Competing For Attention

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Enjoy the Flèche Wallonne yesterday? A series of breakaways tried their luck until a small breakaway reached the foot of the Mur where the winner attacked to take an impressive solo win. If this scenario sounds unfamiliar then it’s the story of the Women’s Flèche Wallonne and by all accounts it sounded more exciting than the men’s version, even if both races were essentially repeats with Anna van der Breggen and Alejandro Valverde each winning again and again.

This week is packed with high quality women’s racing thanks to the revived Amstel Gold Race, the established Flèche Wallonne feminine and the newly-created Liège-Bastogne-Liège for women. It’s great to see this growth but the deliberate schedule clash forces the women’s race to compete with the men’s race for media attention and the inevitable outcome is the women’s race barely registers.

Sometimes it feels like a lot of the coverage about women’s cycling is about the coverage of women’s cycling. Rather than discussing the sport we get abstraction about the events and their lack of media attention. It’s frustrating but often for a simple reason: there is little or no coverage of women’s cycling. This blog post will only perpetuate this meta analysis but last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race preview pointed out the clash of the men’s and women’s races and promised to explain why avoiding this would be preferable so here goes…

This week is one of the best of the year for women’s cycling, especially with newly-created Liège-Bastogne-Liège both because it’s the second Monument classic to get a women’s race and also because it hints that race owner ASO is dipping a toe into the waters of women’s sport with a proper competition as opposed to the token La Course criteriums. It’s all welcome, very welcome… but frustrating because these races exist only they’re not on TV and don’t get much coverage, the sports media equivalent of the thought experiment that asks “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Why the reduced coverage? Well history has plenty to account for but one contemporary problem is these new races clash with the men’s races: this week’s Ardennes races all take place on the same day as the men. Just as sport is a winner-takes-all environment where most of the media attention goes to the race winner, when two races are on the same day then the bigger one hogs the limelight. Ditto the women’s Tour of Flanders. Several have asked why there’s no women’s Paris-Roubaix when there’s a junior race? The answer is simply that nobody is organising it. The junior race is staged by the VC Roubaix, a local cycling club, so it’s not part of Paris-Roubaix owner ASO’s empire. But if there was a women’s Paris-Roubaix would it make it on to television? Obvious the junior race doesn’t but with the men’s race getting live coverage all day there’s not much space for the women’s event.

Sometimes it helps to step away from cycling and see what others do. We cycling fans are used to simultaneous races, for example Wednesday saw the two Flèche Wallonne races alongside the Tour of the Alps and the Tour of Croatia. There’s room for races in different regions but two Flèche Wallonne races equals direct competition. Imagine tennis and the final of a women’s grand slam taking place on the same day as the men’s final, timed so that the women’s match ends just as the men near the end of the second set? Even thinking about it feels bizarre, there’s no way they’d schedule this.

Saturday and Sunday
Surely the ideal solution is to have the women’s races on a Saturday and the men’s race on a Sunday; or vice versa (and Tuesday and Wednesday for the Flèche et cetera). A Saturday women’s race is appealing because it offers a big hook for curious fans who might be looking forward to the men’s race and so they can tune on the Saturday to see what the course looks like, imagine a women’s Paris-Roubaix to show us what state the Arenberg Forest is in.

Better still the women’s race can still piggyback the larger media coverage generated by the men’s race rather than compete for attention and benefit from all the media in place for the men’s race. The cycling media pack is not huge: a TV channel, newspaper or website can only send limited staff – typically one reporter – to a bike race so come Sunday they’re got to spend their time on the main men’s race. A women’s race on the previous day would allow more time for the media to cover the women’s race, to have the habitual pre-race interviews, to cover the start and then for the live TV and then for post-race interviews and so on. Of course a weekend means two days of coverage and therefore two days of costs and not all the media would take part but the current system of competing men’s and women’s races just sees the men’s race draining all the focus from the women.

Crucially separate days could allow for greater broadcast coverage. It’s already very expensive but the system uses motorbikes, helicopters and relay aircraft and if you have two races on at the same time then you need two relay aircraft et cetera. Do it on the Saturday and the Sunday and you only need one.

Easier Typed Than Done
Of course there are complications and considerations here. Cycling may get a slot on the TV schedules for Sunday but imagining the scheduling windows on a Saturday too is very hopeful but you imagine some arms could be twisted, for example the public broadcasters in France, Belgian and Holland surely have a certain remit towards equality while the likes of Eurosport will simply be happy to host a well-produced race.

Another practical problem is the established mass participation events. The Tour of Flanders has its own amateur ride, the Amstel has the popular Toerversie and there’s the Paris-Roubaix Challenge too. All these take place on the eve of the men’s race but they could equally be brought forward a week.

Tech Alternatives
Innovation via mobile telecoms allows video to be filmed without all the cost of helicopters, relay aircraft and satellite bandwidth and streaming services can be free rather than all the incumbent costs of a mainstream TV channel. This has its place but it’s the kind of coverage you have to go and find, fine for readers of niche sports blog like this who might enjoy the Periscope broadcast of the finish as better than nothing but yesterday’s coverage on the Mur de Huy had hundreds of viewers for van der Breggen’s win, not hundreds of thousands, let alone the millions who watch the men’s race.

Conclusion
The arrival of more women’s racing is great but scheduling these new events on the same day as the men makes the women’s events compete direct with their older brothers and the result is inevitable: a male monopoly. In others sports where women enjoy more equal terms such as tennis or athletics these schedule clashes don’t exist.

The women’s side is relatively new and growing so perhaps it has to start like this in order benefit from shared road closures, finish infrastructure and other things that only need to be in place for a day rather than a weekend. But it means the resulting media coverage is often segregated and certainly limited. One day it’d be great to see the women’s races as stand alone events in their own right and to create a full weekend of sport with live TV on both Saturday and Sunday. That looks some way away but given the public service remit of broadcasters it could happen faster than we think.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+
Tricky Hawes April 20, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Interesting stuff as usual, thanks Inrng.

