La Course’s Lack of Course

Friday, 20 October 2017

La Course Izoard 2017

The Tour de France was unveiled this week while La Course, the women’s race, was mentioned in passing. Where will it go? We know the start and finish and it’s back in the Alps but if the date was announced the proper route wasn’t. Here’s a guess at the most likely route.

This year saw the format moved to the Alps with a race to the Col d’Izoard instead of laps of the Champs Elysée/Tuileries in Paris. Opinions seem mixed on this but it got a decent TV audience and put show the a race on the same mythical terrain as the men, as opposed to flat urban laps of Paris. The second day seemed unloved on social media but again a good audience despite the poor production that struggled with the concept as much as the riders and viewers alike. 2018 sees the La Course return to the Alps but this time it’s just a one day race.

Quelle Course?
The route starts in Duingt on the shores of Lake Annecy and finishes in Le Grand Bornand, it’s 118km long and features the same finish as the men get in the Tour de France.

That’s all we know based on a tweet from the race and Christian Prudhomme’s speech in Paris earlier this week. The event’s website has gone dormant since July and there’s nothing new. Normally if you announce something you’d think it’d be backed up with a website and press release but there’s been nothing more.

So let’s guess the route… Tracing various options the most likely path – ie the best guess – sees the red parts of the Tour de France profile cut out. After the start in Duingt there’s loop around the south of Lake Annecy then the valley road to Thônes at which point the peloton tackles the steady Col de Saint Jean de Sixt, instead if turning for the Col de la Croix Fry which the Tour will use. Then it’s the Borne gorge road which the Tour will use but straight down the valley, no climb over the Plateau de Glières and then somewhere near Bonneville in the Arve valley La Course will rejoin the Tour de France route to climb the valley before the tough combo of the “Col” de Romme and the Col de la Colombière before the descent into Grand Bornand.

This suggested route fits the prescribed distance and would make sense for organisational perspectives as it doesn’t close any additional roads and a sporting one too as it saves the selective climbing for later on in the race. The final two climbs are certain and as the profile above shows they are highly selective, the climb to Romme (it’s not a pass, the “col” label is erroneous) is very steep from the start and the descent to the appropriately named Le Reposoir (“rest point”) is fast before the race picks up hardest part of the Col de la Colombière. You might remember this from the 2009 Tour de France when Alberto Contador attacked Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins was trying to hold on. Either way it means La Course is going to be won by a climber… but who will start?

Le Clash
…The Giro Rosa runs from 3-15 July and La Course is on 17 July. This means there is time for the peloton to go from Italy to France, but only just, we’re talking time to wash the bikes and drive up to France right away. The 2017 La Course had a day added to it in the spring of this year but if you’re the optimistic type the chances of this seem slim given this clash means turning a one day race into something longer is going to be difficult without adequate rest in between.

La Courte
The 118km distance is an abbreviated version of the 159km stage of the Tour de France. UCI rules limit the Women’s World Tour to… 160km so they could ride the full stage. Maybe this is because of TV and so that the race can be shown live in full again before coverage of the Tour de France starts? But as the women strive for equality having a cut-down stage looks bad.

As for being short the real cut is not the distance but the duration, it’s now back to one day rather than building into something bigger and there had been whispers last summer’s two stage format was a logistical experiment ahead of something bigger.

The wider context is the absence of elite women’s racing in France. There’s La Course and the GP de Plouay… and that’s it for the Women’s World Tour. Stage races like the Route de France and the Tour de l’Aude, partly because they were run on shoe-string budgets and their demise seemed like a matter of time. But this could have been the moment for ASO to have stepped in. Ironically ASO runs one day of racing in France but has double that in Belgium because it does the Flèche Wallonne feminine and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and it’s adding an extra day to the women’s Tour de Yorkshire too. Presumably this is all because it is paid to with local political imperatives; back in France the only pro team is backed by FDJ who also sponsor La Course so it seems the state lottery – run by a woman in Stéphane Pallez – is trying to underpin the sport but has some way to go. And even this could be changed with FDJ reportedly up for privatisation and by implication ready to dilute political imperatives for commercial ones.

Staging La Course during the Tour de France has its pros and cons. On the plus side there’s much to be said for using the Tour de France as a means to shine a light on women’s cycling, there’s a large audience and the event draws in people, whether on TV or the roadside. Quite possibly millions watched the Tour de France and heard commentators saying messages like “tune in for La Course tomorrow” and so on. Indeed with a roadside audience of 12 million people it means La Course get enjoy plenty of cheers and having a big crowd by the roadside validates a race, for example compare Doha’s world championships last year to Bergen. The Giro Rosa does something similar via television, piggybacking the Tour’s coverage on RAI to feature the women’s racing, a version of come for Le Tour, stay for the Giro Rosa. The flipside is the Tour de France is so big it’s akin to a black hole sucking the light away from anything nearby. So take the Giro Rosa again because it is held in July few cycling media outlets send people because they’re all busy on Le Tour. If it was held in August this blog would do daily stage previews.

Conclusion
Often it feels like much of the coverage of women’s racing is about the coverage of women’s racing… or rather the lack of it. It’s understandable but means the sport itself has to compete with news about its own structural problems. Here ASO only compounded this, announcing an event only in passing, there’s a tweet and a line in a speech and no more. Even if pro cycling is a business and profit has to be generated then one way to help La Course thrive would be to give out the basic details about the course so there’s something to get excited about rather than be frustrated. But in absence of official information curiosity got the better part and a guess for the course is presented above.

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John Cowley October 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm

I normally favour cock-up over conspiracy as an explanation for odd stuff, but I’m starting to wonder if ASO genuinely want womens’ cycling to fail. At the very least, their behaviour over the various iterations of La Course appears to show a shockingly dismissive and reluctant attitude underpinned by deep-seated sexism.
Am I overreacting?

The Inner Ring October 20, 2017 at 7:48 pm

As mentioned above they’ve got an interest in other races, LBL, Flèche Wallonne, Yorkshire… and more too, the Vuelta’s Madrid Challenge (apparently La Vuelta wants to create a stage race but wanting and doing are different things). Surely if ASO were dismissive they’d just say no rather than run these races?

