WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH WOMEN’S CYCLING?
A new women’s cycling feature on Gazzetta from everybody’s favourite cycling fan PIGEONS
I know shit all about women’s cycling. But, I love watching it as much as the men’s stuff I bang on about on here so I wanted to include it on the pages of GAZZETTA. However instead of pretending I know what I’m talking about I’ve convinced my great friend PIGEONS to write a regular column instead. She will be filling us all in on everything from fangirl stuff to race reports and results. I hope you enjoy reading her articles as much as I enjoy talking to her about the sport.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH WOMEN’S CYCLING?
When the lovely Simon offered me some space on his blog to fangirl endlessly about women’s cycling, my mind went completely blank. Over the last year or so I’ve been teaching myself about women’s road racing, and I definitely class as a fangirl, rather than any kind of expert. There’s so much I love about the sport, and so much that drives me crazy about it, that it’s hard to know where to start. Plus if you’re reading this, you’re into cycling, and likely already know more than I do about the women’s side of things. But I guess the easiest place to start is at the beginning….
Unlike in track cycling, there are some fairly major differences between women’s road cycling rules and those in place for the men’s races. There are all kinds of different rules for the girls, and this changes the tactics and the way the races pan out.
For a start, teams in most races have a maximum of 6 riders each, and this means riders can’t specialise as much as the men can. For example, Columbia men’s team can have 5 riders on the front of the péloton pulling back a break, with 3 riding around Mark Cavendish, protecting him from the wind and keeping him safe to only think about his one job of the day – that final sprint. It’s not that this can’t happen with 6 riders, it’s just that the sprinter also has to be alert for breaks, and be prepared to get into the breaks herself. The riders that are nearest to pure sprinters – Ina Teutenberg, Kirsten Wild and Giorgia Bronzini, for example – have to be able to get into those breaks, and get themselves over the hills. There are generally a lot more attacks in the women’s racing, and if 4 women are working together up the road, because 2 of them have a pretty good sprint themselves, it can be harder to bring them back, especially with their team-mates doing everything they can to keep the pace down.
Then there are the distances. Because we all know women are delicate little flowers, they’re limited to how much they can actually ride by the maximum 130-140km a day, against the men’s 240-280k, and no more than 6 stages, without special UCI permission. This means that although they ride demanding races, they’re actually capable of riding a lot further, and they don’t race every day for 3 weeks – so they can end up relatively fresher at the end of the day (not always, and not after eg riding the Stelvio). I have no idea why these limits are set where they are – it seems a bit random to me – but then I’ve never understood why I can run the same 1,500m or marathon as a bloke, but couldn’t ride a kilometre time trial.
“But Pigeons”, I can hear you thinking, “isn’t the answer ‘Because the UCI make no sense’?” – and of course, you’re absolutely right. Ranting about the UCI can take up hours, but it really does feel like Uncle Pat thinks a woman’s only place in cycling is in a low cut dress and high heels, handing the winner his cuddly toy – or maybe producing darling little kiddies who’ll look adorable in their mini polka-dot jersey on the podium with Papa.
You might be raising your eyebrows at this, but looking at how the UCI treats the sport, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion. Two examples – there used to be a really nice little set of races in North America and Canada, including the Montreal round of the road World Cup – but these vanished last year, after the UCI encouraged the organisers of the Canadian races to drop them in favour of a race for men. And then there’s the fact that the Track World Championships is scheduled to conflict with the early World Cup round/s, so riders like Lizzie Armitstead and Giorgia Bronzini have to decide between the two, and hope their road team doesn’t mind if they choose track.
And in the last few years, teams and races have been collapsing all over, and there are no obvious signs that the UCI even cares.
Sigh. It’s difficult times for the women’s sport indeed. There are fewer races to ride, and the ones left are struggling. Sponsors are collapsing – it’s insane that World Champions like Amber Neben and Nicole Cooke are without pro teams this year, after their team crumbled in December. Although the racing gets better and better, the sport is in real danger of extinction. Add to that the real difficulties of watching the sport, as channels like Eurosport will show 10-pin bowling and any number of non-sports, but won’t show even the World Cup rounds, and it’s no wonder people don’t know about it.
But it’s not all bad news. I’ve painted a bleak picture up there, but that’s just in the background of this amazing sport – and it makes what’s great about women’s cycling even more important. It’s a tactical, attacking sport – and with a mix of day races, short tours, 2 relatively long Tours, and the 9-round Road World cup series, there’s something for everyone, and all kinds of riders to love. And the upside of the lack of mainstream media is the homemade coverage – from websites like Cycling Fever, CQ ranking, Podium Cafe and Cicloweb to YouTube streams like Cycling Donne and especially twitter. There’s something really rewarding about hunting out the information about races, finding results, and sharing them with the superb people who follow women’s cycling and are generally really happy to share their knowledge. And the fact that absolute superstars like Marianne Vos will reply to the tweets of someone like me – it’s a real thrill.
And with Cervélo and HTC-Columbia supporting women’s teams, and the new British Horizon Fitness Team persuading the Tour Series to run a women’s race for the first time 17th June in Stoke – if you’re going, can you shriek for Horizon for me, and yell like a demented fangirl every time you see a Horizon rider, especially Sarah Storey? I’d appreciate it immensely!), there are good signs. Traditionally people pay more attention to womens’ cycling in the run up to the Olympics, so now’s a great time to brush up your knowledge, ready to sound unbearably smug, come 2012.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there…. for now! Next time, I’ll give you some pointers on who to support, if you haven’t already got 6 favourite riders! If you want me to hand-pick a rider for you, leave a comment and tell me what kind of riders you like, and why.
In the news this week:
Cervélo’s Claudia Häusler won the Iurreta-Emakumeen Bira (a mountainous mini-Tour in the Basque Country), and we’re still thinking about Marina Romoli after her really horrendous accident.