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As joyful as it was to watch the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) bring home another World Cup title, it was a painful reminder of the vast gender gap that still exists in 2019, particularly in sports. Gender inequality continues to prevail in most professional sports—and professional road cycling is among the worst, with a vicious cycle of hugely disproportionate funding, payouts, support, and attention bestowed upon the sport’s men vs. women.
For 21 days in July, the Tour de France reminds us what’s broken in professional cycling: that the sport’s female pros receive unequal pay, little TV and media coverage, and significantly less opportunity to race. The average UCI men’s WorldTour team has a budget of approximately $16 million; the average women’s team budget is a mere $200,000. Ironically, even though there is currently no Tour de France for women (just La Course, a one- or two-day race that many of the top women feel is conciliatory), the first American to win a Tour de France was a woman—Marianne Martin in 1984, when there was a parallel women’s race during the same three weeks as the men’s. The men’s winner that year—Laurent Fignon—won $100,000 and a mountain of prizes. Marianne got $1,000 and a trophy.
In 2019, women’s major cycling races are often cast as the “plus one” to the men’s main events. Most female pro cyclists have second and third jobs and many live on their credit cards to race. They don’t get paid because they’re not on TV, and they’re not on TV because there’s not enough funding. There’s not enough funding because the sport elicits so little attention. It’s a vicious cycle.
For all women, for all athletes, for young girls riding a bike, shooting a basketball, kicking a soccer ball, now is the time for change. Just as the USWNT is doing for soccer, it’s time to take a stand and demand gender equity in pro cycling. It’s time for cycling’s Billie Jean King moment.
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In August, the Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation hopes to provide one such moment with a game-changing race. We’re taking a stand by forgoing the men’s race and investing solely in the women’s side of the sport. The four-stage UCI 2.1 race through Colorado from August 22 to 25 aims to advance equity for women in a male-dominated sport by shining a light on cycling’s top female pros with free start-to-finish live TV streaming coverage, female commentators, and a substantially bigger prize purse than previous years: $75,000 vs. $30,000 in 2018 (which is $5,000 more than last year’s men’s payout). Like the USWNT’s equal pay plight at the World Cup, like Billie Jean King’s start of the Women’s Tennis Association, this could be the moment for cycling that wakes up the sport for change.
The time is now for race organizers to lead by example and the riders to make their needs heard. This means equal pay for men and women, streaming coverage, and prime TV placement for both. It’s time for comparable team support, race opportunities (there are currently only 132 women’s races on the UCI calendar compared to 416 men’s), sponsor backing and race support, including balanced start times, prizes, routes, and media coverage.
The Colorado Classic is not alone in instigating this positive push toward equality in cycling and women’s sports. Take, for example the Colorado-based SBT GRVL, a new gravel race in Steamboat Springs that is working toward a 50-50 male/female registration ratio. Road cycling’s worldwide governing body, the UCI, is recognizing the importance of visibility and now requires that Women’s WorldTour promoters provide 45 minutes of live TV or streaming coverage of events. By 2020, the UCI will introduce a minimum wage for top-tier women’s teams, similar to men’s. Meanwhile, the riders themselves are getting organized, and in 2018, we saw the formation of The Cyclists’ Alliance, which aims to galvanize opportunities and support for women in cycling, and to provide a better workplace environment for riders.
Outside of cycling, professional surfing is finally offering equal pay for World Surf League men’s and women’s events. And sports such as World Cup alpine skiing and World Cup climbing have long-since taken a stand in gender equality, their respective governing federation having paid equivalent purses for top men’s and women’s finishers for at least the last decade.
Change is happening. If anything can be learned from the powerful journey of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, it’s the conversations they’ve started and their drive for equality. This passion can be harnessed to inspire gender equality in all sports, including cycling. The USWNT has proven that the athletic prowess of half of the human race deserves equal pay, equal attention, and equal support.
Now all we need is you. We need you to tune in, show up at the race, and join the movement for equality.
The Colorado Classic has the support of Colorado Governor Jared Polis and the State of Colorado in proclaiming July 17 as “Equity in Cycling Day.” Add your voice to the chorus and sign the pledge for gender equality in pro cycling. It’s time to close the gap. It’s time to end the vicious cycle. Together #WeRide.
Lucy Diaz is the COO of RPM Events Group, the owners and organizers of the Colorado Classic presented by VF Corporation. The Colorado Classic runs August 22-25, 2019, through Steamboat Springs, Avon, Golden, and Denver. For more information, visit ColoradoClassic.com.