Hammarling October 20, 2017 at 8:25 pm

There’s still a big lack of parity in other ASO races. Yorkshire, whilst expanding to 2-days, is still not comparable to the mens event and is way way behind the Ovo Womens Tour. LBL and Fleche are also very cut down, obviously, and lacking in partiy of promotion or coverage or prize. Madrid Challenge is one day compared to 21 of La Vuelta.
ASO are looking, on the surface, to be supporting. But it’s obvious it’s coming with real reluctance, they’re being dragged by a growing wave of pressure from sponsors, fans and professionals.

Even with La Course, it’s such a reluctant “progress”. They’ve given a genuine mountain stage yes, but instead of re-working a two-day format they’ve just dismissed the second day entirely. It’s not outright dismissive, but lets not excuse the biggest organiser of bike races.

David October 20, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Personally I don’t see the problem here. Ultimately the ASO is a private organisation and they will do whatever makes them money. If the women’s race isn’t making them money and their analytics show it isn’t going to they won’t go all-in with it. If they thought it was going to be a money spinner they would expand it. I don’t see it as sexism, just a business decision.

We don’t have access to the breakdowns of viewing figures. Is the women’s race bringing a new audience, or just a portion of the audience that watches the Tour anyway? If the latter, there is no economic sense in spending money on it.

I can understand people fighting the cause of female racing, but why not focus instead on the races that are already running? For example, the women’s race in the UK has great prize money and a decent course. If they just try to make the top female race in France (i.e. a Tour de France version 2) it will always be number two to the Tour. Instead, a race that runs somewhere else and becomes the number one will ultimately do more for female cycling in my opinion. People will view it on its own merit. The perfect timing for that is when one of the male grand tours isn’t running, so that it can be front and centre.

gabriele October 21, 2017 at 12:48 pm

It’s called “giving something back”.

Private organisations usually make money taking advantage of the context they’re being granted by societies (plus, more often than not, in the last couple of centuries making money has been about environmental and healthcare externalities). Sooner or later – well, it’s starting here and there – they’ll realise that they need to give at least a minimal share back, because collapse might affect them, too.

That’s the general theory. In the specific case of ASO, they’re making money from the *cycling world* which mainly works through the efforts of social agents different from ASO (who may often be losing money, time or both). It’s not a bad idea to give something back to the *cycling work*, because the healthier it will be, the better for the TdF – sustainability of the sport anyone?

ASO hasn’t understood or didn’t want to understand for a long time, favouring the death of other national races because they were competitors, lobbying against the broadcasting of events which weren’t theirs and so on… Apparently, they’ve changed their mind, at least as long as other races are concerned (maybe they’re just thinking of buying them soon).

However, fostering women cycling is great for the sport as a whole, both for an important segment which are the equipment producers *and* for grassroots. The political impact of a more equal sport shouldn’t be underestimated, either.
That’s why it would be intelligent on ASO’s part to use their powerful leverage to promote women cycling, even if it apparently it may cost them more money than it *directly* provides (which is to be seen, both in the middle and in the long term). Not many social agents in the sport (none?) enjoy a comparable level of power and hence potential to generate change: if ASO doesn’t, it will be way harder for anyone else to make it happen. And until it doesn’t happen, the sport as a whole (which includes ASO, like it or not) is losing a big opportunity.

That said, I quite much agree with your last paragraph – so does Van Vleuten in her interview to CN, despite the title they chose for the article. Yet, it’s not a trade-off. You can try to have a race along with the Tour (which implies notable advantages, indeed) *and* fostering traditional races. Different subjects are involved, after all. Sure, you must be careful to avoid that a “lesser” race like La Course draws attention and resources from more meaningful and established organisations.
Have a look to my answer to BC below.

David October 21, 2017 at 4:33 pm

I understand what you are saying, but this is the ASO we are talking about. They have demonstrated repeatedly in their dealings with the UCI in recent years that all they care about is the bottom line right now (not potential growth). They won’t entertain revenue sharing ideas to support male teams better, etc. Giving something back is not in their vocabulary. They do what is best for them. Loom at how they change the race to help French riders do well, because that helps them in their key market. They also have a bunch of smaller male races on their books, so the fact they are doing so little for female cycling shows how lowly they view it right now. My assumption is that they will wait for other races to raise it to a level of popularity where it is suddenly fiscally viable and then they will throw everything at it so that they essentially own female cycling the way that they do male cycling.

Most modern businesses run on a model where they need to increase profits year-on-year. Assuming the ASO operate the same way they won’t want to take the hit.

The ASO recently moved to showing live coverage of the whole of every stage. Having a female race interrupting that coverage, especially if it doesn’t bump viewing figures, provides no benefit to the ASO. I don’t agree with it, but that is how 99% of businesses operate.

Shearman October 21, 2017 at 7:04 pm

I don’t see how the sport will expand and gain in popularity without the added exposure, which will in time bring in more fans and commercial opportunities.

I didn’t watch or really take an interest in women’s football growing up. Recently international tournaments and matches have been screened live and I’ve made time to watch them, becoming interested in the characters and narrative – both vital components in professional road cycling.

The same is also true with women’s cricket – following live radio broadcasts (my normal method of consuming the men’s game) I have begun to follow the women’s game. Surely both these examples demonstrate the route forwards? If you broadcast the events (or at least put them on!) then you will develop a fan base.

marco October 20, 2017 at 8:41 pm

I would enjoy a daily blog on Giro Rosa to accompany Le Tour!

The Inner Ring October 20, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Me too… the problem has been combining them. Daily stage previews are very labour-intensive (recons before, adding timings, weather, result predictions etc) so doubling up on this during July is too much. To explain a bit more for some reason I thought the Giro Rosa did not clash like this and wanted to do previews to explain the stage route and more partly as a way for me to get into the race more… but the total overlap with July was too much here.

David Branson October 22, 2017 at 1:05 am

Could be an opportunity to add a guest Giro Rosa blogger. I’m sure your fans also include a few from the womens professional peloton. You could ask if there are any takers to do daily stage previews. Us Giro Rosa followers would love it.

