A step backwards. A momentum killer. A huge disappointment.
The world’s best female cyclists expressed these sentiments when asked to comment on last week’s news that the Amaury Sport Organization may remove La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and Liège-Bastogne-Liège from the UCI Women’s WorldTour for 2020.
The controversial decision was first reported last week by website DirectVelo, which quoted Tom Van Damme, president of the UCI’s road commission. According to reports, ASO’s decision is reportedly tied to the UCI’s requirement for Women’s WorldTour promoters to provide 45 minutes of live TV or streaming coverage for each event starting in 2019. ASO did not pay for live coverage of the races in 2019.
The decision did not sit well with the riders.
“I felt that women’s cycling was progressing in a positive way, and to lose those two races is a huge knock against us,” said Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM). “It’s the main week of the spring. If it’s just coming down to TV coverage and money, it’s really hard to drop it like that.”
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC Team), said the decision represents an “old-fashioned mentality” on the part of ASO.
“It would be wonderful if ASO saw the value in women’s cycling and invested in us to grow the profile of women’s cycling, because I believe they would reap the rewards,” she said. “You feel disheartened because we try so hard, and there’s been so much great momentum in the beginning of the season around women’s racing.”
“There has to be more to it,” said Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo. “It doesn’t make sense because we’ve proven there is an appetite for there to be TV coverage.”
ASO did not comment on the situation. An ASO representative confirmed that organizers for both races are currently in talks with the UCI about the situation.
In 2018 the UCI decided on several reforms for the Women’s WorldTour, including the 2020 requirement for races to provide live television coverage at WorldTour races. At the time, UCI President David Lappartient criticized ASO for not doing more to promote its women’s races. ASO is owner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Flèche Wallonne, and the La Course by le Tour de France events in the women’s WorldTour.
The standoff appears to be unresolved, and Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that Van Damme is in discussions with various parties to potentially broadcast both women’s races. According to De Telegraaf, Walloon broadcaster RTBF is interested in broadcasting the women’s races at the two events.
The standoff places women’s teams in a challenging situation. Since La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège both feature sizable crowds and prestige—La Flèche Wallonne has been held every season for the last 22 years—female riders said they would not be inclined to skip either race, even if the events lacked Women’s WorldTour classification.
“I think teams would still go,” said Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb). “There’s more value in going to races that have TV coverage, so we will see if this impacts which races teams choose to do.”
Deignan said the relatively small size of the women’s racing calendar means women’s teams look for all opportunities to race. So, saying no to an event would place everyone in a challenging position.
Deignan wondered if women’s teams would have more luck if WorldTour men’s races got involved.
“I think it would speak louder if the men said, ‘If you’re not going to have women there, we’re not going to be there too,'” Deignan said. “Maybe we will have to get creative.”