Pro Cycling: A Man’s World

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

With a pink jersey and lean shaven legs pro cycling might not seem the most macho sport. But look again and it venerates suffering and elevates masculinity to religious levels.

Bike races aren’t run in isolation. They cross countries, visiting villages and capital cities alike but somehow the pro peloton doesn’t always resemble the societies it rides through, it excludes women and there’s not one openly gay rider. Men’s pro cycling is a man’s world.

Last April Peter Sagan’s wandering hands upset more than podium hostess Maja Leye. Some saw a prank but others spotted wider socio-cultural issues. At the time I thought about writing a piece to point out that the whole sport has its biases but so sharp was the focus on Sagan’s act that this would have been lost as fans argued over Sagan. I promised to return to it later and here we are…

The Dawn of Time
Sport is a metaphor and has often been a proxy for combat. Many sports celebrate the hero and the battle. Right from the start bike racing involved huge distances, Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix are 300km and 250km respectively, a distance many cannot imagine riding today. But a century ago this was another matter with rudimentary bikes, rough clothes, dusty roads and worse. The idea was to prove the durability of various bike brands but it quickly gave rise to reports of men with an iron constitution.

Journalist Albert Londres made a name exposing brutality, whether colonial cruelty or the inhumanity of the Tour de France in “Les Forçats de la route et Tour de France”. There were instances of women trying early races – even the Giro – but often the sport and its supporting media started diminishing women’s roles.

It’s not just cycling, Prof. Christopher Thomson’s cultural history of the Tour de France makes it clear that many sports restricted women. The founder of the modern Olympics Baron de Coubertin believed women should do no more than present the medals. But if sport was a male preserve a century ago, cycle sport went further, an activity reserved for men capable of doing things that other men could not. Early newspaper accounts of races resemble war reporting.

In short, the sport spent so long building up tales of suffering and heroism that the champion cyclist became a the man’s man, a battlefield hero and consequently the culture of the sport became very patriarchal.

Roubaix mud

The world has changed but sport has not
Over the century France has changed enormously. Roads have been sealed, there’s a welfare state, a 35 hour week and women have taken on many top jobs.

But the Tour de France still clings to an older model when gender roles were segregated and we persist with “the hardman” myth. Cycling trades on its cultural baggage, a real bike race has to cross from a test of fitness into a battle, preferably with added snow, mud or infernal heat. Adjectives like “epic” and “brutal” have been used so much they’ve become devalued. Whisper it and some of this is myth, stage distances are getting shorter and riders are followed around France by a truck loaded with personal mattresses. But despite all the social progress, a bike race wilfully sends 200 riders down a small road meaning broken bones are inevitable, few workplaces would tolerate this.

As for women, Baron de Coubertin’s nineteenth century values live on with the podium girls, a role that few other sports still use. It turns out behind the scenes their job involves driving and hostess work but most people just see the TV: they look pretty and vibe submissive.

Of course women can attack on a muddy cobbled track too – and they do. But if societies have embraced equality, sport seems much slower to change and sometimes totally detached. The more masculine a sport, the greater the gender gap. See the women’s hammer throw which joined the Olympics in 2000, boxing which allowed women in 2012 or even ski-jumping for women in the 2014 Sochi winter games. Cycling’s playing catch-up too, it’s moved to equal medals for the 2018 Rio games but there’s no women’s Tour de France and the UCI women’s calendar of elite events runs to 154 days compared to 588 days for the Europe Tour alone.

Where are the gay riders?
The machismo isn’t just anti-women. It’s different in the women’s bunch but there are no openly homosexual riders in the men’s pro peloton. At the end of 2012 a British football journalist and statistician looked at the Premier League.

Many surveys have tried to decide what proportion of British men are gay. Answers have ranged wildly from 1.5% to 6% so I took the lowest figure of 1.5%…. ….I then looked at Premier League players of which there have been 3,200 in the past 20 years. The chances of there being no gay footballer among those is 1 in 10 to the power of 21, which is one and 21 noughts.

Let’s run this for the men’s pro peloton with the 893 World Tour and Pro Conti riders. Using the same assumptions the odds of no gay cyclist is 1 in 726,852. About the same as flipping a coin and it coming up the same side 20 times.