Tyler Boucher October 21, 2017 at 4:44 am

It’s a bummer to see it go to just one day. What about somehow using the tour rest days as La Course race days? It wouldn’t work as a straight up swap out, as the women’s race can’t be separated by a week, etc, but it seems like those days are underutilized and there’s a captive audience waiting to be entertained…

osbk67 October 21, 2017 at 7:35 am

To me that makes a lot of sense. Plenty of new followers of the TdF must check in every day initially unaware there are even rest days, and there’s probably no better audience than one that arrived looking for pro cycling coverage. So many stories could be told, and a great opportunity to cover the course of the previous or following day’s TdF stage, if that’s the thing. Sure, there are only one or two rest days each year, but it’s a start…

BC October 21, 2017 at 9:48 am

Well, I am going to stick my head in the Lions mouth !

I don’t think the growth, success or popularity of women’s racing is inextricably linked to men’s pro racing. In fact, probably the very opposite. Tagging women onto a senior pro race will always make it a minor secondary event, no matter how hard you try. Tagging on is tagging, on and only gives passing respect and interest to an event.

The future must surely be for women’s events to stand alone, and succeed or fail by their own ability to draw support from sponsors, media, public and the riders. To do otherwise will condemn women’s racing to forever playing second fiddle and having no more than a minor role, no matter what is intended.

I’ll get my hat.

gabriele October 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Part of your point is spot on (also see what Van Vleuten had to say about that; even if she doesn’t dismiss the idea of taking advantage of the TdF’s popularity, it’s more about not focussing on that losing perspective about other events traditionally more engaged with the women side of the sport and currently better than La Course).

Yet, your vision, as a generality, is just false – or, better said, it depends on what you mean with “playing second fiddle”.
Sure, in tennis or track and field woman are in a sense “playing second fiddle”, but their role is clearly above than a “minor” one, and I don’t think women in cycling would see that as a negligible result, at least in the middle term.
In several countries, the presence of a specific sportswoman whose results are better than men’s in that same discipline ends up making the women sport more popular than the male version (it recently happened in Italy with swimming).
All these sports have in common the fact that, albeit women have their own events, they don’t renounce to Wimbledon or Roland Garros because “it will always make it a minor secondary event”. Sure, it might be secondary when compared to the male version, but it doesn’t hinder at all the women sport as a whole, and those events are far from being minor. They are probably bigger than most male events in other sports.
Track and field modifies some aspects in some disciplines, but the women do run a full marathon, go for a full lap of the track, run 100m and so on. Same goes for swimming.
And in track and field, several athlete women are way more famous and relevant than most male athletes (probably same could be said about tennis: among the *general public*, the ten most known athletes are probably a decent mix of men and women).

Larry T October 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm

+1 W Gabriele!

RQS October 25, 2017 at 3:34 pm

I find the trope that women’s sport needs more exposure, and more investment to simply ignore facts about how sports are viewed and by whom.

It’s a little hard to talk objectively about this because the cloak of sexism is thrown over the conversation before it’s even begun.

That is to say that any comments demeaning the prospect of women’s sport being successful are usually held to mysogenistic, and therefore invalid. Equally, many proponents for women’s sport hold out that the sport owes women in a way that it doesn’t owe anything or anyone else.

Protectionism and subsidisation are legitimate economic practises, but rarely is it held out by anyone except governments in collusion with an industry and largely for political purposes. That is what we see in women’s sport. Equality is a political aim, not a commercial basis.

The problem really comes with the division that is associated with ‘more focus’ on women’s sport. An argument that is generally fostered is that if it gets exposure people will follow it. The issue is that women cycling cannot occupy the road at the same time as the men’s. Where some success for women’s sport occurs, as in tennis, the games can be dovetailed, so while no major seeded men’s player is on court there may be a leading woman battling it out – attention can be diverted for a while before interest resumes in the main event….with cycling being such a long viewing sport this cannot easily happen.

The demographics for TV spectators of sport (where the real money lies) are unlikely to improve on the men’s so if there is a battle for airspace the men’s race is unlikely to cede ground.

You can drill down to the viewer too. As a father I barely have time to watch any cycling. Highlight shows are about all I get these days. But my wife would likely tell you she has even less time (and/or will) to watch cycling and sees less. So doubling up on broadcasting both men’s and women’s events is not even going to change things – I watch women’s races with a curiosity, but not excitement or anticipation when I do get the chance to see it. I believe a degree of that is similar to the effect that you see with viewing figures for the Premiership and Championship. The contests may be quite good in both, but I’m more likely to see the best watching the PL, and not the CL. So if I have a choice I’m going to follow the best. Again, another reason that the figures for women’s events fall flat.

More sport participation for women is a great thing, and having role models for them is too. But the practicalities of creating viable professional events which match the men’s is always going to fall short – maybe that gap will close over time and if it does, great. But I don’t think ASO’s half heartedness is due to sexism, just realism.

gabriele October 25, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Personally, I didn’t defend that exposure is the only or best way to foster women cycling. However, it probably would help. For sure, it’s something which women movement should consider by themselves.

That said, your vision of economy is quite superficial. It’s not about “making money now – or not”. More often than not it’s about investment and growth.

I won’t deny that there’s a political aim which, given the collective advantages which would be brought forth, *should be supported* by public institutions (you know, the likes of national federations, public broadcasters, host cities, that is… lots of people who don’t normally have anything to do with cycling, do they?).
But I think that there’s a strong commercial interest, too: better said, a strategic interest for the sport as a whole, with solid economic bases.

Cycling is a sport in which more and more diverse social agents play a significant role when compared to other sports.
Organisers maybe aren’t economically interested in women races.
But national federations are (in economic terms, not only in the above mentioned political ones).
Manufacturers and sellers of cycling-related products are.
And what about teams?
Presently, 5 out of 18 (28%) WT teams are directly title-sponsored by bike (and other cycling equipment) manufacturer. Other manufacturers heavily fund pro sport through technical sponsorship (more or less every producer is involved, but Specialized and Shimano come to mind). It’s not far-fetched to imagine a significant economic benefit for all them from the development of the women side of the sport.
10 out of 44 UCI Women Teams (no divisions there) are sponsored by one or even two title sponsors which are cycling-related companies, involved in manufacturing, selling or other more creative concepts.
It’s not by chance that, again, 5/18 WT teams created a parallel woman team (not entirely overlapping with the above defined categories). And several other women teams correspond to Pro Conti or Continental teams.

