Women in cycling

la-course-liakada

La Course 2014 – photo by Liakada flickr

Helped by the Olympic success of female cyclists, women’s cycling has been on the up in recent years. The great thing about the Olympics is that a gold medal is a gold medal. Whether you’re a £250,000 a week professional footballer or a privately supported amateur, one Olympic gold medal is the same value as another gold medal – that is a wonderful equalising force. For many years, the Olympics didn’t allow women to run in events longer than 1,500m – though that kind of ‘perceived wisdom’ – all seems a bit embarrassingly outdated now. In cycling up until 2012, there were fewer Olympic events for women. Often situations, such as this are for no particular reason, except that is how it has happened in the past. But, the Olympic movement has moved on and has perhaps unwittingly become one of the strongest forces for promoting equality in sport between men and women. It has certainly helped boost professional women’s cycling in Britain.

I’ve been cycling (mostly time trials) for the past 8 years, and never really given much thought to women’s cycling. Women are generally a minority in time trials – perhaps making 10% of the field on a good day. But, this year I’ve noticed a shift to reconsider certain things. And it generally seems a progressive change.

Placings

One of the strange things about the time trials is lumping results of men and women together. 1st, 2nd and 3rd women deserve more appreciation than mid table anonymity of 45th overall or something. For me time trials are not just about time. I do like to see how I compare against my peers. It would be a big de-motivation if my placing in the final results felt rather random. This is particularly important for national championships. e.g. National Hill Climb Championship 2013 results. The Women’s champion Maryka Sennema (Kingston Wheelers) is listed only in the middle of the overall (63rd). In my blog, I did try to pick out the top women. It should be like this 100 Mile 2014  Women’s results. Hopefully, the CTT will do this for future hill climb championships.

One solution is to organise separate women’s only events. In the South East, there have been quite a few women’s events organised alongside mens events. The SWETT series has been quite a success with more women attracted to enter, and organisers putting on two events for the price of one. The National Cycling Time Trial Series are also good in this regard – putting on separate categories.

Whether it needs a separate event, I don’t know. I would have thought you could decide on a system where there is just one event, but sub-division of categories. It’s not much extra work, to provide overall results and also show the overall women’s results separately. If there was a junior field, I would also show that.

Organising an event

I did organise a time trial on behalf of Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team for three years. I didn’t offer any prize money – only medals and some extra prizes like boxes of energy products. No prize money is the traditional way for Sri Chinmoy Races; Sri Chinmoy was keen on the amateur ideal of sport. I also wanted to offer equality of awards – for the top 3 men, top 3 women and top 3 vet. Plus 1st junior. No matter how many entered, I wanted to give some reward for those.

In the end there was only one junior, but I still gave a junior prize. He was really happy to get something. He said that often there was no junior award at time trials. Some will argue that you shouldn’t give a prize if there is no depth of competition – I can definitely understand the logic. But, on the other hand, if you give no prize it discourages future entrants. I think juniors in particular need encouragement to enter time trials. It doesn’t need to be a big prize, but recognition of 1st, 2nd and 3rd will go a long way and give some encouragement to keep racing and entering.

Course records

Another thing that could help for very little cost, is to mention women’s course record alongside men’s course record. Often we only mention the male course record. But, it is fairer to mention both. Having a junior course record would also be good.

When I organised an event, it never occurred to me to find out what the women’s course record for the H10/181 was – sometimes you just do what has always been done before. But, if I organised again, I would make the effort to find out.

I’ve had a lot of joy breaking course records, or at least comparing myself to the course record. I think women should be able to have the same target and sense of achievement.

Prize money

Prize money comes primarily from race entries and sometimes sponsorship. If women make up 10-20 % of the race entry, there is no obligation to give women 50% of the prize money. But, for first place, there is a good argument to make the mens and womens prize equal. I would generally support this. The number of women prizes should be dependent on the number of entrants.

I’ve never really entered an event for the prospect of prize money (except perhaps Porlock Hill this year!). The prize money is always secondary to the joy of competing or the sense of achievement. Quite a few friends asked what did you win for being national championship? – £0. I suppose there are times when prize money seems irrelevant. However, I do appreciate a bit of prize money to help with petrol costs. It makes the long journeys up north more manageable. Although I organised a race with medals rather than prize money, I’m kind of glad most other races give money rather than medals.

Personally, I think no matter how many enter, it is good to recognise the first three finishers in significant categories. They don’t necessarily have to get a monetary prize. But, still a top 3 is a top 3. If not many people enter, it’s not their fault. The same goes for juniors.

Overall

I’m not a fan of political correctness (my sister will be able to confirm this). I don’t believe in equality of outcome for the sake of it. But, I think in cycling, women don’t always get the fairest deal. Organisers could do a few small things to improve the position of women in cycling and thereby encourage more to take part. I don’t see any real cost. Usually I don’t think it is any particular conscious discrimination, more just the impact of tradition – just continuing the way it has been done in the past. Also, if we are a bit more generous to women and juniors, it will hopefully encourage more to participate.

I always say organising an event is much harder than racing. So I’m always reticent to criticise event organisers or the CTT because I know the amateur nature of the sport. It is all people giving their time, and I tend to be grateful that people actually go to the effort of putting on races. As long as I have a race to do, anything else is a bonus; prize money is usually not high on the list of criteria for judging a race. But, I do hope women and juniors will continue to get more recognition and encouragement in future years. (and don’t forget the old timers either!)

 

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