It could be the stats but at these odds, I doubt it. Instead it’s the culture of the sport that might have deterred some men and also encouraged others to keep quiet about it. Now if you can name a homosexual in the men’s pro peloton, keep it to yourself: the point here is show that nobody wants to be open about it. Indeed I don’t want to make a big deal of this, soccer regularly asks this question but it’s subject to a lot more media intrusion. By contrast pro cycling people’s private lives are not the property of paparazzi, a private life can be as private as the rider wants. For example there are Catholics, Muslims, Protestants in the bunch and their faith is known but not a talking point, it’s entirely for them. Some things are more visible, the pro peloton is mainly from Europe but disproportionally white. Put simply the peloton doesn’t reflect society.

Time for change?
There might be more women at the big races these days, whether in the press room or even driving the team bus. Not many but an infinite more than the zero of a few years ago. The UCI is now taking steps including mild acts of positive discrimination like appointing women to roles on its various committees.

There’s a big gap between men’s pro cycling and women’s pro cycling. You can look at the calendar, teams and budgets and see the structural differences but this is all rooted in a deep culture. Perhaps this is why it’s taking so long to get women’s racing going, you can legislate structural changes at the stroke of a pen but cultural change takes longer?

Conclusion
The pro peloton is a man’s world. Other sports are similar but with its history pro cycling puts heroism and masculinity on a pedestal, preferably surrounded by podium girls. The peloton’s never going to be a mirror image of society nor a scientifically-composed representative focus group.

But interestingly as the peloton rides around the world it brings its culture with it, for example maybe you’d expect podium girls at the Giro but you’ll find them at the Amstel Gold race and in California and Beijing too. If society has changed over the years, there’s still a huge gap between the sport we see on TV and the world it rides through.

Damien November 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Interesting read. I’m not interested in who is gay, black or muslim. But there so much conformity in the peloton. How many riders even have long hair or something else a littel alternative ?

The Inner Ring November 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I’d not thought of that. Some of it is corporate, tattoos are often kept above the sleeve line but not always. There are a few riders with their look like Daniel Oss or Bradley Wiggins and maybe long hair is too hot, again to quote Wiggins he cuts his hair for big races for the heat.

Adam November 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Laurent Brochard, http://www.vulpine.cc/Content/DynamicMedia/cms-uploaded/laurent-brochard2.jpg
And Boonen is covered in tattoos. Wiggo has several, Gustav Larsson and Chava have big one on their leg. Tyler Farrars got ink. Micheal Matthews ain’t called Bling for nothing.
I don’t really think it’s fair to say the peloton is conformist, after all, most of us have never had a conversation with any of the riders.

YYCyclist November 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I think the leg shaving thing is the most conformist aspect of pro-cycling. While there might be some benefit from a healing and massage perspective (at the pro level), its primarily about vanity and conformity no? How many amateurs get a massage every night but shave their legs anyway? If this is the biggest form of cycling conformity, there is some irony in the fact that its such non-masculine conformity.

Jan November 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I get massages sometimes, and the massage guy (avoiding the unspellable) says it makes no difference if someone shaves or not. So I don’t think it’s about the massages. (I’m guessing you wouldn’t want the three day stubble, though.)

Ross December 2, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I’m a masseur. Working with leg hair sucks.

Dave December 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Anyone who has slid along the tarmac with their legs after a crash will know it’s a lot easier to clean and dress shaved legs. Plus tanned shaved legs look better in cycle shorts! ;-)

Toe Strap November 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Great article – as ever. Thanks for the link to the Alfonsina Strada story as well.

RM November 26, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Maybe women’s cycling isn’t supported as much by the cycling powers that be because, in terms of aggregates, people don’t enjoy watching it as much. I have been watching cycling for about ten years now and can’t remember ever wanting to watch a women’s race.

Local November 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm

And not having watched a women´s race is a big mistake! Racing is usually much better, more action and attacks.. Give it a go next time you have a chance!

HammerTime November 26, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I’ve watched as fair amount of races here in the US and the most exciting one I’ve seen so far is Emilia Fahlin’s victory in the 2009 Tour of California Women’s Criterium in Santa Rosa. Driving rain and driven racers… It was truly “epic”.

http://ftp.cyclingnews.com/photos/2009/feb09/california09/?id=/photos/2009/feb09/california09/california_women09/mjc2009-02-15_13-53-28_288

The Inner Ring November 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I think the women’s Olympic road race was better than the men’s (and more epic too) but that’s subjective. Like a lot of races, for every thriller there are several predictable outcomes, male or female. But the more you watch, the greater the chance of seeing a good race.

Whaleoilbeefhooked November 27, 2013 at 12:11 am

UCI 2008 women’s road race in Varese, last 3 laps. Show me the finale of a men’s race to match this for excitement. Watching live the outcome was in the balance until the last 10m.