Now. If you want a breakaway to work, in cycling you can’t just think about your personal advantage. For most of the time you must share work “even if…”. That’s why organisers should’t just sit on the wheels while others take charge of the growth of *the sport* (which isn’t only 200 people racing the TdF: despite what they want to believe, or try to make everybody believe, it wouldn’t even exist without *the rest*). Note that teams are currently one of the the weakest link in cycling’s value chain. Probably, directly giving them a share of money wouldn’t help, but it’s just as probable that a cooperation to strengthen the sport model fostered by main race organisers would greatly benefit the teams, also via sponsorships.

And it would be *extremely* hard to defend that swimming, tennis, track & field (but also volleyball, curling, handball or whatever) have lost economic drive because of women inclusion. Quite the contrary is true.
But, hey man, I got that you don’t watch much TV: if you did, you’d perhaps notice that women as sport consumers are hugely on the rise in ads and brand policies. So much that the feminist movement is starting to feel unease with the typical ambiguities of capitalist appropriation. I’d just doubt that guys like Nike or Adidas don’t grasp what might be commercially good for a sport.

That’s the general concept, but I could add that your personal experience as a viewer doesn’t seem to reflect more general situations.
Actually, *less* cycling is being broadcast than what most public have demonstrated to be willing to watch (I’ve written so much on the subject that I won’t delve into that again).
Saying that cycling is such a “long viewing sport” when compared to tennis is pretty much laughable: any idea about a tennis match length? Average 3h30′, up to 5 hours, with some exceptional over 6 hour matches. Much more than what is usually broadcast in cycling’s case! (recent trend of full broadcast an obvious exception). Cycling stages average 4h but the big difference with tennis is that in most cases you already know in advance what you don’t really need to watch (admitting it’s even broadcast!). I’d even say that the predictability of action in GT stages (but also in the first couple of hours of any Monument) gives more room to include a women race broadcast: it’s all about thinking a little about it. Unlike tennis, cycling needs a part of the sport event to change the conditions under which the *true* action takes place, without that being relevant in itself (flat hundreds of kms in sprint stages).
Finally, your theory about football works partially and with an example that you chose starting with the assumption that women are like an inferior category compared to men, which makes very little sense (the division system is based on promotion-relegation… I’d love to see that between men and women sport, it’d be very queer, wouldn’it?). Why do I say that it works partially? Well, you’ve got little time to spare and you’re more likely to see the best. Hey, that’s the Champions League. Did the Champions League made the Premiership or any National League commercially inviable? Apparently not. A different kind of competition stays interesting. Why shouldn’t that be the appropriate example? (it isn’t, still it’s way better than the PL/CL one).

What’s usually called *realism* means: “being to lazy to do any effort to understand reality, hence preferring to hold on tightly to stale concepts which susbtitute it in daily practice, irrespective of consequences”.

BC October 21, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Gabriel. In your analysis you miss the key point I was trying to make. You can’t compare all sports women compete in with bike racing, because their historical growth and perspectives are completely different. If you insist in using comparators, soccer is probably one of the sports closest to bike racing. It’s growth is fairly recent and it does in fact use the facilities of pro football teams.

Like any successful sport there has to be an underlying structure to enable and support growth and sustainability. I don’t believe tagging the women’s pro sport onto established men’s pro events helps in this development. What it might do in some cases is give women’s racing exposure which they would not receive without the association.

To succeed in the long term, women’s teams require popular support, attractive racing, media interest and finance. The latter being crucial. There are one hundred and one possibilities for promotion, but these all require elements of the above requirements.

Like most things in life, hard work and determination is required in order to obtain the impossible dream. You can’t get there simply by association.

Anonymous October 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm

“Like most things in life, hard work and determination is required in order to obtain the impossible dream. You can’t get there simply by association”.

Women cyclists (and all the people supporting their movement) have been displaying along the last decades way more *hard work* and *determination* than pretty much anyone in the male side of the sport. Logic suggests that those qualities might be indeed necessary but they aren’t sufficient at all, let alone being the key-factor.

But I agree with you on sone point: exposure is far from enough. And I’d personally deem it as secundary when compared to sponsorship and grassroots. But are really sponsorship and grassroots that unrelated to exposure? Above all, why should exposure be *not helping*? Why should women renounce to *any* of those one hundred and one possibilities for promotion?

(A possible answer to the latter might be: because La Course damages other, more established, women races; and I may agree on that, requiring careful examination of the calendar as a whole, *plus* a proactive UCI role).

The interest in studying the history of other sports sits precisely in their belonging to different moment of equality development. The challenges women sport is facing are surprisingly similar: after all, despite all the narratives of “huge change we’re living” (old narratives themselves), from several POVs our societies haven’t transformed that much in the last century.
Let’s grab the opportunity to delve into what did work, what didn’t and why – it’s not about a sort of blind copycat, it’s more like taking advantage of empirical experience.

Track and field tried the option of separate Olympics through the ’20s and the ’30s, but the big change came 50 years later when more and more sports were included in the *general* Olympics, with female participation finally rising over the 15% mark (first female IOC members in 1981 might be pure chance or not…).
Women tennis started its economic growth with the creation of a separate association, even if, right from the start of the open era playing a few years before, the traditional tournaments (and asking for equal prize money) were paramount.

OTOH, I’m not sure if the model of a sport like football which is as in the dark as cycling on the whole gender question is a great idea: they’re a long way back on this subjcet also because of the lack of vision within their management.

gabriele October 21, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Me above.

gabriele October 21, 2017 at 4:14 pm

It would be interesting to know what the opinions of the female cycling movement are: riders, management, organisers… fans; until now, I only read the AVV interview – and Bertine’s (but I’m not on Twitter and didn’t look further than the usual sources).

By the way, Lappartient says he’s going to ask a greater effort to ASO.