Just one small challenge to your suggestion that the mass participation events get brought forward a week to make space for the women’s race the previous day. I imagine (I’ve not done one, but I intend to do Flanders soon…) is that one big attraction of riding them is to do so on the Saturday, and then stay to watch the race itself the following day. Presumably lots of the amateur riders come from other places / countries? And I guess those mass participation events are money-earners for the organisers?

Not saying it should be a block on your suggestion, by any means. But might be one barrier…

The Inner Ring April 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Exactly, it’s not easy to move them because of problems like this. But the Flanders and Amstel ride attracts a lot of locals who don’t have too much of a problem staying on for the race. The Roubaix ride by contrast seems anecdotally to attract a lot of foreign tours so they do want to stay on for the main race.

Mendip5000 April 21, 2017 at 7:41 am

I had the pleasure of riding the RVV sportive on Saturday and watching the women’s and men’s races from the Eikenberg on the Sunday.

The crowds multiplied perhaps 5 fold from the women’s to the men’s race. Anecdotally, a significant proportion of the spectators for the women’s race were fellow Sportive riders who had travelled from around Europe. Some local picnicking families and died in the wool cycling buffs made up the rest.

In the gap between the races, the ranks were swelled by folk who were watching the men’s race at home or who had reserved tables in nearby bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile our b&b owner confirmed the benefit Oudenaarde sees from the sportive and the race being on following days, in terms of occupancy rates and restaurant covers.

The competing dynamics in all of this make it very hard to imagine there being enthusiasm for ditching the sportive and the income it brings in favour of an uncertain return from the peripheral activity to the women’s race.

I think the is a long road ahead for women’s cycling to be able to have the economic clout needed. Paying punters are in short supply in relation to cycling.

Karl Owen April 21, 2017 at 10:56 am

I work for a well established sports tours company (I won’t plug here) and we organize a number of trips to these events to take in both the Amateur sportive and the Pro Race (Don’t get me started on people referring to the Sportives as “Races”). Moving the amateur event forwards a week would have a huge impact on our business through the spring, as i’m sure it would many other companies.

Would it not be possibl to have some sort of rotation through the spring classics. With the women doing the event a week earlier/later? I know this brings it’s own problems but with the relatively close proximity of the races i’d have thought at least some of the resource could be shared?

Andrea K April 26, 2017 at 8:14 am

Why not have a sportive start 1h (or whatever is nescessary) after the womens’s start on Saturday? Both events can co-exist given a reasonable buffer.

Sportive riders’s families would then get to spectate the women’s race and their families riding the sportive, and all could stay to watch the men’s race.

Benefits everyone.

Paul April 21, 2017 at 10:20 am

+ 1 for this I am sure this generates a lot of coverage and income, currently working my way through the spring classics Amstel Gold this year …. but steadfastly refusing to do the Roubaix challenge!

Craigyboywonder April 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Ride London had the Sportive in the morning followed by the pro race in the afternoon. It didn’t go to plan this year as there was a serious accident in the sportive so the pro’s were delayed, but it has worked in previous years. I wouldn’t like to be in charge of Logistics mind you!

Nick April 22, 2017 at 1:19 am

Late July also gives you more daylight in which to have both a sportive and a pro race than early April does.

IanPa April 20, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Nice article as usual, again such a tricky subject to get a real answer on. I like to watch the women’s racing, yes it can be a little slower, but the attacks stick and aggression is usually rewarded, unlike the men’s racing which can be a little lacklustre…

Its a shame that there is a lack of coverage for the races, as I find the Women’s teams are far more engaged on the social media side than many male WT teams and are trying to engage with fans more.

Surely organisers could put on a women’s race at the same time as the men’s, just schedule the women’s race to end in hours 2-3 of the men’s racing when there is usually a lull, live broadcast could give you the last hour of the women’s race and then the finale of the men’s too – not an ideal solution.

How about being radical and just running the women’s races separately, and getting them the full coverage they deserve – think Women’s Tour of Britain and the Men’s Tour of Britain, same organisers doing the same thing for both sexes at different points of the year, there is nothing stopping ASO following this path apart from apathy to women’s racing. (I feel they (ASO) are being brow beaten to provide women’s racing rather than actively stepping up to the plate and being progressive)

The Inner Ring April 20, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Putting on the races at the same time as you suggest just sees the men’s race drain all the attention. The idea of just finishing hours earlier sounds easy means a whole separate broadcast system with its own aircraft, helicopters etc so that’s very expensive, as outlined above, it’s why the likes of the Tour of Flanders only offer fixed cameras for the women’s race as they do the Kwaremont, Paterberg and finish line.

Some stand alone races work well – and exploring the different audience demographics is a story for another day – but my suggestion is that these races having men and women’s versions like the Amstel or Liège is because all the media are in town for the men’s race so there’s the potential for plenty of attention if only there was a bit more space for them to report on events. The schedule clash can stop this while some stand alone races, like the wonderful Giro Rosa are virtualy ignored outside of Italy during July because almost all the world’s cycling media are preoccupied by the Tour de France.

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 2:43 pm

I think you’re wrong about the women’s Ronde video-production: they offer continuous coverage, at least they did this season, and I’ve been enjoying mainly the women race while it lasted, just taking an occasional glance on the men’s early phases from time to time. However, the overlapping became a problem, albeit slightly, in the finale.

It’s complicated.
I’m afraid that a different day would be opportune, indeed, but perhaps in a different historical moment: both the options have got advantages and flaws.
The riders in a women race (and their sponsors…) greatly enjoy the crowds: would that be the same on a different day?
As you say, we’ve got several stand alone events where we can see how things work: well, it’s not like they don’t receive attention because of the specific competition of any men’s race.
In Italy the Giro Rosa is on TV thanks to the organisers and RAI efforts, but the rest of the media coverage is modest to null (despite a good work by organisers and teams on the social networks and so). It must be said that in Italy (and in Spain) cycling’s general media coverage is, generally speaking, way inferior to the public interest it raises, at least if you look at TV figures.