Anonymous November 27, 2013 at 10:38 am

The Olympic Women’s road race being a perfect point in case. The men’s was a dull affair with the most disappointing outcome.

Whelsucker November 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm

+1

Adam November 29, 2013 at 4:42 am

While I enjoy watching women’s racing, I think it suffers from the same problem as many women’s sports – it’s not done at the same ‘level’ as the men’s. ie: it’s not as fast, they don’t throw as far, jump as high, etc, etc, so many people pay it off because they want to see the greatest limit of what humanity can do.

It’s the same reason that Formula 1 has more of a following than ‘lesser’ racing formulas.

Right or wrong, I think it’s a reality women’s sport has to deal with and a big obstacle for promoters to overcome.

The Tashkent Error November 30, 2013 at 1:37 am

“A man shouts: ‘Faster!’ Probably thinks bicycle racing is about going fast.”

JP November 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I don’t know, I think women’s cycling is headed for a meteoric rise. Vos, Stevens, Johansson. There are a lot of well known names out there and I’m not sure that was the case 20 years ago. What’s more troubling to me is the homogeneity in the Peloton. It has been over a century and we’ve yet to see a black or Asian stage winner (just one stage dammit!) in the Tour. Poorer parts of the world give us some of the best endurance athletes on the planet, but not cyclists. The sport is worse for it.

mot November 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Also, Pooley returns this season.

channel_zero November 26, 2013 at 11:11 pm

The UCI has worked on the geographic disparity issue. One of the results is MTN Qhubeka (sp..) The UCI know there are lots more viewers to be had from new locales, especially when the TdF winner is from an emerging market. What a great way to grow viewers!

Let’s hope that Cookson/UCI will really work on the gender issue and include paying women living wages, which few get now. The older cycling fan will remember the Women’s TdF. The UCI/ASO were on the right track there for a while. Finally, let’s hope women get same-course, same-day WT racing.

Jim November 27, 2013 at 6:33 pm

the problem with forcing wages up is you will need a lot more sponsors in an era where even the top men’s teams are having problems getting them.

Nick November 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Not many bikes in Rift Valley Kenya or upland Ethiopia, so the kids who could be cycling to school end up as runners? But some Eritreans do seem to be coming through (Tekleheymanot) and, of course, Chris Froome was born and raised in Kenya.

That aside, pro cycling’s still a very European/American sport. Most black Europeans and Americans come from a specifically West African ancestry and are more likely than white European/Americans to be sickle cell carriers and/or have low haemoglobin levels. (prob adaptation to high levels of malaria in west Africa.) Which means significantly fewer people at the extreme high haemoglobin levels that make up professional endurance athletes.

Adam November 29, 2013 at 4:45 am

Not to mention the rise in recognition of women’s track racing. The Mears-Pendleton battles raised the profile of women’s cycling in Australia and England dramatically.

I think the fact that we can name many more female cyclists today than we could a few years ago shows that there’s hope for change.

Bash November 26, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I think the clothes, helmet and glasses make everyone look very conformist.
It’s really, really hard to recognise riders if you hide the team kit when they’re riding – look at MSR this year for evidence of that, or even the Worlds when everyone was wearing black rain coats or Gabbas.
Why no gay cyclists? Why so very very few gay sportsmen? I’d assume it’s a circular thing – machismo from competitors, spectators and most certainly from the media and the sponsors all around the circus.

Duncan November 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

How do you do the maths on the probability of a gay cyclist?

The Inner Ring November 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

It’s not “the probability of a gay cyclist” but an estimation or illustration of the chance of picking 893 people from society and having nobody who is gay in the group.

For this I’ve copied Bill Edgar’s use of 1.5% of the population. You take the first rider at a probability of 98.5% heterosexual, the second at 98.5% etc. It’s 98.5% x 98.5% 893 times or 0.985 to the power of 893.

It’s all statistical and abstract rather than real or human but hopefully you get the point Edgar makes why I’ve borrowed across to our sport.

John McMillan November 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Way back in the mid-70’s, I was Pro in the British Peleton – and Gay. I was not out, but if anyone had asked me, I would have told the truth. The subject rarely came up in changing room banter, and after the race, who is thinking about sex after 6 hours in the freezing rain of the Lake District? Now that I race amongst the “Vets”, I’m completely frank about my sexual orientation, and no one has ever challenged me. Mind you, that may be because I’m 1m 87, and have a reputation for a very short fuse….. I’d say that there are probably 50+ Gay riders in the current Peleton, all keeping quiet. Just check out the over-30’s who have never married, and don’t appear to have a Girlfriend.

