Heading into 2016, the women’s race calendar will look different, thanks to the new Women’s WorldTour (WWT). After hearing from women’s pro peloton insiders, one thing seems certain: This is a huge step toward bringing equality to the sport of cycling.
“I’m super-thrilled about the changes moving forward for women in cycling” Carmen Small (Bigla) told VeloNews. “The WorldTour is a step in the right direction for women’s cycling, and I’m pretty positive that it will enhance our sport as well as help propel us further into designing a platform that works best for the sport.”
Sean Petty, director of the Women’s USA Pro Challenge, worked closely with the UCI in creating the new women’s calendar. “We’ve been working with the women’s commission in two things; creation of the WorldTour and also the growth and development of women’s cycling. It’s been a couple-year project and focus since [UCI President] Brian Cookson came on.”
Petty embraces the idea of bringing a brand and narrative to the women’s side of the sport, “I think for us to have that branding and messaging for a WorldTour, and really bring that brand to quality and one that recognizes all the riders and not just one-day classics riders.”
The consensus among the riders is that the new media obligation for race organizers is a great move. “It’s exciting to think that we could be broadcasted live and/or having sufficient highlights that really showcase women’s cycling,” Small said.
Loren Rowney (Velocio-SRAM) told VeloNews, “I think enforcing race coverage is definitely a step in the right direction. People want to know what is going on in our races, and having good media coverage is attractive to sponsors.”
Lauren Stephens’ (Tibco-SVB) comments echoed Rowney’s, “I am really happy about the increase in media obligations to the races. I think this will bring more money into the sport through the increased exposure. Maybe in time we will see an eventual effect for the riders with increased salaries!”
Perhaps the biggest concern is that the WWT includes too many teams — races will be required to invite 20. The women’s side of the sport has a much greater financial disparity between the top teams and smaller squads. The men’s WorldTour only includes 17 teams this year, not the usual 18.
“I don’t agree with having 20 teams,” Rowney said. “If I sit here and think about it, I would say there are about 12-13 teams I would classify WorldTour with their current set-up.
“Obviously we don’t have division two like the men, and a lot of small teams can get UCI status, and thus invitations to the big races pretty easily. So I would cap it at maybe 12-13 teams with one or two wildcard entries for the WorldTour”
The new media requirement, seen as a huge positive, does not come without concerns as well. Races are already strapped for cash, and the fear is that the added media requirement will deter some race organizers from applying to join the WorldTour.
“It looks like the new guidelines will have a bigger impact on the organizers than the riders,” Stephens told VeloNews. “Hopefully these extra measures do not deter the organizers from putting on this level of a race.”
Petty realizes the structure and requirements of the new race format was a delicate process. “I think what we have to recognize is finding a great structure, but also recognizing the economics and making that structure sustainable. That is the more important thing.”
The WWT may yield some growing pains, but overall consensus seems positive for now. “Hopefully this can be a big catalyst to help keep growing the sport and propelling us forward,” Small concluded.
Caley Fretz contributed to this report.