Presently, I think that in those occasions when the women’s race is a “double” of the men’s race, the same-day overlapping might be explored in terms of the advantages it offers, given that we’ve got plenty of occasions to see how women’s racing might be promoted in absence of a parallel men race. But I’m far from having an established opinion.

I believe that it would be paramount to listen to what people involved in women’s cycling have to say (athletes and beyond): I’d tend to think that they’ve thought about the question way deeper and more thouroughly than us, not to speak of their first-hand knowledge of most situations we’re wild guessing about (organisation troubles, sponsors negotiations and so on).

After all, women’s cycling at a consistent competitive level is not brand new, it has been going on steadily for some three decades, and I’d dare to say, as a spectator, that it worked way better between the 90s and the 2000s than in the late 2000s and the 2010s. We shouldn’t be naif enough to think that it will grow great alone, since it even took some steps back in the while (besides some interesting steps forward). Sexism is a very serious problem in pro cycling, and it acts as a force which is constantly limiting the women’s side potential, which means that if the sport is interested in changing that, exceptional measures must be taken.

Peter April 20, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Yes, different audience demographics IS off this topic, but YES it is very interesting. I would greatly enjoy a column on that, and if you need assistance putting it together, please just ping me.

Paul Jakma April 21, 2017 at 7:32 am

So run the women with the men?

In some races, most or all of the women will not stay with the men, and they’ll form their own peloton and groups a little behind the men’s race. In other races, some of the women will be able to stay with the men – and sheltering with the men will be part of the strategy (as in all mass bicycle racing).

You get the men’s winner and, sooner or later, the women’s winner, in the same event.

Competitions like the Tour run “competitions within the competition” for riders of different levels/abilities – e.g. the white jersey for young rider…. So, why not?

frood April 21, 2017 at 12:56 pm

I think this would work quite well. I don’t see why cycling is segregated by sex anyway – the speed delta between climbers and sprinters is huge (at different times in different stages) in just the male peloton.

Paul Jakma April 22, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Oh, and require that each team have X and Y male and female riders. Give equal UCI points to both the male and female placings. Watch as deciding how to allocate what domestiques to which of the male and female team leaders becomes part of the strategy. E.g., you might sometimes see male domestiques doing duty for the female lead rider, just cause on that day she’s likely to do a lot better in the women’s competition than the man.

Why not? 🙂

DaveS April 20, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Not sure this tells the true story. The only reason we have any tv cover at all is because advertisers are prepared to pay for time during the events. Story is they are not interested in air time during women’s events. Until advertisers can be recruited I can’t see any change coming. Pro cycling and everything around it is just another business and business rules apply. Chiken and egg? I fear so

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 2:07 pm

You’re way wrong when you say “the only reason”.

We’ve got a broadcasting, sometimes, also because those who are sponsoring the teams – and, even more important, the race – are going to do it only if it’s going on TV.
Hence you can easily see races paying themselves for TV production and giving away the broadcasting rights for free to several media.
We’ve also got events which are video-produced because some institution (the UCI, a national federation) considers it relevant to have that watchable for whatever promotion or sporting reason.

Generally speaking, in cycling most of the times the first thing is that the race is TV produced, and *then* ads are eventually sold (or not).
Obviously, in the middle term it will be hard to produce a race if you end up discovering that each and every time you can’t sell airtime, but, thinking about your chicken and egg example, here it’s pretty much clear what comes first (RAI sells airtime long after the full broadcasting agreement with the organisers; on Eurosport you can often see events, not only cycling, with “void” ads space, with the broadcaster making self-promotion in the airtime which wasn’t sold).

DaveS April 20, 2017 at 10:05 pm

Accepted

The Inner Ring April 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm

As gabriele says many races pay to appear on TV so this can happen too.

Also we’ll see with the ads, some channels have a public service remit and are partially state-funded, like France Télévisions. A lack of ad revenue isn’t a deal breaker by itself if there’s a political will behind it. Of course big audiences and valuable adverts would be even better.

JamesG April 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm

One of the biggest issues would be 2 days of disruption for the local road network & additional logistics costs with road closures etc

The Tour de Yorkshire has a good split with men’s & women’s race on same course on the same day. Spectators get 2 races on the same route, races don’t overlap & women get to race exactly the same route as the men.

The Inner Ring April 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

That’s sort of my point, two races on the same day can share the roads but they rarely share the TV, there’s only room/budget for media coverage so most of the attention is diverted to the men’s race. Although from memory Yorkshire had technical problems with the women’s broadcast and the relay aircraft which stopped this when they did have plans to show it.

Adam Bowie April 20, 2017 at 4:18 pm

The problem last year was the one plane that was to be used for both women’s and men’s races had a technical problem and was forced to land. ASO couldn’t get a replacement plane from France until the afternoon for the men’s race.

But that could have also impacted on the men’s race, so I still think was an unfortunate set of events rather than placing undue pressures on the broadcaster/production team to televise two races back to back.

Paul Jakma April 21, 2017 at 7:36 am

Why don’t get the same coverage? It’s not intrinsic to the “same day” format, is it?

E.g., look at the track, with the Olympics and World Championship. Women there get as good treatment there as the men – at least on the BBC. With the men and women co-hosted. Indeed, the women get better treatment sometimes, if they are doing better. 😉

I guess there there’s a national prestige thing that will drive coverage regardless of sex, so long as there is a good contender. E.g., the road World Championships, the women also got superb coverage from the BBC – cause they had contenders.

DJS April 23, 2017 at 12:18 pm

I agree that two days of disruption would be a big problem – yesterday I rode the LBL sportive and we had to weave through city traffic on the last kilometers. Also noticeable was the amount of parking that was going to be blocked off for the race. Do this for an entire weekend in a sizeable city plus a sportive the week ahead and you will have a lot of unhappy residents. Added to this is the (economically interesting) pull of riding on one day and seeing some of the race the next as argued by many above (on my way home now but after watching the race start).