Salsiccia November 27, 2013 at 10:28 am

Perhaps though we’ve moved on to the point where it’s a non-issue, and hence of no real interest? I’d like to think so.

Stephen_M November 27, 2013 at 10:55 am

Yeah, I have to admit I’ve always been in that category. I really don’t care, or let anyone’s gender or sexuality cloud their character. John’s been a great power for cycling for decades and I can’t see why his any of his preferences should influence that?

Gingerflash November 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I think it is of interest if some riders are having to modify their private life in order to fit in; if the sport is somehow preventing them from leading a normal personal life.

Mark November 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Of course it should be a non-issue. (Then again, we all know there will be issues.)
And, if it’s a non-issue, how come I’m not reading about a gay rider, his companion, & etc.?

Big Mikey November 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Great perspective…….we appreciate your candor.

Birillo November 26, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Perhaps people can see beyond the statistics? In my personal “top ten” of the greatest cyclists ever, I have a woman at No 2. Admittedly the other nine are all men . . .

Garuda November 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Interesting tidbit Mr. McMillan. I was hoping to stay above looking for who is and is not gay, but who am I kidding, one more facet in cycling.

Champs November 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Dovetailing the issues of sexuality and professional women’s cycling, my interest ranges from slim to none. The women’s peloton seems not to attach stigma to being lesbian, and good on them for doing so. But so long as a rider like Vos can dominate year-round across disciplines and Evelyn Stevens can bounce from a Wall Street trading desk to the pro peloton within a year, I’m going to have doubts about the quality of competition. We need more effort at the development level.

Paul November 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm

+1

channel_zero November 26, 2013 at 11:16 pm

No, you need more money to keep the women riders on their bikes. At least in the U.S. the competitive women that don’t have regular, or even irregular jobs don’t need them.

You are missing out, because the racing is good and quite a bit more realistic than the men’s peloton.

Hugh Williamson November 26, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Your stats don’t do it for me. How many of the 893 are ‘openly straight’, meaning they’ve made a big enough deal about being heterosexual that you’ve noticed? 300? less? Perhaps most cycling fans would rather the pros kept their sex lives to themselves, and most pros are happy to oblige.

Anonymous November 26, 2013 at 10:11 pm

“No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.”
http://www.edgeofsports.com/2013-05-01-837/

Dave H November 27, 2013 at 12:37 pm

His stats are right and he draws no conclusions from them so I don’t think the “openly straight” point is valid. What is fair to say is that the stats don’t prove that cycling has a problem with homosexuality since I think few riders are newsworthy enough that we would what their sexual orientation is.

SK November 27, 2013 at 2:39 pm

+1

Gingerflash November 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm

“a big enough deal”?
If that means tweeting pics of themselves with their family; mentioning something their wife or girlfriend said or did; saying that their girlfriend likes the Girona lifetsyle or whatever, then I’d say it’s the vast majority.

Gingerflash November 28, 2013 at 3:06 pm

I suppose the surprising thing that’s missing is any rider ever saying “my partner Jean works in Nice so it’s an obvious base for us”; tweeting about the holiday he and his boyfriend are about to have; saying in interview that he misses his boyfriend while travelling so much.

This isn’t about making a big deal about one’s sexuality, but in normal life, one’s sexuality is revealed in normal conversation and normal day-to-day stuff.

Steve Potts November 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Anyone who can ride over 250km at 40km an hour in freezing rain is to be admired – I don’t care whether they are gay, straight or anything else. It’s none of my business! In an ideal world it would be fine for riders to to be open about their sexuality; but in a more ideal world it wouldn’t matter at all.

I do agree that cycling has a way to go before women achieve any level of parity with men. The podium girls at Amstel Gold were mentioned – I’m assuming that’s because not only do they provide (very) mild titillation up on stage but they have to dress in costumes made of beer mats. To me that seems more demeaning than showing a bit of ankle….

