprise addition of a women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix comes as the women’s peloton has become increasingly outspoken about inequities in the sport. Both riders and teams have found a stronger voice in advocacy groups like The Cyclist’s Alliance (TCA) and the newly-formed UNIO. Two weeks ago, TCA signed an open letter to the UCI, demanding better consideration of women’s interests in the UCI’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trek-Segafredo rider Ellen van Dijk, who is one of the TCA’s eight-member rider’s council, said the addition of the Paris-Roubaix to the women’s calendar might not have happened had the UCI made changes to the calendar any earlier.
“Maybe that’s the silver lining after this difficult period — the fact that the men’s race had to be rescheduled for the fall which made it possible to also host the women’s race,” van Dijk said.
Some believed the women’s peloton was set to suffer major setbacks without the return of an equitable racing calendar for 2020. Earlier this year, the UCI rolled out new reforms for the women’s peloton, including minimum salaries, maternity leave, and a focus on better media coverage.
UCI president David Lappartient referenced those reforms, as well as the collective voice that riders have raised in the past weeks, in the calendar announcement Tuesday.
“The new calendar will preserve the exceptional character of the 2020 season,” Lappartient said. “As with men’s racing, I would like to thank the representatives of women riders and teams, as well as organizers, for their constructive spirit in the discussions which enabled us to draw up, together, this revised calendar in the extremely difficult context of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Even with a race schedule in place, much remains uncertain about how the season will actually unfold given the complexity of government and public health responsibilities around the pandemic. Nevertheless, if October 25 arrives and bike racing is given a green light, the cycling community will be in for a treat.