Tim October 21, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Why does the ICU limit the women to 160km? This feels like an anachronistic view of what women are actually capable of. There may be a sporting reason (ie fresher riders make better attacks), but this is a route design issue rather than a limiting the max distance issue.

Take Ironman triathlon. Women do the same course the men do it in, just in 9hrs instead of 8hrs.

Though Triathlon has its problems too, limiting the number of world championship spots for women to 35 vs the men. You could argue that the women’s field isn’t as deep (it isn’t but that may not be the point), but the effect is that women generally race more times than the men because they’re chasing points. The effect is that the women race more than men do!

Hammarling October 21, 2017 at 7:34 pm

It’s a very good question why the UCI limits the women so much. There’s no question they can race longer distances, but heaven forbid the UCI actually did something drastic, proactive, forward thinking and positive.
The UCI have a lot to answer in terms of parity of course thought. Look at the Worlds. Elite Men got a great ITT uphill that no-one else got, not even U23 or Junior Men. That looks bad. Then there’s the drasticly short route of the Elite Womens Road Race, compartivie to Junior Men. It’s insulting to say that the professional women who do this for a career are only as capable as part-amateur juniors who are not fully developed physically.
At least with La Course the ASO has some sort of defence in route planning that they need the roads for the Men and Caravanne (although so clearly putting commercial gain over sporting spectacle hurts deep, if understandable from a business perspective).

It can be extended to more sports, women can easily handle the stamina. Comparitively speed will be lacking, but road cycling is an endurance sport where stamina is king (or queen).

Sidamo October 22, 2017 at 4:34 am

Why does it matter that the women only race 160km?

Let’s be honest here, the only reason men race 270 is history. The Monuments all started more than 100 years ago, when cycling was all about endurance. A 400km stage wasn’t uncommon in the early days of the Tour either and there were other races even longer. Over 100 years the Men’s peloton has come to expect distances around 260+km for the Monuments and therefore as the ‘pinnacle’ of one day events.

Women’s racing is developing in an environment where a long Tour stage is in the 200-220km range and those stages are becoming rarer. There isn’t the same historical baggage that ‘mandates’ ultra-long events so why create them just “because the men do it”.

As for comparisons to Junior Men, they are completely valid. Women *are* slower than Junior Men. It’s a fact of life so there’s no point getting hung up on it. Rather than focusing on distance, if you look at the duration of the 2017 WC races, Junior Men’s was 3h10, U23 Men’s was 4:06, Women’s was 4:48 and Men’s was 6:28. By that metric, the distance of the women’s race makes more sense.

gabriele October 22, 2017 at 1:29 pm

I love people who speak of *facts of life* choosing the most biased data available, for example taking the 2017 courses which were way easier in the case of Junior Men…
Not only the Junior course was shorter, which obviously allows you to go faster, but it had little more than 60% of women’s altitude gain, given that it entered the circuit after 40 flattish kms and only faced the climb five times.
If that wasn’t enough, just switch the U23 Men (4h48′) and Women’s (4h06′) results, so you’ll further prove your point! Facts of life everyone!

Imagine that – in reality, I mean – Junior Men went faster than U23 Men, 42.6 km/h vs. 39.7 km/h, with women at 37.2 km/h. Actually, there was a greater difference between Junior Men and U23 Men, with the former being faster, than between U23 Men and Elite Women.
It’s not the first time Junior Men are faster than U23 ones, which highlights how changing the distance changes hugely the *nature itself* of the race you end up facing.

However, Junior Men and Elite Women tend to finish with similar time races with similar courser, but Junior Men need indeed less time. Only, it’s a tiny difference, generally around 6-7%, not the huge one you suggest above. It’s interesting that we had the least difference on the hardest course, some 5% in Florence.

Why I still wouldn’t say “women are slower”? Well, because cycling is a peloton sport and the number of athletes racing has got a very relevant effect on speed (do I need to explain that?).
In the Worlds of these decade, women typically finishing the race were 50-80, with the one hundred mark being exceeded only on the two flat Worlds (and barely so in Doha). Junior Men crossing the line are 110-130. Cut the male Elite Pro peloton by a 40-60% and have a look to what happens with the speeds.

* * *

Your “historical analysis” is seriously lacking, too. The Monuments have stayed the same despite changing in cycling because they were races with their own identity.
The changing nature of GT stages allowed more transformations, but you don’t take into consideration that the earlier TdFs, until midway through the 20s, had 15 stages and in the last part of the race they rested one every two days. Moreover, there were very few altimetric difficulties.
Anyway, the perception of one-day races was never relative to stage racing!

From the early 30s, with the 20+ stages format, single stages over 300 kms nearly disappeared: in the second half of the decade you had just one of them every couple of editions. You also had 105, 115 or 125 “sprinty”, “modern” stages (I’m not speaking of “semitappe”, racing twice a day, I’m speaking of normal stages).
The Giro, which, buy the way, had become more important GT than the TdF precisely at the start of the 30s and would remain such until the late 50s, developed the modern GT format precisely in the early 30s, gradually growing to about 20 stages but keeping an overall distance around 3600-4000 kms (with more mountains).
That’s the same format which remained more or less the same until the year 2000. Limitation about distance and *other factors* changed the GTs shape from that same year 2000 on.
The reference which women cyclists do have, since women cycling was quite important and from several POV healthier than now in the 90s, isn’t that different from men’s.
In GTs we’ve got a 20 years “experimental”, “epic” or “primitive” period, with certain characteristics hard to compare to what would follow. Then, we’ve got 70 years pretty much stable years which constitute the sport *as it is*, and finally we’re watching how some parties in the sport are trying to remove the endurance component, from the Armstrong era wholly included on (17 years).
Only people with a very short memory and a lack of interest for the history of the sport would consider that current trends define the sport’s identity, even more so in a sport for which the memory of the past means so much – few others are comparable with cycling from this POV.

Nick October 23, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Do you recall the sort of distances that women were riding in stage races in the 90s?

Incidentally, I didn’t think it that controversial to suggest that physically junior men are on a similar level to adult women. I just don’t see that it’s that relevant, given the women compete in full distance marathons/triathlons, etc; it just takes them a bit longer than it does the men.

gabriele October 23, 2017 at 3:32 pm

I think that it *is* controversial when someone does that using a wrong set of data which suggests a difference which is far from the actual one.
The second huge mistake is that such a suggestion might lead people to think about sort of a physical difference which in itself doesn’t depend heavily on sociocultural factor – as it currently does.