Ecky Thump April 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

How popular, and healthy, is the women’s amateur scene – country by country?
Go to any youth athletics meeting, and there’s lots of girls competing.
Women’s football is booming.
But I don’t see this with cycling in the UK.
There are some; more than there was definitely, but not large numbers.

My point therefore is that women’s cycling seems to have less of a foundation.
I’ve watched some women’s pro races and the quality can be variable.
It rather reminds me of women’s football of 10-20 years ago.
It needs to grow organically before it becomes a true sporting spectacle.
The strength of quality is too thinly spread and there’s not enough strength in depth.
Track cycling can withstand the fewer numbers, but there’s not enough strong riders for high quality stage races on the road at the moment.

Karl Owen April 21, 2017 at 11:21 am

This is a bit Chicken and Egg. Why must the Amateur scene drive the pro scene and not visa versa. Would a stronger representation of women’s pro cycling not drive more girls to the sport and hence result in a stronger field at the highest level?

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Milano-Sanremo had the Primavera Rosa in the late 90s and well into the 2000s I think.

FelixLaPoubelle April 20, 2017 at 2:27 pm

I think Tricky has presented the difficulty with moving the Sportives away from the weekend of the parent race. These are also meant to be an area of revenue growth for the sport so you could imagine there being a reluctance to do something that would probably decimate participation.

There is a broader point here about the coupling of women’s cycling to men’s cycling and providing fans with a watered down version of men’s races. While there are logistical benefits to hosting women’s races at the same time and place as their male counterparts it does seem like an approach with limited upside. I don’t see how adding events that mimic the men’s race over a shorter course and without the requisite history that matters so much to serious cycling fans will help get eyeballs onto women’s cycling. Particularly if you don’t even bother to broadcast the race!

Sunday is the 103rd men’s LBL but the first women’s. I wonder if there is not some scope to try to stop replicating a men’s sport that was basically instigated a century or more ago and use women’s cycling to look at what cycling might look like if you were to start from scratch in 2017.

Perhaps shorter, standalone events at times where there is no clash with the men and where a channel like Eurosport would be happy to have increased representation on screen and simply more cycling to broadcast could be one possibility.

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm

I’m far from being against “the women’s edition of a historical race”, even if I think it should remain just one option among many others. Watered down? Sometimes the same trademark might show, as in the Flèche case exposed by inrng, what are the upsides of women cycling when compared to men’s…

Yet, I share a very relevant part of your point. It’s very sad when you see the UCI letting Gracia-Orlova, Emakuneen Bira, Tour de l’Aude suffer or fade away while they’re promoting these “copycat” brand new races, but, way worse, Chongming and the likes. Are we sure that what the UCI and some big organisers are fostering is really a long-term sustainable project and not just more marketing, instant money-grabbing and pinkwashing?

Money is well and fine, but, as the USA stage races history (and riders “production”) shows, the most important thing is to be able to establish solid networks of social engagement which bring on the races and the sport through decades: if you depend on a big sponsor with big money which suddenly comes and go, it will be very hard to build grassroots and grow a significant movement which resists the pass of time and the shift of what’s-fashionable-today.

Hammarling April 20, 2017 at 6:47 pm

You may need to educate yourself on Tour of Chongming Island. It’s been around since 2007, firstly as a TT then as a Road Race. Been on the World Cup/WWT since 2010 and regularly attracts big name riders and teams who take it seriously. It’s pretty well organised and whilst tv coverage isn’t really there, the racing is still good and well covered by the relevent media outlets.
Just because it’s in China doesn’t make it a bad race or a cash grab.

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 7:07 pm

You might be right, given that I’ve had little or none opportunity to follow the event live: I only read something about it in the last 5-6 years and I never got the impression that it was that selective a stage race, more of a three-day sprinter thing and with just a handful of big names, with secundary figures often top-tenning or podiuming. Frankly, not comparable, not even by far, to the races I named above. But, who knows? Men ENECO Tour became eventually an interesting race, as time went by…

Larry T April 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm

As usual, the problem is money or in this case the lack of money. Ditch the profit-making punter’s rides on the Saturday (I agree that many come to watch the pros on Sunday so having them a week earlier is not a good solution) to put on a more costly production of a women’s race and who makes up the difference? My suggestion is cut the WT down to 12 and force the teams getting the now more difficult to get and perhaps more coveted places to pay higher fees for the rights as well as bankroll a serious women’s team under the same name/sponsorship. These high-powered and high-budgeted women’s teams bankrolled by the same sponsors as the male stars of the sport could provide great publicity benefits and might create some real interest in having an event on the previous day, with the punters events moved to the Friday. Of course this wouldn’t fly if teams didn’t see benefits from being in the top-tier of 12, but the UCI keeps telling us how important it is to be WT, so upping the price to bankroll the women’s events should be easy. Women’s sport in the USA received a big boost from the Title 9 regulations – why shouldn’t the UCI do something similar? The bike biz should be happy to get involved as well since they think women customers are the key to their survival – why not toss a couple million into a BORA women’s squad if you can subsidize Sagan’s high salary to have the team use bikes with your brand on the downtube? Who knows, consumer-product sponsorships (besides Bora) might come back with more women involved as it’s said they make most of the shopping/buying decisions in any household. Let’s face it – did MEN want a Salvarani or SCIC kitchen or buy Nivea face cream? Many would say that era was the golden age of cycling.

Ian April 20, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Interesting topic and thanks for putting it up. Last year I put on an event called Pedalling Ideas which brought together people from different fields of cycling across a weekend for talks and debate (like a mini Ted event but for bikes). Sarah Connolly came and she was great in discussing pro women’s cycling. She is very active on twitter (@PWCycling) and puts up details of where you can find coverage or streaming for the women’s races as well as hosting a good podcast (prowomenscycling.com)

Also if people haven’t seen it I’d recommend watching Half the Road, an excellent documentary on women’s cycling which basically made my blood boil watching it. The issue of media, sponsorship and coverage is tackled as well as some searching questions of what the UCI can / should be doing to promote the women’s side of the sport. (I run a monthly cycling film club – The Leeds Bicycle Film Club where I showed this last month and it went down very well indeed).