Steve

Patrick November 26, 2013 at 9:25 pm

i think its one of the great aspects of cycling that we appreciate the riders for what they do on their bikes and don’t get too concerned about the rest of their lives (unless they really step out of line). contrast to so many other big sports where the players seem to spend more time interviewing for womens gossip mags than playing!

interesting as to why this is the case though, possibly because what they do on the bike is so “epic” that there is no need to look at side stories, possibly the anonymity of helmets etc, probably the nature of cycling fans – we’re mostly actually fans and participants of the sport rather than looking for idols

roomservicetaco November 26, 2013 at 9:35 pm

From a statistical perspective, your (and the British journalist’s) conclusions are not completely correct. The analysis that you both did lead to one of two possible conclusions:

1. it’s highly unlikely that there are no gay cyclists in the peloton (or football)
2. the percentage of homosexuals in the general population is not the same as the percentage in sports

Given all the “macho” factors that you cite in the article and other reasons, it’s quite likely that #2 is true because gay men “select out” of the population of cyclists/footballers.

This is not to say that #1 can not be true as well – 50% probability of there being at least one gay person in a group of 893 requires only a .077% rate of homosexuality in the population to which the group belongs.

Based on completely anecdotal evidence, I’d guess that the opposite is true in women’s cycling (and football)- that the incidence of homosexuality in the peloton is higher than that of the general population.

Goonie November 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm

#2 may well be true, but if it is it is also indicative that the culture of cycling doesn’t reflect the culture of the wider society it exists in. Which, for the most part, is becoming increasingly accepting of homosexuality.

And at least some gay men enjoy competitive cycling at an amateur level. Of the maybe 100 or so male amateur racers I’m acquainted with, two are in long-standing relationships with other men. Not claiming that this is a representative sample, but, still, enough to suggest to me that the idea that the pro cyclist ranks are universally straight is implausible to say the least.

Dave H November 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm

As you point out the two conclusions are not mutually exclusive. It seems to me most likely that the explanation for no openly gay cyclists is due to a combination of things:

1 – As you say, physical sport may, and probably does, have a lower proportion of gay men involved. It is an oversimplification to say that gay men don’t like sport but it is true for enough of them to probably skew the population

2 – There almost certainly are gay men in the peloton who keep their sexuality quiet enough that it isn’t public knowledge. The question then becomes why don’t they come out publicly. I would respond why should they and would anyone be interested if a domestique at Lampre, say, did come out. Let’s say there are 20 cyclists who are newsworthy enough that the press might out them. It is actually pretty probable that they could all be straight.

3 – Finally, there may be a degree to which gay men are deterred from progressing in competitive cycling due to the culture of the sport. This would be concerning but I see no evidence of it so prefer to assume that factors 1 and 2 explain the absence.

Jim November 27, 2013 at 6:45 pm

what does liking someone of the same sex have to do with the probability of “selecting out” of cycling / football? the chance of a “straight” person opting out are statistically no more or less probable. the Actor Rock Hudson was considered one of the most “Macho” men alive ……….

roomservicetaco November 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I meant “select out” in a purely statistical way. In other words, that the sample of 893 people do not contain as many homosexuals as a % as in the general population.

As to why that might be the case, I can only guess, though given that the article was about the “macho” culture of the peloton, one guess I posited is that gay men actively avoid that environment and therefore are under represented in the sample.

I really should not have proposed any reason to explain the conclusions. I was more interested in dispelling the argument that “because there is an astronomical chance that, at the rates of homosexuality in the general population, there are no gay cyclists in the peloton, we must conclude that there are gay cyclists in the peloton”.

It should read “because there is…., we can conclude that either there are likely gay cyclists in the peloton or that the incidence of homosexuality is lower in the peloton than in the general population (or both)” [or that the wild-assed guess of 1.5-6% rate in the general population is incorrect]

The Inner Ring November 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Valid points. I was wary about using the stats example if it illustrates a point, it’s a tricky subject that’s not really got anything to do with maths.

Interesting to see it’s the main talking point.

Mark November 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Perhaps the straight men aren’t the best to speculate on the percentages of gay sportsmen….
Gays are less likely to be competitive cyclists? Macho=Straight? Quit playing the stereotypes.

Perhaps professional sports show less tolerance of gays than other aspects of society??
I think fewer gays will be found in those professions that are the least accepting. But that doesn’t mean there are fewer working in those professions….

STB November 26, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Interesting article as always.

Many sports still hang onto the ‘podium girl’ aspect. Just look at American pro sports such as football and basketball and the ritual cheerleading that goes with it. How many women play American Football in America? Not many, but cheerleading is big thing.

Motor racing is another sport which is keen on the ladies.

Interestingly football in the USA is more ‘professional’ for women than it is for men.

Women’s road cycling is improving slowly but has a century of tradition to overcome. At least we see progress on the track, Mountain bike, and to some extent cyclo-cross.

