UCI creates working group to outline resumption of women’s pro cycling calendar

Officials insist discussions had already been ongoing behind the scenes, for weeks, about how to reorganize the women's calendar.

The UCI is bringing together key stakeholders to examine how to revive women’s racing later this season, with a target date of May 15 to have a new schedule in place.

A week after revealing the blueprint for the men’s calendar, the UCI and other important players are now turning their attention to drawing up plans for the resumption of women’s road racing. With WorldTour racing stopped until August 1 due to coronavirus, the UCI has created a working group to map out a revised calendar and identify key dates and races for the women’s peloton.

“With our partners, we will propose new dates for UCI Women’s WorldTour events as soon as possible, naturally, in so far as the world health situation enables us to do so,” said UCI president David Lappartient on Thursday. “Faced with this immense challenge, we must [now], more than ever, remain united, responsible, and strong, to get our sport back into action — all the while maintaining the priority of the health of athletes, and all concerned parties.” 

The formation of the working group comes following some high-profile blow-back from key voices within the women’s peloton, who expressed dismay that the women’s calendar was perceived to be overlooked last week when officials revealed new dates for a revised Tour de France, set to begin August 29.

Officials insist discussions had already been ongoing behind the scenes, for weeks, about how to reorganize the women’s calendar as part of the larger discussion of the disruption to international road racing caused by COVID-19 and lockdown conditions across the globe.

So far, the only confirmed dates on the road calendar include the men’s Tour de France, and the world championships (which remain on its scheduled window of September 20-27), and a revised European national championship calendar for men’s and women’s categories in late August. An extended proposed men’s calendar was leaked Thursday, with racing possibly resuming in early August, though that has not been confirmed by the UCI.

The UCI’s working group includes members from the AIOCC, UNIO, CPA Women, and the UCI Athletes’ Commission. The group will hold its first meeting this week, and hopes to finalize a roadmap for a return to racing in the coming weeks by May 15.

“We are all united in pursuing the same objectives: the health of riders, the security of their teams, and the revision of the 2020 UCI international calendar,” said UNIO president Ronny Lauke. UNIO is a new group representing 22 teams, including five UCI Women’s WorldTeams and 17 UCI Women’s continental teams.

Officials said rescheduling the women’s calendar is made a bit more complicated because several important one-day races include men’s and women’s racing under the same event, such as Gent-Wevelgem or Strade Bianche. Like all racing disciplines, there are concerns about lockdowns, travel, health, and safety that will be considered.

The coronavirus crisis comes at an inopportune time for women’s road racing. The sport was building on recent momentum following the creation of the women’s WorldTour, the implementation of minimum salaries, ever-increasing TV coverage, and the creation of several high-profile WorldTour teams that feature both men’s and women’s rosters. One insider said the COVID-19 stoppage could threaten to unravel much of the progress women’s racing has made over the past several years.

Like in men’s racing, there is worry that several teams might lose sponsorship backing, and squads could be forced to close if racing does not resume in 2020.

Under the working group, the UCI promises to restructure the women’s racing calendar, which so far in 2020 has seen only one of its scheduled WorldTour events take place, with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in February. All other WorldTour events have been forced to be canceled through late July.

The group will consider revising participation rules for the number of riders per team at the start of races on the women’s 2020 calendar, including UCI Women’s WorldTour races. It will also work with an agreement hammered out between the UCI and teams which will allow teams “facing serious financial difficulties in the current context of the pandemic to take necessary measures for their survival while preserving the rights of their riders and staff. This measure had already been introduced for men’s professional cycling,” a statement read.