What do people mean when they speak of the level of “men” and “women”? The average level of the peloton? The top level of winning athletes? The abstract physical potential of both categories, if something like that even exists?
The kind of poor reasoning and even poorer data analysis we see above is using as arguments *the effects* to prevent changing (part of) *the causes*, which are for the greatest part far from being biological, at least in the present circumstances.

The athletic level of any sport or age/sex group partition in a sport relies mainly on a series of quite relevant factors: extension of the grassroots, depth of the field, quantitative engagement with the sport every individual is allowed or required.
In other terms, when we see top athletes being more or less *physically strong*, that is the final result of a very complex process whose impact is in most cases superior to genetics in *comparative* terms (we overrate genetics because we tend to compare athletes who’re all receiving a similar kind of top training, but I’m sure that everyone of us can easy recall examples from recent and past history of the sport which show how decisive is training).

Have a look at the base of the sport and it will be very easy to understand. How many children or youngster do choose a given sport? Are they the most physically gifted in athletic terms or other sports draft that kind of superior talent (part of the physical qualities are common among different sports)? That’s extension and depth of the field. How many hours can an individual reasonably invest in the sport? That will generally depend on his or her future options to make a living of the sport itself (and when it doesn’t, because of census, the factor will affect extension and depth of the field).
The junior world field in cycling isn’t the best ever, for sure, but it’s still very significant in quantitative terms. Its extension and depth are hugely superior to the female one. The current level of training and investment for juniores, on the other hand, is for several reasons one of the highest ever in most Western countries.
The women peloton is hugely weaker along these three dimensions, which are paramount to determine the final “physical level” expressed by the sport’s players.

Which means that while the margin of improvement from current athletic performances towards a (theoretical) maximum potential of Junior Men in cycling is, nowadays, limited (albeit existing and mainly related to geographical factors and the competition with other sports) – in the women’s case it’s simply *huge*.

And I’m not even starting to tackle the effects on grassroots extension and depth of the general phenomenon, very common in so many countries, of female individuals being less involved in sport in general since their childhood. And several studies have shown how early body conditioning is fundamental for building up the athletic base, starting with neural level and upward. One of the reasons of this social difference (among so many other reasons… and social differences) being that girls are led to believe that they won’t reach a top or proper level anyway because of genetics. In marathons women would start to fill in a mixed classification from 20th down – which could look disappointing for the armchair expert, but which isn’t that much for whoever knows the sport. In the 2017 London Marathon, if I recall the news correctly, 40% of the top 50 of the virtual mixed classification would have been women athletes (note that they didn’t run together, and when that happens women usually go even faster taking advantage of the greater depth and extension of the field). We could probably find out some other genetic trait which classifies human beings in categories whose relative difference in athletic terms would be way greater than the one which is to be detected between male and female – but the latter is so much culturalised that we find it decisive wherever, not just where it makes biological sense.

Well, back to the subject.
Grassroots, attractiveness of cycling as a female sport, economic stability or at least perspective. That’s what you’d need to change the current disproportion and get a deeper and more solid women peloton. Nowadays, things as they are, the comparison with Junior Men is totally misguiding.

However, let me state clearly that I don’t defend getting right now or whenever equal courses or races. I think that it’s up to the women cycling movement to take that kind of decisions.
It’s obvious that, precisely for the reasons I’ve explaining above, the women peloton situation is way different from men’s.
What’s to be seen (but it’s women who should decide) is the best course… of action.
Not taking advantage of any opportunity of growth looks, anyway, a bad idea.

And now Nick, if you were able read until now, you deserve an answer to your question! My memories are mainly related to the Giro. It started at the end of the 80s as a 9-10 days event. Stage length was typically of 70-100 kms. The event was struggling, I think it was discontinued after three editions and started again in 1993 with a couple of one week editions. Things started to work better from 1995 on, when race length, stage length and stage difficulty started raising, while Luperini began winning. 1995 was prologue + 10 stages, no rest days, one and half a week. 1996 had 12 stages, one divided in two semitappe. A rest day made it a true 2 week stage race, the typical stage length was 100 km but they did a 214 km one, too. It included a 25 km ITT. Total length doubled that of early 90s. The format was confirmed in following years, even if over 200 km stages were abandoned, preferring to go for “longer” standard stages which progressively got to 110 km, then around 120. In 1997 they even faced the “easy” side of the Zoncolan. You can see from stage winners that the field became more and more international. The growing trend lasted until 2001 included (the race had 13 stages and had tackled through several editions mythical climbs like Pordoi, Monte Serra, Nevegal and many others).
In 2002 it was cut to 9 stages. Total length went down accordingly but stages became generally shorter, too. You often had circuits starting and ending in the same town.
Through economic woes and a general suffering of women cycling (in 2010 the Giro Donne was left as the only Grand Tour, or sort of, in female cycling; in 2013 the Giro Donne had to change the managing company) the now Giro Rosa survived until now, with better or worse editions but always with a 9-10 stages formula. Yet, it’s quite clear that a successful trend of growth wents along with the race geographical growth, too – and the other way around. Women cycling is still a sport in constant transformation, courses should mirror its necessities and foster its growth.

Nick October 24, 2017 at 1:55 am

I would simply note that, on the subject of dodgy data, the ‘combined results’ for things like the London Marathon are often taken from the times of only the designated Elite runners and not all finishers. There aren’t usually many of these – 84 starters in total in 2017, 45 male, 39 female. These include all the pace-makers, who don’t normally finish. Importantly, they don’t include the club runners, some of whom are pretty fast. Indeed, a couple of non-Elite male club runners this year beat the women’s winner, who set a WR during her run.

This year, only 31 male ‘Elite’ runners finished. The first 30 finished within 2.24.11, a time beaten by 4 female athletes. Then came female Elite athletes 5-19, before male athlete 31 turned up. So the split of the top 50 Elite runners was indeed about 60/40.