Other sports have achieved near parity between men and women, both in terms of status and coverage. Athletics, tennis, golf, triathlon, swimming, etc. Sports with maybe a stronger history for women. Tennis is one of the few sports women could participate in in the early Olympic years (1900s). Road cycling will catch up with this. Cookson is moving things in the right direction and hopefully TV coverage and sponsorship will create a virtuous circle.

Pro Footballer November 26, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Why aren’t there penalties when there is a crash in cycling? I’d be falling over deliberately and appealing for a free push or whatever. Cyclists remind me of a bunch of women really. In women’s football they don’t mind a bit of pushing and shoving and they don’t even cry when they get knocked down. And their celebrations are much more modest – if I score a goal I expect my team-mates to be climbing all over me in excitement – that’s the manly thing to do.

JimW November 27, 2013 at 12:42 am

LOL!
Only a pro footballer would condone taking a fall and trying to parlay that into an advantage.
Football would be much more enjoyable to watch without the flopping, theatrics and childish behavior.

So you view most women as pro cyclists? That is an odd way to look at women. I’m not making any judgements though.

Scott November 27, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Whoosh…

Justin November 27, 2013 at 12:32 am

As a amateur cyclist who is gay it strikes me a strange that there’s not yet been an out-to-the-media/fans men’s pro. The WorldTour is obviously a different game (and hard to tell from the distance we’re at), but I’ve found that amateur cycling in general a pretty diverse sport. And I’d bet that the audience for pro cycling is diverse as well.

When you look at the Women’s pro peloton you see several out riders, which is one area where women’s cycling is blazing the trail.

I’m not sure if I were a pro that I’d want to be the one to initially break the rainbow ceiling, but I think it’ll happen in the next few years and will likely be a non-event.

Sam 2 November 27, 2013 at 1:06 am

I’d like to think the PRO peloton rather non-plussed on other riders sexual preferences, it seems the challenge at hand is often so daunting and demanding that the rest falls by the wayside.

noel November 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I’d love it if a couple of Katusha riders came out…

Adam November 29, 2013 at 4:57 am

Gold!

Of course they’d need to change teams (and residency status) pretty quickly afterwards!

DB November 27, 2013 at 1:24 am

Yet another insightful & thought provoking article from Inrng, Chapeau.
Seems like we are in the midst of a revolution. 30 years ago male riders were slaves of the road, stuck in horrible accommodation 1 set of kit, & charged by amateur clubs at the end of the season for equipment. Read the bios of LeMond, Phil Anderson, Alan Peiper etc. It took “outsiders” such as LeMond & Andersen to start to get half decent contracts, a living wage, in place to begin to get some recognition of their value into their pockets, oh and now English is the language of the peloton. Similarly the triathlon revolution blew the equipment market apart, contributing to a whole swath of innovation & new thinking.
Women’s cycling is already benefitting from the current debates, it will be interesting to see if it evolves in parallel to the male model i.e. hard women just as tough as the men or evolve with a similar but slightly different aspect & different, but overlapping markets such as what we currently see in men’s & women’s marathons, triathlons, football, tennis, golf etc.
In a crowed entertainment market, getting the bandwidth to generate the dollars is incredibly difficult but ingenious solutions from smart people will come, there are too many brains focused on it not to. It will however come in lurches and with tears, it will not be smooth as organisations such as the ASO will need to be challenged and made to realise there is value in women’s cycling, whether that comes from within or without, time will tell.
As for any cyclist who may be gay, black, white, male or female, it is not long before the road reinforces that which is true in life; it is what is inside the ribcage & between the ears that makes the difference, we just have to get over this obsession with labels and what is on the cover of the respective books.

Adam November 29, 2013 at 5:03 am

I think the concept of ‘hard women’ is something that a lot of men struggle with. The majority want women that are feminine and are intimidated by any girl who is physically more capable than they are. It seriously challenges deep-seated beliefs. So it’s hard to gain traction with the male audience (who generally watch more sport of the sexes).

I think that’s why golf, tennis, etc are viewer-friendly on the women’s circuit as the public (right or otherwise) doesn’t see a successful player as having to break that ‘feminine’ mould. Just have a look at the storm caused by women’s boxing at the Olympics.

Is it right? Probably not. Is it reality? Highly likely.

The Inner Ring November 29, 2013 at 8:48 am

Prof. Thomson’s take on the women’s Tour de France in the 1980s was that the media got hung up on the idea of suffering. Participants were asked “did you suffer? / was it difficult?” etc all the time. But he mentions one year when only one rider abandoned with a crash and how the media as whole didn’t like this because to reach Paris with almost a full field “proved” the women’s Tour wasn’t hard enough.

