I’ve been following the progress of professional women’s cycling since I started writing this blog a bit over five years ago. Before then I was fairly oblivious to the sport, and only watched the men’s racing. In some ways I still only watch the men’s pro peloton because it’s the only cycling shown on Australian TV, but I do try and keep up with the women via social media. I think that women’s pro cycling needs a ‘knight in shining armour’ like the AFL to show its support.
I don’t mean that women can’t look after themselves just fine, but a body like the AFL gains so much publicity that using the might of such a body would be great. You may recall that earlier this year the AFL announced the women’s league. It was unveiled with much fanfare and while it’s a very small step for women’s Aussie Rules football, the publicity surrounding it made it sound much bigger than it actually is.
If you read the fine print you’ll find that the women’s league will play an eight game series in March/April 2017 with just eight teams. Not really hugely significant but it’s a great step. However, based on the publicity I expected the women would be playing the full winter season!
If you contrast that with professional cycling, I identified just three men’s teams that have a female squad – Astana, Lotto Soudal and Orica-AIS. Why doesn’t the richest team – Team Sky have a women’s team? There’s always lots of talk about how ‘huge’ the Team Sky budget must be. I also hear that the women of Orica-AIS are only paid a very small salary compared to their male counterparts.
I do understand that the men’s AFL and professional cycling squads attract the big sponsorship dollars because they are constantly on our TV screens and boast lots of sporting superstars. But if more men’s sports just started to show more support for the female versions of their respective sports, others would follow. In Australia both cricket and soccer do a fairly admirable job.
There have been some great steps taken in support of women’s pro cycling like the inaugural UCI Women’s World Tour and individual men’s races like La Fleche Wallonne including a women’s race, but that all happens as a sideline.
I was really pleased that Cadel Evans included a women’s race in his annual Cadel Evans Great Ocean Ride which will be held in January each year. I attended that event early this year and thoroughly enjoyed watching the women’s and men’s race.
I’m also a huge admirer of Rochelle Gilmore’s Wiggle High5 squad. Rochelle has taken women’s cycling teams up a notch with her professionalism and hard work.
I know it’s a ‘chicken and egg’ thing, here but if a couple of big men’s teams like Team Sky and say BMC were to step up and establish a women’s squad they’d gain heaps of kudos, at a fairly minimal cost.
Maybe it’s a pipe-dream and there are many reasons why it won’t happen. I’d love to hear from others who know more than me about the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the pro cycling scene via comments or the Women Who Cycle Facebook page.