J Evans April 20, 2017 at 3:15 pm

I’ve often been somewhat disparaging about women’s cycling on these pages – albeit I always admitted that I had very little knowledge or experience of it. I never saw the point in watching races that are about half the length of the top male races (nothing to do with gender: I’d have felt the same about junior men’s racing).
But I’m not so obstinate that I won’t admit that I was wrong, having watched this year’s women’s Strade Bianche and enjoyed it more than any other race this season.
However, my primary gripe about women’s racing has always been the idea of showing it during a men’s race. There is no race I want to see interrupted by another race – and certainly not a few moments of it or just the finish (very often not the most exciting or interesting part of a bike race).
They did the same again at this year’s Ronde – I’d have thought that nothing would aggravate cycling fans more and I’d have been just as infuriated had they interrupted the women’s Strade Bianche to show how the men’s race was going.
So, yes, put the women’s races on different days and even those of us who are erroneously biased will probably tune in and learn how wrong we are.

CA April 20, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Mr. Inrng – I think the opposite. For now, women’s racing is not a standalone entertainment event. Without their bigger brother events, there would be next to no public interest in the women’s side of the sport. Plus, if the organisers weren’t able to share some costs of the women’s race with the men’s race, they would absolutely not pay to put on separate events of this calibre (we’d be back to La Course-like criteriums).

Unfortunately, that’s how the world works right now, women’s athletic events do not draw crowds like the men’s side does… But, it is getting much better than it used to, but what we currently have is far better than how it was even 2-3 years ago, nevermind 2-3 decades or 1 century ago…

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Not at all sure if this is really *far better* than how it was two or two and a half decades ago, but I’d say you’re right about 2-3 years, 3 decades or 10 decades…

Nick April 20, 2017 at 9:14 pm

I tend to agree (subject to Gabriele’s points about the historic comparisons). I’m not convinced that, if the women’s events were on different days, they’d get much coverage at all. Whereas run together with the men’s events, they do have the opportunity to piggy-back on the men’s coverage (even if that does dominate theirs). And the sponsor exposure to the road-side fans attending the men’s race must be pretty significant too. Ideally, they’d be events in their own right, attracting their own significant coverage, but that simply doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

CA April 20, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Comparison of the two Fleche Wallonne races to the timing of Women’s Wimbledon final is a little presumptious. Women’s Wimbledon finale is an event in its own right that has ratings that had peak ratings of 4.8M (in 2016 – taken from wimbledon’s website) and a full stadium of fans that paid for a ticket. Plus, it regularly features athletes who have multi-million dollar sponsorships and q-ratings that rival or surpass many of their male counterparts.

Any sporting event has to grow gradually, and at the current state, there is zero chance a women’s bike race (unfortunately) can financially support itself. And, unless someone will open their wallet, this is how it is right now.

In fact, women’s tennis is arguably financially stronger than the bulk of MEN’S BIKE RACING….

I agree, cycling should be stronger, but it isn’t, on either side of the plate.

noel April 21, 2017 at 10:24 am

the irony of that is that 95% of women’s tennis is a pretty tedious affair compared to the men’s…

Charlie April 20, 2017 at 4:26 pm

The model of Ride London might be one to consider, a weekend festival of cycling, with the Women’s race on Saturday, the mass event Sunday morning and Men’s race Sunday afternoon. Admittedly the Womens race could do with much improvement but it’s a starting point. For events like Flanders, Roubaix etc the mass event could be the morning before the Women’s race.

noel April 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm

although we did have the spectacle this year of the men’s race being neutralized for 30 mins due to a nasty crash in the Sportive holding things up, so it is risky…

Adam Bowie April 20, 2017 at 4:33 pm

A couple of thoughts on this:

– Separating men’s and women’s races over the weekend does seem to make sense, with costs not necessarily doubled by extending broadcasting an extra day. Some of the temporary infrastructure will have already gone in earlier anyway. And this certainly models tennis’s grand slams, with viewers understanding it well. Of course, tennis is way ahead of most sports in treating men and women on more equal terms, with all the grand slams offering equal prize money. I suspect cycling is a way off that…

– It’s not impossible to timetable a sportive and a professional race on the same day using largely the same course. Most marathons essentially do this, with the elite athletes starting either a little earlier or having their own start line to allow TV coverage to concentrate on them, while the massed ranks follow in their footsteps. For another example see the RideLondon sportive which is held earlier in the day to the London-Surrey Classic pro race. It’s true, however, that it makes it difficult to both take part in the sportive and then watch the pros – at least unless you just want to spectate somewhere near the finish.

– The only people for whom the current system really works right now are spectators. If you’d stood on the Mur de Huy yesterday, you’d have seen the women come past twice, and the men three times which makes for a much better than usual spectating experience.

Peter April 20, 2017 at 4:34 pm

One comment from the organizer perspective: It is really really *really* complex to shut part of a city down and make it safe for riders and fans.

For those of you who have not been through this, imagine how your local businesses would feel if you said “you are closed on Sunday, we’ll be making your business inaccessible the day you are closed. Oh, by the way, Saturday is your best day and we’ll be making your business inaccessible that day as well.”

Race infrastructure on the ground is enormous. It closes off parking, access, makes walking in town difficult, and floods the pavement with important race and team workers who do little to feed the local economy. Some businesses (cafes and bike shops) will gain but many many more are afraid of losing a day of business and these owners traditionally fight the closures. You might argue that they should welcome the incoming tourists (I have made that argument often enough) but the local business owners often respond with “no way am I going to risk it for something not yet proven.”

Without the support of local business owners, city officials are going to resist a second day of closure and disruption.

I would love to organize separate women’s days, it makes total sense, but we have to find a way to help the local businesses feel protected.