I don’t know what audience expectations would be for a women’s race today but at times the men’s Tour remains an event to test myths forged in 1910.

Dave November 29, 2013 at 5:05 am

Unfortunately, it all comes down to dollars. At the moment, it’s perceived that there’s no money in women’s cycling. If there was, you can’t convince me the male TV execs wouldn’t get over their ‘sexism’ and jump on the opportunity with both hands.

Hopefully, it’ll change in the future.

Scot in Oman November 27, 2013 at 4:22 am

On the subject of podium girls, here at the Tour of Oman there aren’t podium girls. Instead the podium – two curved ‘arms’ with open space between – is positioned in front of a spectacular view each day, framing the winner and providing cracking photo opportunities! The results and thanks are read out by a gloriously National-dressed Omani girl who is articulate and confident and stands at a lectern to the side of the podium. I believe the bulk of the on-the-ground organisation of the race is also led by a woman – go, Oman!!

Doubter November 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Not sure lauding the Arab characterization of women is an intellectually honest exercise…..

The Inner Ring November 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Oman is different, I might not share the strength of feeling of Scot in Oman but certainly in regional terms it stands out in this sense.

Scot in Oman November 29, 2013 at 11:08 am

But that was exactly my point – it’s not always the stereo-type everyone assumes.

Jerome November 27, 2013 at 4:24 am

These athletes are at the extremes of human ability and In most regards can easily be called freeks of nature, why on earth are people expecting them to be a representation of the wider population or society?

Adam November 29, 2013 at 5:09 am

I think the implication is that the occurrence of ‘freaks of nature’ should be roughly equal among all races, colours and creeds and not limited to the Euro-set.

The Inner Ring November 29, 2013 at 8:41 am

There are freakish lung sizes and VO2 max scores but the peloton’s big enough to have a variety of other factors, whether tall or short people or any other variables, mixes and more.

Nick November 29, 2013 at 12:18 pm

The peleton’s big, but freakish lung size, VO2 max or other endurance capabilities are a requirement to get in. So, realistically you’d only expect the peleton to be representative of the subset of society who have those capabilities (and the smaller subset of that group who happened to grow up in places with an interest in road cycling), not necessarily society as a whole

Dave H November 27, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Great article.

Sorry to be an utter pedant but I think there is a typo in your odds of all pro-riders being straight. By my maths it is 726,852-1.

The Inner Ring November 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Hmm, you’re quite right, I probably copied it across wrong. It’s great to have readers able and willing to check things like this.

Dave H November 28, 2013 at 10:07 am

It’s a pleasure, although I don’t think it made any difference to the sense of what was being said. 726,852-1 is still pretty long odds.

Dai Bank November 27, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Pedant alert
2016 Games in Rio, of course.

Have no interest in whether male or female cyclists have a religion, specific sexual orientation, ethnicity or any other non-cycling differentiation in all honesty.
Agrre about the 2012 Olympic road races with the women’s race being better than the men’s race.

Gerard November 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Does a woman’s race podium have podium boys?

Sim1 November 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

It’s not standard but its not unknown. I’ll try and ferret out a link to a pic and post it

Sim1 November 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm
Gerard November 29, 2013 at 11:32 am

+1, good sir.

Adam November 29, 2013 at 5:12 am

I don’t see a problem with volunteers being ‘podium boys’ just as I don’t see a problem with volunteer ‘podium girls’. No one’s forcing them to do it. They’re professional models, etc and it’s a way to make an honest living, so why not?

Othersteve November 27, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Nice to see were all playing nice and having fun during the holiday season.

I get the same “hair going up on the back of my neck” when a man or a women looks back at the last of broken peloton on the last climb of race, and goes and no one can keep their wheel.

HomeSprinter November 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Thanks for the insightful article as always, inrng.

For years I’ve been concerned by the demeaning use of podium girls. It used to not bother me as much in my younger days but now as a husband and father of 4 girls, I find it sad that the sport continues this insulting practice in the name of tradition. What is the connotation or message the leaders of the sport are sending? To the victor go the spoils, which includes a trophy, a check and two women smitten by his heroics (with strong sexual innuendo).

I love watching Sagan race. However, his behaviour on this occasion with a podium girl was boorish. And yet are we really suprised? What do you expect a young man to do when “presented” with beautiful women, eager to demonstrate their affections.