However, then the club runners, who started separately from the Elites, started to come in. Some of them ran faster than female athletes 5-19. In fact, 149 of them beat female athlete 19 (the one used as the basis of the 40% stat). As the 150th club runner was also male (the first female was 201st) a more accurate split would be to say that 19 of the 200 fastest finishers overall were female, so nearer to 10%.

If you look at just the top 50, including club runners, the split was 47 male (26 elite, 21 club)/3 female, with Ben Gamble in 50th on 2.23.37, just ahead of Vivian Cheriyot (4th Elite woman) on 2.23.50.

Thanks for info re stage lengths. And i do agree that there may well be more to gender differences than simply genetics, though it does seem that genetic differences between the sexes play their part here.

gabriele October 24, 2017 at 12:27 pm

@Nick
Thanks for the additional information about London Marathon. As I made explicit, I was going by memory about an article I read.

However, I don’t consider it that useful to include club riders and I’d stick with data which only mix comparable profiles: imagine that we’ve already got huge problems comparing men and women samples when elite pro only are taken into account (even if track and field is ahead on the road to equality in sport, sport participation & investment is still far from equal, both on a World and European scale)… well, if we introduce club athletes we’re making the samples of the two genders even more hard to compare between them.

At least, in the case of pro athletes nationalism and sponsors create a drive towards high-level women selection and training: on the amateur level, too much depends on individual choices, which, in our societies, are still heavily affected by gender differences.
To start with, there’s the huge question of different involvement in sport since the key early teenage years for male and female.

Sports UK is doing a great work detecting and trying to tackle the problem, but it’s far from solutioned and present-day adult athlete, especially those who aren’t pro, were deeply affected by that (as they will be for a generation or two at best).
A divulgative article:
https://www.playforchange.org/latest/2016/7/29/understanding-the-gender-gap-in-sports-participation

All in all, the comparison among elite pro athletes is always complicated but if you check only the very top (artificially enlarging the sample with the inclusion of club athletes) you will get results more and more unfavourable to women: imagine two gaussian curves; we agree about the male one being translated “to the right”, but to understand the relation between the two population you need to study the “middle segments”, too.

Back then, I had a look at the London Olympics marathon results: no women would have made the mixed top 10, but they were 25% of the top 100 ( with some reasonable 85 male finishers, 107 female finishers).

Just as a very imaginary example (cycling is a more complex sport than track and field) we might imagine that if cycling evolved the way track and field did, one day we might have a mixed peloton with some 50 women racing along the rest of some 150 men. I’m not saying that it would necessarily be a goal (separate competitions are also fundamental for women sport), and probably they’d rarely win a big race, but in physical terms it might be a realistic perspective. That percentage would even grow if more equality was generally implemented in the society and in the sport (track and field is *not* an example of perfect gender equality, far from, and for many reason which don’t even depend on sport institutions as such).

This is precisely what many people can’t even imagine – and they can’t because of the cultural bias, not because of they understand correctly the genetic difference.

gabriele October 24, 2017 at 12:42 pm

@Nick
I just gave a look at Rio, and for some reason it’s way worse than London in term of gender equality, but the gaussian concept stays valid (5% women in the top 100, 15% among the top 150, some 30% among the top 200 – I considered only the top 194 with an under 2h40′ time because the last men finisher were really coming with too big an interval and wouldn’t be a fair comparison).

Ecky Thump October 24, 2017 at 1:52 pm

@Gabriele
I agree with your points about social equality and public health.
This suggests that public finance should play a (major) role in financing an enhanced womens cycling programme ala national lotteries money with the mens’ teams perhaps?
But equally wouldn’t that money be better invested in, say, getting more teenage girls out on bicycles?

To clarify my initial point also, “women’s sport is a far inferior product” when I meant that the (i.e. cycling) women’s sport…
Top female runners are consistently 8-15% slower than their male counterparts; female cyclists even more so. I cannot conceive a point where there will be mixed cycle races; women will be missing the cut and being swept up by the broomwagon.

gabriele October 24, 2017 at 7:21 pm

@Ecky Thump
Well, your data themselves show that you’re probably wrong about mixed race. I don’t know with certainty (hard to say if anybody knows right now) because cycling is more complex than marathons in terms of effort distribution, but a difference of ~10-15% is compatible with racing the same cycling event.

We’ve got power data for 19/21 stages of T. De Gendt at the 2017 Vuelta. He averaged 305 watt, 295 without the ITTs.
I had a look to the data of two good riders of similar weight, E. Capecchi and B. De Clerq, they didn’t upload the ITTs, but Capecchi averaged 259 watt (data for 16/21 stages) which is -12% when compared to De Gendt; B. De Clerq averaged 272 watt (12/21 stages) which is -8%. Capecchi worked as a gregario and ended up 104th out of 158 finishers, rarely finishing in the top 80 of any stage, but De Clerq was 40th and even got a top ten (with a break).
In the small sample of data I had available (even more so, limiting myself to riders of similar weight to avoid transforming everything in w/kg, and excluding those who had upload less than half of the stages), I’ve chosen two pretty much famous riders to make you know whom I was speaking about, but younger riders like Nick Schultz were equally able to finish the race averaging 256 watt in the 17 recorded stages. Same goes for more expert 30 years old Michel Kreder, a Pro Conti rider (Aqua Blue) with a past in the WT which averaged 255 watt in 19 stages. That’s -13% and -14% to De Gendt. Kreder was one of the few who also uploaded the ITT, where he performed -25% power to De Gendt: Kreder was 146 out of 164, but please notice that De Gendt barely made the top 20. Like De Clerq, Kreder got a stage top ten, too, thanks to the same break.

I’d say that, yes, you’ve got a place in the peloton if your performance level is ~10-15% less than a top player, not even one of the absolute best, just one of the strongest.
And I’m speaking of a *GT*, but there are less demanding races in the male pro calendar, if you want…
Which doesn’t mean that presently women cyclists are able to produce that level of performances (truth is that I don’t know), but what’s sure is that it’s daring to say that genetics are what actually prevents women from riding in a mixed peloton (and, again: I’m not sure that it would be the best or most desirable thing. It’s just a physical possibility).