Anonymous April 20, 2017 at 5:47 pm

The last “fish n chipper” I organised was some 15 years ago now in a rural location (not anything like a town centre). Folks, including most riders, have NO IDEA what it takes to organise a race and this was during the time before Elf n Safety started becoming more involved. I dread to think the procedure now!

The Inner Ring April 20, 2017 at 7:10 pm

The Saturday closure is a big deal as you say, even closing the roads for one day is a big issue and the paperwork and more is hard work and never certain (it’s one reason it takes many months for the full Tour de France route to appear after the annual October presentation). But are the roads not closed or blocked by the Saturday mass participation rides?

cthulhu April 20, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Nope, usually not. Only the start and finish. And no Police escort either.
Mass partition events are even when ignoring the tv production costs, pretty cheap in comparison to a race and in combination with the huge fields of participants a real cash cow. I really guess they do not only cross finance the women’s race but also the men’s.

Peter April 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm

You are right of course, large riding events create a bit of a mess for residents along the way. (And some communities are banning or strictly controlling cycling events. Not many thank goodness) But doing a pro race is different.

The start/finish infrastructure of an event that includes media is a substantial burden. Often cities come up with much of that cost, or private groups of fans for U.S. races like the ATOC. However the sheer load on a city is an amazing disruption.

If I block a driveway for a resident outside of town so that I can get the main part of the race through, I impede a resident for an hour.

If I take over 500 parking spaces and a dozen side streets for a day so that I can have generator trucks, media rooms, information infrastructure, vans for race officials and managers and visiting dignitaries, the hundred race vehicles, and I close a downtown area for a day (it can’t be less) so that I can build a stage and tents. . . . Well that is painful for local businesses.

None of that includes team vehicles by the way. We can move the teams out of the area and let the riders roll over to a bus a mile away.

If I am running a serious pro event with media coverage (your stipulation in the excellent article above) I have the option of trying to negotiate with the city to close part of it for two days or a single day. Let me be clear, I have never tried to do that and I don’t run any events like this. I don’t want to! But I have done enough to get substantial push back on anything that interfered with commerce on a Saturday.

Pro races, media, and the entourage they bring are many levels more complex than most fondos. It is all good, just perceived as a real issue when you ask local businesses.

Are we doomed to always have women race the same day as men? No, we just need to do this over time. Just like getting 3 Ardennes races for women was done over time.

Hammarling April 20, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Being some what of an avid Womens fan for a number of years now i’ve just got used to the situation. I found the Mens races getting rather predictable and repeptitive for the most part, whilst the Womens races were more of an agressive show. It’s better than every this year with more and more riders competing for wins and teams becoming stronger in depth.

I would love to have more Womens race covered properly and in their own right separate from the Mens races. But i also accept that the viewing interest is not their yet. Womens cycling is well established as a sport for the fan, but it is still quite niche. So i think the exposure provided from a current shared time situation should be viewed as a short-term positive movement.
Share the resources for another year or two as the sport continues some fast growth, and then it will be in a position, hopefully, to separate itself and continue forwards independently.

As long as people keep tuning in, even if only whilst the Mens race is warming up, then production will continue to be supported. The more engagement the Womens sport can generate the better, so i don’t mind the shared time for now because you really get to see why the Women are the more entertaining racers.

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Wholly agreed on that last two paragraphs, while I’m not sure if this year is “better than ever”. Women cycling lived good moments in the not so distant past, althouhg very recent years have been hard.

cthulhu April 20, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Although I concur with women’s races piggy backing on men’s races has its downsides and your suggested solutions are well worth discussing, I don’t believe they are solution.

1. As others already posted, is because the men’s race is hogging all the lime light, is the coverage less than if there was no men’s race? I fear the answer is no, when browsing through the main stream media outlets. I am on gabriele’s side, it would be better if the women had, besides those split events, their “own” races with own history unconnected to the men’s but, there I have to take his word, they went down the drain because of governmental and institutional errors. And I doubt women’s cycling is so far established, that even if the races are better promoted, they would turn out the masses equally. But if you have a joint or split event, or however one should call it, I think holding it on the same day is not only the most practicable, but probably the better way. But you are correct the production has to be better, which leads me to my second point.

2. I wonder, since digital TV is now at the fore, why is there still only one stream to choose from. For football it is possible to have a conference feed and each match separately on one channel for the viewer to choose from, in F1 you can choose different camera feeds on one channel, why shouldn’t that be possible for such split events? The cost would not be more than producing on two separate days, see next point.

3.Your calculation about TV production cost is off, imho. You said, one set of TV production for the weekend would be cheaper than two for one day. Well, first of all I doubt one would really need two complete sets for both races. For instance i doubt one would need two relay aircraft. Also, I think only 2 more helicopters would suffice.
But a hypothetical, simplified example: Women Saturday 4 h; Men Sunday 6 h; Combined 7 h; each race a separate set; aircraft need 1 hour additionally for take-off and landing; 3 Helicopter and bikes
Separate days:
plane: 1*5 h+ 1*7 h = 12 h
helicopters: 3* 4h + 3*6 h= 30 h
bikes: 3*4h +3*6h = 30 h
broadcast control 1*4 h + 1*6 h = 12h
One Day:
plane: 1*5 h+ 1*7 h = 12 h
helicopters: 3* 4h + 3*6 h= 30 h
bikes: 3*4h +3*6h = 30 h
broadcast control 1*7 h = 7 h
So actually a one day combined event would be at least as expensive or even cheaper, because it doesn’t matter if you have one crew twice active or two crews parallel, the hourly costs are the same. But for the organisers it would get a lot costlier, needing police and crew for two days.

4. Saturday is usually football day across Europe. Yes, the big leagues have split their match days over several days now to increase TV revenues, but still the bulk of matches are on Saturday. Now try competing with women’s cycling for broadcast rights and audience. Men’s cycling doesn’t stand a chance either (in most cases).