It’s time for race organizers to do away with this antiquated practice of providing women for the winners of a race to enjoy. It’s a poor representation of the sport.

Adam November 29, 2013 at 5:18 am

Reading a little too much into it @HomeSprinter?

For starters, it’s not like the podium girls have been press-ganged into it. It’s their job, they are paid to do it and someone has to award the trophy. There is no: “you won, now here’s you women to do with as you please” about it. What is being said is: “you won, here’s your trophy presented by another professional”. I’m sure there’s professions out there that you don’t have a problem with that I find distasteful. While they’re well paid and fulfill other roles in making races happen, I don’t see a problem with it. In fact, let’s make podium boys a staple of the women’s circuit too.

Having said that, I agree that Sagan was out of line.

Darren November 28, 2013 at 12:08 am

According to studies conducted on sexual behaviour since the 1950’s, such as the Kinsey Report, 10-15% of the population is homosexual, where roughly half of that figure is not ‘out’. The not ‘out’ can be be broken down into two groups: those who are hiding their homosexuality from others, and those who are hiding it from themselves!

With regards to those who are hiding it from themselves (do not want to be confronted with their own true sexual preference) there is a tendency towards macho behaviour, especially when dealing with the opposite sex, or simply a tendency to refer to women as sex objects.

Then there are those who conform to society’s expectations: getting married and having children, while in private they have a ‘double-life’!

It reminds me of an experience when I was a teen in South Africa, a macho culture where Rugby is one of the most popular sports. A friend called me one evening and asked me to meet him in a street not far from where I lived. Once there he took me to a house where he had me look through the gaps in the curtains of the living room, only to see a group of married Rugby players having an all-male, and very macho, homosexual orgy!!!

Does the sexual preference of athletes bother me at all? Not in the least!
Does it bother me that in a supposedly civilized society there is still gender-based discrimination in sports? Very much!

Dave November 29, 2013 at 5:22 am

Not sure I agree with some of your assertions, @Darren. I’m straight but if the social norm was reversed, I can’t imagine having a relationship with another man as a cover for my ‘straight’ life. As such, and knowing my gay friends as I do, I find it difficult to believe that there’s a large proportion of the gay community that has a ‘straight’ life as a cover.

Darren November 29, 2013 at 11:30 pm

@Dave: I was not at all asserting that a ‘large proportion’ of the gay community was having anything to hide, but there are men who, at heart, are gay, but who have chosen for a ‘straight’ lifestyle (wife, having kids), but then still having avenues where they can express their true nature! And as I said above, a ‘large proportion’ of those who are hiding are hiding from themselves, not wanting to confront themselves with the full impact of their true nature. As such, their compromise is not so much with society and it’s norms, but a compromise with themselves.

ian November 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

I would love to see more women’s cycling. Podium boys for the women. Podium girls for the men. Nothing wrong with that, surely, in the right tone.

But get more women’s cycling on TV and in adverts. If I had the money to buy new stuff, I would be just as inclined – possibly more so – to be influenced to a product by a women cyclist as a bloke cyclist.

I tried to get some (small) momentum the other day on twitter by tweeting thus and asking people to retweet if they supported the idea. Not saying I am a hitter, I am not, but baby steps. No one retweeted. I hope it was lack of interest in my profile generally (doesn’t bother me), not the idea.

That is how the change can be helped. Showing the money makers that women in cycling will make them dollars and power. It’s a business and most want money and power.

Anonymous November 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

I am not gay, but my boyfriend is!

Mark November 29, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Mine too! Can we calculate the odds of that??

RocksRootsRoad November 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm

It is not strange that cycling is seen as a “brutal” and “hard” sport but the correlation to it being “macho” as well is probably as much to do with the past rather any present proof.

There is research out there that suggests that with a double x-chromosome that women are actually the tougher sex:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8793301/Women-found-to-be-the-tougher-sex.html

As a flippant point, anyone who has tried an electric epilator will testify… ;-)

Sim1 November 28, 2013 at 3:27 pm

or a bikini wax :)

Dom December 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I find it surprising that nobody has mentioned Graham Obree.

He is the only out cyclist, past or present, I can think of and the problems he had in trying to turn pro and with the UCI are well documented (though there are of course also other factors there).

Even now he is kept on the periphery of British cycling despite his longstanding anti-doping stance and undoubted gift for technical innovation.

As a young gay cyclist, it would be completely understandable to look at the only example you have and come to the conclusion that you best keep it to yourself. There’s definitely a problem there.

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