Aussie Women’s Cycling – Progress in the Wings

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Photo by Veeral Patel – O’nev

Rachel Neylan is relatively new to professional cycling but is one of the most active women I know in the persuit of getting women’s cycling better exposure. Rachel is racing in Europe with Diadora Pasta-Zara Women’s Professional Cycling Team and is about to begin her European season along with the rest of the female pro peloton. Rachel has written a guest post for us today outlining many of the positive results that women’s cycling has achieved throughout the past year. I think it’s some well deserved recognition for these women who are working their guts out for the love of their sport. Thank you Rachel.

Aussie Women’s Cycling – Progress in the Wings

By Rachel Neylan

“Incredible” is an understatement summing up the last week we just witnessed in Aussie cycling – Eight world track champions along with first and third UCI ranked male road cyclists.

I know you’re all still reminiscing Gossy’s emphatic Milan-San Remo victory and salivating for the cobbled action at Flanders this weekend, however I want to draw your attention to realise that Women’s cycling is slowly gaining momentum and appears to have a particularly bright future.

Last time I wrote a blog on Women’s cycling I touched on a few harsh realities with exposure and the essential differences among the men and Women’s professional peloton. This time i’m not going to do that… rather share with you a few enlightening revelations!

Positive #1 – There are in-fact six newly founded professional UCI teams that have launched into the 2011 season and 28 registered UCI teams will race the International European calendar. In total in 2011 there are thirteen Aussie full time professional women (aside from the six member AIS squad) across eight of these teams.

Positive #2 – The Aussie development pathway is dialed with the appropriate tiers of progression. The State Institutes and National Talent ID Programs are feeding girls into the AIS National development program which is then a key launchpad to Europe where professional team contracts are secured.

2011 will also see a sensible addition thanks to our loyal and generous sponsor Jayco. The inaugural Jayco Women’s development squad will this year provie an essential mediating step and a more gentle approach to first time European racing exposure.

Positive #3 – Female cycling is attracting more sponsorship. Slowly but surely, free space on female cyclists’ lycra is diminishing.

Firstly to mention the the AIS Women’s team are this year kitted as their male counterpart and sporting the ‘Jaco AIS’ title. Second, 2010 saw Honda as the major title sponsor of the Sydney Criterium series. However, the catalyst for this was indeed their sponsorship of the Honda Women’s Dream Team. Virgin Blue also showing an impressive investment staging a Women’s team throughout the season.

photo by James Broadway

The recent summer racing series featured fully fledged teams of women along with the state institute squads gave rise to well rounded fields. The addition of more domestic teams has given rise to more competitive tactical racing on all fronts, including the past two Aussie Women’s National road races which have been a dynamic and unpredictable spectacle.

Positive #4 – The national profile escalation of the Amy Gillett Foundation carries into public awareness, a solid underwritten women’s cycling theme. Innate to the mission of the organisation (along with Cycling road safety) is development of womens cycling, with an annual scholarship position for the development of a female cyclist.

Tracey Gaudry, former world ranked number three, professional road cyclist, and dual Olympian is now the CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation and has recently appointed to the board of Cycling Australia.

In addition to this point, we’ve seen the recent appointment of Emma Rickards, former professional, world cup medalist and multiple Australian National team member now working with Cycling Australia as National Coaching & Development Coordinator. Women taking executive and coaching roles, is a pivotal step towards development, exposure and equality in Women’s cycling.

Positive #5 – Aussie Women’s cycling performances on a world stage are on their way back up. Geelong World Champs featured a stellar result by young AIS rider Shara Gillow, placing 8th in the Time Trial, while Delhi Commonwealth Games featured a double; gold for Rochelle Gilmore and bronze for Chole Hosking. The first two women’s UCI tours Qatar and NZ have featured five podium results for Aussie women.

Positive #6 – The launch of the Aussie pro cycling venture ‘Green Edge’ had women knitted tightly into its vision. Green Edge has incorporated into its structure a women’s professional UCI team. It will sit neatly at the pinnacle of the existing development framework giving motivation, leadership and a pathway to pro cycling for more Aussie women.

Positive #7 – A trend is apparent, there has been a subtle rise of women’s cycling in the media but what’s more there is motivation to further improve exposure. After a frank interview with SMH cycling journalist Rupert Guinness, I gained some insight into the position, attitude of Women’s cycling from the media’s perspective and was enlightened by Rupert’s encouraging words;

“Until now, most mainstream coverage of women’s cycling has been focussed on the track, in particular with the success of Anna Meares since her comeback from a career threatening crash before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where she won the silver medal in the sprint. Her story became a book, and she too became the household name in Australia that women’s’ cycling needed to break down a barrier that only a handful had achieved before – such as Kathy Watt.

“But a year ago, women’s road racing – despite it development – was still am area of the sport that earned very little media recognition. The reasons are varied and attributable to so many parties – from the relative lack of imagination to promote women’s cycling by the various Australian federations to the mainstream media that in large still needs to be educated on the sport and its female stars, to the mainstream media that needs to look beyond their blinkers.

“Saying that, I honestly believe that while the ‘Women’s cycling’ media archives file pales in comparison to the ‘Mens file’, it is a file that is gaining in weight and – most importantly – substance.”

“Speaking for the Sydney Morning Herald, I can assure that while we don’t want to follow a policy of tokenism is covering women’s sport – and in my case cycling – we are deliberately conscious of making an effort to THINK about stories in women’s sport that a year ago we may not have considered – either through ignorance, a lack of foresight or, in some cases, plain old interest.

“To create change, force is often needed – a bit like getting off your butt and riding again, only to find how much you love riding again!”

“Now … with a view to womens cycling, I would say that if you look back at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age online, and went to “sport” and then to the “cycling” page, you would see a lot more stories on women’s cycling than a year ago. Sure, the ratio would still be against women’s racing, but the percentage increase over the last 12 months would be far superior tot he 12 months before. Trust me … I am not saying this is satisfactory, but it is a trend.”

“Finally, I believe the future of coverage in women’s cycling also rests in the hands of the athletes. The conscious effort by many of them to promote it has had a lot to do with what progress has already been achieved. The more the media understands the sport and athletes – the people and not just the names behind results and press releases – the more that women’s cycling will get to emerge as a part of cycling that deserves far more coverage than what it gets.”

The wheels are turning towards change on many promising fronts: Development structures, professional teams, sponsorship, exposure and media recognition. Ultimately, it appears Women’s cycling is about to enter its most positive space domestically and Internationally, incredibly reversed from what 12 months ago seemed a fairly bleak future for women’s cycling into quite a positive one.

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