5. Moving the mass partitioning event. Bad idea, I guess. As said in a comment before, less costs because of road closures, police and officials and and and. Huge starting fees leading to huge turnovers and possible cross financing. Now you wrote, mainly locals go to the Amstel toerversie and the flanders sportif, but what is local? Is somebody from Bruxelles still local or from Amsterdam? Since those are not more than 2 h drives from the respective events. There are arguments for both, being local and not. I regularly ride on these roads and, yes, I meet people from Amsterdam quitting early on a Friday, drive down, ride for 3 hours and drive back to have a drink with mates in time. So they could virtually ride these roads anytime. Why come to the event? Either to combine it with watching the race or the chance to meet some pros doing warm up laps. And if you say they are not local, then the attraction of the race is certainly a factor to attend those events. Because there are mass partitioning events organised by local clubs (randonnées) on different weekends, like Tilff-Bastogne-Tilff, which basically is LBL, or Limburgs Mooiste (Amstel). Much cheaper but you don’t get a free T-shirt and power bars but the attendance is much smaller. The local tourism boards would strongly object separating the mass partition events from the races, is my guess. And the organisers too, fearing a significant revenue loss.

gabriele April 20, 2017 at 11:48 pm

Interesting considerations (as a sidenote, to stress the relevance of point 4., I’d also note that in Italy, Sunday was the main football’s day, and that’s why the Sanremo and Lombardia used to be on Saturday, and are now back there after a Sunday experiment).

Let me just point out, to avoid misunderstandings, that a couple of important women races which aren’t directly related to men’s Classics (at least as far as I know) are still on and working good within the UCI framework: the Trofeo Alfredo Binda Cittiglio is a bright example, held since 1974 with important winners already in its first years, pioneering a consistent women cycling movement like Morena Tartagni or also-skier Maria Canins… no better day than today to speak about the race and remember Nicole Vandenbroeck (or Van den Broeck), 1975 winner and 1973 World Champion, who reportedly passed away few hours ago.

I’d add the Ronde van Drenthe, which was created more or less at the same time when the men’s race became a pro race after several decades of existence as an amateur race: I’d dare to say that the women event(s) have always tended to be as important or more important than the male version. I must admit that I struggle to follow the complicated history of several related events, but I think that the organisers are the same and achieved a certain continuity.

Other races I named survived their exclusion from the WT, like Emakumeen Bira: I don’t know exactly what the problems were, but I simply can’t accept that such a race isn’t included in the top-tier (thirty years of history, top international winners even when it was an amateur race, and an amazing “albo d’oro” with the most recent winners being Vos, Arndt, Ferrand-Prevot, Häussler, Johansson, Niewiadoma, and podia made by Longo Borghini, Moolman, Guarnier, Van Vleuten, Van der Breggen… that is, astonishing quality wherever you might look).
Gracia-Orlova will be on next week, if I’m not wrong, but it’s now UCI 2.2 (again, 30 years of history and quality fields left to survive on its own, as if it wasn’t a very valuable heritage).
The Thüringen is at least 2.1, but they’ve got a good share of troubles because of the conflict with La Course, a real shame especially because of the way the UCI managed it, wasting long term agreements the German race had made with sponsors and host cities. Precisely when they intended to celebrate a 30th anniversary.
And I could go on with Gila (another race whose women category is more relevant than the male’s) UCI woes and others, but this would become way too long.

Finally, yes, some races actually died, especially in France. The Tour de l’Aude is the most painful one for me, but the Trophée d’Or is a serious recent loss – it had survived for two decades until last year, the last I knew is that this season they weren’t going to organise it.
(The Grand Boucle is long dead, since 2009, and the Route de France looks like it will prove short-lived, too).

Disclaimer: I’m far from being an expert in women cycling, thus whatever correction is welcome!

Chris T April 20, 2017 at 11:14 pm

It was mentioned above, but the Tour of (de!) Yorkshire runs a Women’s race on the same day and route as one of the Men’s stages. Given the massive popularity of cycling in Yorkshire (cf TdF stages and the last 2 TdY) you may think this is very welcome by all. However, the 1st TdY had a Women’s crit followed by a Men’s finishing circuit in York. This was massively supported with a huge turnout but after the race the local press was full of complainers about the sheer number of road closures and the race has not returned in either last years or this years race. I do not know if this is connected but my feeling is that York council does not want it back.
To run both Womens and Mens races on the same day and without overlap means an early start for the Women (09:10-12:30) and a late one for the Men (14:00-17:00). The road closures in Tadcaster (start town) cover much of the entire day and the town is largely closed to non-cyclists all day. There are currently road signs all over the route with two sets of road closure times on them. This all costs time and money for the organisers and may be quite confusing for non-cyclists to understand. Much of Tadcaster is very excited to have the races, but I have heard grumbles, for small towns and villages on the route (who won’t have the benefit of start festivities) I’d imagine there are more worries. This may not affect races where there is a cycle race culture (Paris-Roubaix?), but how is the spin-off Boys race received locally and what is the crowd like?
I’ve watched a few Womens races and they’ve always been exciting and entertaining. I believe that the lack of interest from the media is down to a wider chauvinistic attitude similar to that which affects Womens football in Europe – it’s simply seen as a ‘Man’s game’. Look at the attitude of the UCI and sponsors with regard to prize money and pay for Women. It’s seen as being of lesser importance. And it’s not just the powers that be: at that 1st TdY crit I got a space at the finish line for the Women’s race for me and 2 small kids, by the time the Men hit town we left as the crowd was 10 deep and we were getting squashed – the crowd turned up for the Men but not so much for the Women. Added to this, there is currently too much of a clash between Men’s races on the calendar (Tour of Croatia on TV but no (UK) coverage of Trentino, with FW crowbarred into Eurosports schedule on Weds). Where would a TV company fit an economically weaker (in terms of ad revenue) and less supported Womens race in?
I think achieving parity of coverage will take considerable time and effort and perhaps some sacrifice of Men’s races to free up space and courses.
Sorry for the long and rambling post!

Nick April 21, 2017 at 12:29 am

For what it’s worth, Trentino/tour of the Alps is being shown on BIKE channel in the UK, if you have that.