I’d just add that in ten days time it will be exactly 100 years since when a woman did race against the male pro in a Monument, the Giro di Lombardia. Out of a field of 43 which included huge names (legends of the sport, all times best) like winner Thys and runner-up Péllissier, with Belloni and Girardengo making the top ten, Alfonsina Morini Strada arrived 23rd and last, side by side with two male colleagues 94′ back (the winner had needed 7 hours). Two other male athletes had needed 92′ and 93′. But other 20 men did retire or didn’t make the time cut.
The following year, despite harsh commentaries by the journalists, she raced again and this time she was 22nd… and second-to-last in a group of seven, but only 23′ back from winner Belloni (7h08′). A similar performance would have been worth a 15th place or so in her debut race. His performance was on the level of Pietro Aimo, brother of the more famous Bartolomeo: but Pietro wasn’t a bad rider at all, with a handful of podia in important one-day races and a GC 6th place at the Giro.
In 1924, already 33, she was allowed to race the male Giro. She got OTL in stage 8 out of 12 but given that it had been due to several crashes under horrific weather the Jury apparently would have had her back in, also for obvious marketing reasons (things didn’t change that much in nearly a century…); she reportedly had crossed the line with a broomstick in susbtitution of her broken handlebar! But hostility by the public and part of fellow riders who hadn’t appreciated being beat by her on several stages (she typically finished 50-60th out of some 90 riders) finally led to exclusion from the GC albeit with the permission to officially continue racing and travel expenses paid by the organisation. She then was able to finish the race, some 3600 km in twelve 300 km long stages (racing day day out), several famous climbs included, on single speed bikes. The event had only 30 finishers.

We’re speaking of one century ago, and yet people go on imagining that women wouldn’t make it. Come on.

gabriele October 23, 2017 at 4:18 pm

By the way, I recently read a final report about the XXX Emakumeen Bira by the organisation which commented about reduced stage length that had prompted some complaints among athletes and fans. At least two stages were shorter than the organisation would have liked in theory and that happened because of mere economic reasons, not technical ones (which in turn explained a couple of different situations), that is, the established starting and final towns in one case and the need to keep things close in the other case given that the teams stayed in the same hotels through the whole stage race (which means you can’t get too far).

An example among uncountable ones which shows how thinking that the nature of women racing is presently determined mainly by athletic reasons of sort is naive to say the least.

Ecky Thump October 24, 2017 at 4:14 am

This is a most interesting read gentleman.
Here’s my two cents worth, if I may 🙂

I’d consider Athletics the truest and most equal of comparisons between male and female athletic prowess – they run the exact same distances.
Looking at the 2016 Olympic winners in mens and womens fields respectively –
100m / 200m sprints – women were around 9 – 10% slower
400m / 400m H mid sprints – women were between 11 – 15% slower (mens very strong and a world record)

800m / 1500m middle distances – women were 13.7% slower (Rudisha is the best 800m runner ever) to only 8.3% slower in 1500m

5000m / 10000m long distances – women were 10.6% and 8.12% slower

Marathon – women were 12.3% slower.

You can see a pattern in the above – a mean average of perhaps 11% slower, but on the whole the average time is greater as distance is increased.

I’m not sure how this translates to pro cycling however!
As a crude arbitrary comparison, I know that on a pan flat stage, the men can average over 50 km/h quite readily.
Taking the athletics comparable, this should suggest that women could average over 45 km/h. Can they do that over the same distance? I don’t think the current womens field would be able.

Moreover, if a test was set up to measure the an/aerobic abilities of elite mens cyclists against elite male athletes (runners), I’d guess that cyclists would favour well, on the whole. Perhaps even be the stronger.
If the tests were made against the current womens peloton versus women runners, I’m going to guess that women cyclists would get blown out of the water.
My conclusion is that womens cycling, at present, is nowhere near their physical capabilities – there’s not enough of them doing the sport to maximise their potential.
Where this leaves the television debate, I’m not sure – but womens sport is a *far* inferior product than what it could be. Personally, I don’t want to watch such a product.
However, there’s still valid reasons to televise it – public health gains, grow the sport etc etc. Who pays though?

gabriele October 24, 2017 at 12:36 pm

@Ecky Thump
Also have a look above.
I’d add about your reflection that the pattern about distance probably isn’t pretty much there (there’s an opposite theory, but I won’t even start discussing the subject).

You’re totally right when you say that women cycling peloton is nowhere near to its physical potential. Nor are track and field sports, for very different and complex reasons (but they’re way nearer than cycling, indeed!).

Which doesn’t necessarily mean that “the product is inferior”. But that debate alone would require several posts.
Let’s keep it short: how did track and field came nearer to equality? Training and competing in secret, far from the TVs of paying spectators, untile they were ready. Well, no.
It’s not just a matter of gender equality (a civil rights thing) and social benefit… which would be quite more than enough to justify public investment… it’s about the overall sustainability of the sport through growing base and grassroots.
It’s both the society as a whole (public money plus awareness) and the sport as a mixed public-private collective agent which must do the effort.

Stefano October 22, 2017 at 3:21 pm

If are that bothered about equality, why not let the ladies race with the men?

David Tichy October 23, 2017 at 4:04 am

Yes I agree.

Othersteve October 24, 2017 at 1:29 am

God knows that the American women would probably beat the American men!

weeclarky October 23, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Basically, it’s a total disgrace. All the economic arguments are crap. Once it’s up and running people will watch it; while there are no races to watch people won’t watch women’s cycling.

I think the sport that does best is tennis. There is near parity on matches available, coverage, pay etc. Within the sport a hint of misogyny is frowned upon, often (sometimes…) with male players leading the way, while in cycling it’s totally normal to ignore women’s cycling. [Recall la course last year in which the final sprint was cut to on the tv, and that was it.]

I don’t understand why the big races don’t take it upon themselves to lead the way. They will over time double their revenue stream, for only a maginal extra cost. It’s totally obvious that a womens tour run a couple of hours ahead of the mens would have a ton of people watching. [I’m the sort who has eurosport on all day at work for the big races, so flicking between 2 races would be twice the fun right?] Sure it’s logistically difficult, but so is everything new.

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