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The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced on Friday that The Sufferfest will continue as an official sponsor of the UCI Women’s Road Cup for the 2015 season. A sponsor of the UCI since 2010 and the UCI Women’s Road World Cup since 2014, The Sufferfest has partnered with the UCI to introduce a first-of-its-kind award dubbed as “The Suffer Prize presented by The Sufferfest”. Each of the ten winners, one from each round of the World Cup series, will have demonstrated determination, courage, and (of course) suffering in her quest to help a teammate, animate the race or simply make it to the finish line. Ella CyclingTips spoke with David McQuillen, Founder and Chief Suffering Officer of The Sufferfest, about his continued support of women’s cycling.
“You might know this, but the Sufferlandrian national greeting is: ‘Have you suffered today?’ and the answer is: ‘More than you.’ That should tell you something about our values right there,” said McQuillen.
It’s late night in Australia, and I’m talking to him mid-morning from Europe. I’ve recently wrapped up my coverage of Ronde van Drenthe, the opening round of the World Cup series. Jolien d’Hoore took a brilliant victory off the back of a textbook lead-out by her Wiggle Honda teammates. Lizzie Williams (Orica-AIS) was awarded the first-ever Suffer Prize following two crashes and two mechanicals, the second of which called an end to her race.
“We needed something that would capture people’s imaginations,” McQuillen explained. “It had to be aligned with something Sufferlandrians really care about and what they value, which is people really pushing themselves beyond what they thought was possible in the pursuit of something matters to them.”
If you’re not familiar with The Sufferfest, you may not be familiar with the community McQuillen has created. His company is the leading producer of indoor training videos. Those that use his videos? Those are the Sufferlandrians from the land of Sufferlandia. McQuillen’s FAQ page says: “You go hard enough, deep enough, long enough, you’ll find it.”McQullen signs his emails with “IWBMATTKYT”, an acronym that means “I will Beat My Ass Today to Kick Yours Tomorrow.”
Given the values that define the company he created, I know to expect him to be intense and passionate. I do not expect him to be as dogmatic about the importance of supporting women’s cycling. It’s clear that this is not a gimmick for him.
“I wanted to demonstrate just how hard women’s racing is,” explained McQuillen. “Believe it or not, I still get guys coming to me and saying: ‘Hey, I’m going to buy some of your videos, and I don’t want to buy the ones with the girls in them because those are probably going to be the easy videos, right?’ And that just drives me crazy. We have five Sufferfest videos that include women’s professional racing. Those are some of our hardest workouts. I wanted to do something that would challenge the notion that women’s racing is any less than men’s racing in any way.”
“These women are out there killing themselves in the pursuit of glory and victory,” McQuillen added. “The Suffer Prize is a way to draw attention to that while we also draw out this whole other story – a story that’s not even being told in men’s racing. And hopefully we’ll put the spotlight on some of the other characters than the same few riders that win so frequently. We don’t have the depth of knowledge of other riders in the women’s peloton in the same way as we do with the men’s peloton. I want to change that.”
McQuillen’s interest in women’s cycling dates back seven years. He watched Nicole Cooke win the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was captivated by a side of the sport that was seriously underserved and undervalued.
“If you look at the sponsorship page on our website, it says we want to support the underdog,” McQuillen explained. “We want to help people that think others don’t have a chance. A lot of people had written off women’s racing, so for us, we just see it as a natural fit.”
“The first time we really focussed on women’s racing was when we created a video called Hell Hath No Fury about three years ago,” McQuillen added. “All the women’s racing I’ve ever watched is absolutely amazing. It’s so much more aggressive than men’s racing. There is so much more happening. Everyone is just going for it. I thought that was thrilling, so I created Hell Hath No Fury that featured all women’s racing from the women’s World Cup.”
“When I first had the idea, even the UCI didn’t think I should do it,” McQuillen recalled. “You know what the culture was like a few years ago. They didn’t think a video with all women’s racing would sell. I said I had to do it. I did – and it’s one of our best-selling videos.”
Times are changing, and it’s clear women’s racing is on the upswing – thanks to a change in leadership at the UCI, growing media coverage from traditional media outlets and emerging new women’s specific sites like Ella, increasingly savvy teams and riders who know what they have to offer and refuse to be undervalued, and, of course, people like McQuillen who believe that it’s good sense from a business perspective to support the women’s side of the sport.
“Forty percent of our customers are women,” said McQuillen. “It’s really important to these Sufferlandrians that they see themselves in our videos and the other things that we’re associated with. We make a big point of making sure people are proud to be a Sufferlandrian, proud of the things we’re doing. We sponsor Africa’s only all black mountain bike team. We sponsor a few different women’s teams. This is something that matters to us, and it matters to our customers.”
A panel of judges will determine The Suffer Prize winner at each of the ten World Cup races. The team will be made up of the TV production team, the Chief Commissaire, the Race Director and one individual from UCI. At the end of the season, The Sufferlandrian community and the cycling community at large will have the chance to vote for the Epic Moment of Suffering experienced by one of the winners of the Suffer Prize presented by The Sufferfest. This winner will receive a $1,000 USD cash prize.
“This has never been done before,” said McQuillen. “There’s the combatitvity prize, but this is something different. It could be someone like Lizzie, who won the first Suffer Prize. She crashed and fought back multiple times. It might be someone that is at the front of the peloton and chasing down a break her teammate, spending hours at the front to get the job down. It could be a sprinter in a group of climbers who is riding out of her skin just to hang onto the group. The rider will exemplify the Sufferlandrian values of pain, misery and agony – a role model of suffering.”
Winners of The Suffer Prize presented by The Sufferfest will be communicated via social media (@UCIWomenCycling and @TheSufferfest). In addition, news and highlights of the races – including an interview with The Suffer Prize presented by The Sufferfest winner – will also be available on the UCI YouTube channel throughout the season.