RayG April 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

Here in Australia, SBS streamed the coverage of the women’s AGR live. That should be a reasonable option for a lot of people. At least until the ground swell of interest is such that it gets on to the TV

They didn’t publicise that they were going to do it, so I had to watch it on repeat, but that’s a different gripe.

Swuzz April 21, 2017 at 4:17 am

Sorry if already said but what about running the women’s race an hour or so behind the men’s race instead of in front?
That way once the men are done there is less conflict for coverage with the final of the women’s race.

noel April 21, 2017 at 10:27 am

that would certainly get the grupetto moving haha!

Sam April 21, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Or else risk getting caught by the women, gold!

The Inner Ring April 21, 2017 at 12:36 pm

It’s the same, all the media would still focus on the men’s race whether previews, TV and post race coverage because the men and women would be competing against each other for attention on the ground. Having them a day apart allows the media to be in place but to have time to cover a little of each, in theory at least.

MikeD April 21, 2017 at 1:45 pm

They tried that at the London Paralympics and I had the pleasure of watching the men’s race neutralised while Sarah Storey came through!

channel_zero April 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm

The front of the women’s race will catch the back of the men’s race.

Better to run the women’s race 2 hours before the Men’s race, slightly shorter distance. The broadcast can then split time in the beginning of the Men’s race to do the women. It’s not ideal, but a way to get SOME inclusion.

Paul Jakma April 22, 2017 at 11:26 pm

Or just run them in the same race. 1 event, with races within the race (as already is normal). Cycling becomes even more strategic and tactical potentially.

Ferdi April 21, 2017 at 11:15 am

It would also be good if women increased their share of attention-providers.

Hank April 21, 2017 at 8:00 pm

When tennis went through the same issues there were several stages. At first, in the 1970s, the advent of prize money meant that tournament promoters (just like race promoters) had to figure out how to allocate it. They allocated hardly any money to the women, as well as poor starting times, second choice court assignments, etc.

The women formed their own tour to get out from under the comparison to the men. They had a bit of luck in the sense that at the same time, in the United States a law was passed forbidding cigarette advertizing on television. As a result cigarette companies had to find other ways to advertize, and went for sports. So the women’s tour signed up “Virginia Slims” a cigarette brand aimed at women, as the tour sponsor.

That gave the women’s tournaments financial solidarity and then they slowly built from there.

In the 4 major tennis tournaments where men and women played together, it was a couple of decades before the prize money was equal. Compared to the men’s tour, the women’s tour still has a bit less prize money, but for both tours the sponsorship is good.

Now, realizing the benefits of dual gender events, the tournaments where men and women play together has slowly expanded from the four major tournaments to around 8 or so.

I suspect that eventually around 16 tournaments will be dual gender, and those will be the largest, most prestigious.

But it takes awhile – almost 50 years now. While tennis and cycling share the same issue with a need for sponsorship (TV revenue and spectator revenue for both sports is not enough) tennis at least did not have a facilities issue — no problem with closing roads and needing helicopters.

Maybe tech will provide inexpensive drones for filming races soon. That might be just the boost women’s racing needs.

ave April 21, 2017 at 11:14 pm

I have experienced something similar in my previous sport, dragracing.
It was very amateur in those days, but crowds were huge. Both cars and motorbikes competed on the same day. As bikes didn’t exactly queued as cars, they had much more track time, so for one event they organized two races. Saturday for bikes, sunday for cars. It was marketed very well, there was lovely weather on both days, and there were huge crowds on sunday. But NOBODY on saturday…

While I’m sure the HUY would not be empty on a saturday for women’s race, but sharing the same day has quite an advantage in the pictures produced from the race.

Btw, the same thing in 2002 Zolder Worlds, the crowd was only huge on Sunday… It was absolutely amazing, I was blown away, didn’t expected such a crowd.

In tennis the women’s the big matches are played in front of full audiences just like men’s. So, I think it’s not a good idea to compare to tennis.

IanPa April 22, 2017 at 5:03 am

Just reading in he news, ASO add a pursuit format TT for the top 20 finishers of their La Course. This I think undervalues women’s racing.. just put a TT on for the women as well as a challenging La Course and you have a nice little race… that’s not so radical is it.

David April 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

Begs the question – what happens if half the top twenty aren’t interested in riding a TT? Will we get a TT with hardly anybody in it, or will they be forced to ride and so tour round not really trying?

The Inner Ring April 22, 2017 at 11:17 am

I suspect it’s because they have limited time between the publicity caravan’s passage through Marseille and the men’s TT starting so it’s the top-20 only. It’s an exhibition event at best but the more interesting aspect for me is that this partly a logistics test to help in the planning of something bigger which hopefully sees the light of day in a year or two.

Hammarling April 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Because ASO, the people who run: Arctic Race of Norway, Dauphine, Flech Wallone, LBL, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours, Avenir, TDF, Yorkshire, Oman, Vuelta, Flech Wallonne Women and La Course and previous Qatar and Womens Qatar, totally need the practice on logistics and planning.

They already run Fleche’s on the same day and La Course on the same day. Both close together. Both on the same roads. Calling this an expirement is making an excuse for a company that doesn’t need one.
Want to make an exhibition for womens cycling? Give them a proper race, not some gimmicky pursuit TT with a handful of riders. Make it a proper ITT with a proper field of teams and riders. ASO is just phoning it in to try and milk the extra publicity when they should be doing a damn sight better.

They already cheaped out with the super short Izoard race, way shorter than a normal mountain stage for the women. This is not how you grow a sport, and ASO should be called on it.

gabriele April 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

100% agreed, and the recent woes of Thüringen Rundfahrt are a further hint about the way ASO and UCI are managing the whole thing. Let’s hope something good may come from it anyway, but I don’t like their attitude.

The Inner Ring April 22, 2017 at 2:02 pm

ASO run plenty of races but they don’t run other events at the same time as the Tour de France. Hopefully they will soon.

Hammarling April 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Apart from La Course 3x and Madrid Challenge last year.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: