Women’s racing off to good start for 2013, but critics say more support is needed

Women's racing is off to a good start for 2013, but athletes and directors say there's more to be done

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Despite criticism by some of the sport’s biggest stars about the state of women’s cycling, it appears to be starting on the right foot in 2013.

The four-day Ladies Tour of Qatar kicked off the women’s season, enjoyed live TV coverage daily and preceded the men’s race, which began Sunday.

Tour de France organizer Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) has run the race for five years, and this time around signed a deal with Al Jazeera to provide live TV coverage around the world.

“You can see here, we race like the men. It should be televised. There should be media attention for the races because it’s just like the men’s races,” Shelley Olds (Tibco-To the Top) told VeloNews. “My friends are watching at home and all over Europe. They’re watching live. It’s cool.”

Only last fall, cycling star Emma Pooley lashed out about the state of women’s cycling. She partly blamed cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale.

“I think they [the UCI] need to be getting races on the television so that sponsors want to sponsor the races. Let’s face it, who, when there’s a financial crisis going on wants to put money into a bike race that doesn’t even get them any coverage anywhere?” Pooley told the Telegraph newspaper. “They seem to just spend all their time regulating saddle angles and so on when they could be helping to further developing the sport.”

Nicole Cooke, former Olympic and world champion, joined in. When she announced her retirement last month, she pointed her finger at the UCI.

“The UCI have been so engrossed trying to find receipts for the equipment they bought after Lance [Armstrong] made donations to them, and suing Floyd Landis after he blew the whistle, and holding press conferences calling Landis a liar,” Cooke told the Guardian newspaper.

“Whilst they have been busy with all these priorities, the women’s road sport, that looked so promising in 2002 when I turned professional, has crumbled.”

This winter the UCI said that it would begin offering equal prize money for men and women at their events, the world championships.

The younger stars in Qatar have high hopes for women’s cycling, but suggested still more needs doing.

“[Pooley and Cooke] were pretty critical, but it’s good what they said,” said Ellen Van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon). “Somebody has to speak up. If nobody says anything then nothing will happen. These are names that get people to listen.

“We need more races like Qatar on TV, where people can watch. That could help more and more people become enthusiastic and they will want to organize more big races for us.”

Added Olds: “We should have all the same races as the men, like Milano-San Remo. It’s true, when you have the big races, you have the spectators there already. They say, ‘Oh my God, the women can race too.’ Maybe they’ll be more interested in the women, especially now with the state of men’s cycling.”

Pooley also said that Sky should start a women’s team, as did her former teams Garmin and Cervélo.

Argos-Shimano, Rabobank, Orica-AIS and Lotto-Belisol each have “brother” teams in the WorldTour. Tour of Qatar winner, Kirsten Wild, winner of the Ladies Tour of Qatar, said her Argos team is an example.

“Argos-Shimano has a women’s and men’s team, we have the men’s DS here with our team,” Wild told VeloNews. “I think that’s really good for the sport. More men’s teams should take on a women’s team.”

Simon Cope ran the British Academy before becoming sports director in new team Wiggle-Honda. He is concerned about the potential earnings of his new stars like Olympic gold medalist Laura Trott and junior time trial world champion Elinor Barker.

“You got riders calling for minimum wage. Minimum wage will not happen. It’d kill the sport now,” Cope said.

“You have to put on as many races as possible with the men. You need parity like Flanders, Flèche [Wallonne] and like the Tour used to do it. … Then you got to publicize them on TV and in the magazines. With TV will come sponsors and with sponsors come money.”

Judging by this week’s race, Qatar and ASO have the right idea — more races alongside the men and more TV to build an already entertaining sport.