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A Women’s WorldTour, two divisions for teams and a proposed plan to slowly introduce a minimum wage were amongst the topics discussed at UCI Women’s Team seminar held in Siena last Sunday. Held on International Women’s Day, the day following the inaugural women’s Strade Bianche, the seminar hosted by the UCI was the start of discussions between teams and their governing body about the ways in which they can work together to professionalise and develop the sport together. Ella CyclingTips was invited to attend this seminar, the first of its kind, alongside all the UCI women’s teams.
The proposals put forth by the UCI have been developed by the UCI Women’s Working Group, a team of seven individuals formed in December 2014. Team members include: rider representatives Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Bigla) and Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans), team manager representatives Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle Honda), Kristy Scrymgeour (Velocio-SRAM), Eric van den Boom (Rabo Liv) and Martin Barras (Orica-AIS), and sports economics expert Alberto Celani.
“This is a small, highly motivated team,” said UCI women’s cycling coordinator Andrea Marcellini to Ella CyclingTips. “They are in it not because of individual interest, but because they have a vision for women’s cycling. They have proven, by various contributions that they have made to women’s cycling and by the success of their own teams, that they know what it takes to make women’s teams not only financially viable, but a true sporting and commercial success.”
Women’s Race Series
The World Cup series includes the most prestigious one-day races on the women’s calendar. In 2015, the World Cup series has grown to include ten races, up one from last year, in eight countries.
Lizzie Armitstead won the overall series last year whilst each of the nine races had nine different winners, demonstrating the growing depth amongst the elite women.
The Women’s WorldTour will replace the World Cup series in 2016. While the World Cup series only includes one-day races, the WorldTour will include both stage races and one-day races for a total of 30 to 35 race days.
Although a calendar has yet to be determined, the current World Cup races will likely be included on the calendar alongside new one day events like La Course at the Tour de France and la Vuelta a España and Strade Bianche. Stage races that could see an invitation into the WorldTour include the women’s race at Amgen Tour of California, the Friend’s Life Women’s Tour and the Giro Rosa.
An updated points system will accompany the updated series, and criteria for team entry will initially remain the same as entry criteria for entry into a World Cup race.
“In 2014 we saw a number of new races in the women’s road calendar and this isn’t slowing down in 2015,” said Marcellini. “From a calendar point of view, we need to make sure the top teams will be at the top races and that we can tell a compelling story from early season up to World Championships.”
“Enter the Women’s WorldTour,” Marcellini added. “This is what the fans and the media will be able to follow from the start of the season to the finish, and that’s how we believe we will be able to engage with sponsors, bringing financial stability to women’s road cycling.”
Division of Teams
There are presently 38 UCI-registered teams, all of whom were invited to attend the women’s cycling seminar. These top teams race largely in Europe, branching out only for the biggest races on the calendar. A huge gap in results and resources exist between the teams at the top of the rankings and the teams at the bottom. As is the case for men’s continental teams, the registration of women’s teams is regulated by national federations.
A two-tired system will replace the current system, with the first changes rolling out in 2017. The top level will include ten teams, all of which will be required to race all the WorldTour events.
Regulations will be rolled out over a four-year period (2017-2020) and include rules around salary, number of riders on a roster, support staff to rider ratio, team doctors and sport director training.
For the first year, team selection will be based on the UCI ranking, but the proposal does not exclude looking into other criteria for the following years.
“Right now the reality is that there are huge gaps between the top and the bottom teams, so the UCI cannot plan for equal regulations on all teams,” Marcellini explained. “By splitting the field in two tiers, we will be able to put in place a comprehensive development plan, with stricter criteria for tier one while developing some basics for tier two.”
“While the wheel will be spinning faster in terms of requirements for tier one, increased media exposure will enable them to secure sponsorship for a more professional team structure,” Marcellini added. “This is also the carrot in front of tier two. While we work with them in reaching the guidelines for a potential upgrade to tier one, they will enjoy the improvements happening in women’s cycling as a whole, driven by the UCI Women’s WorldTour.”
There is currently no minimum wage for women’s teams (UCI-registered or otherwise). The minimum wage for men’s WorldTour squads is 36,300 euro per year, which can be reduced to 29,370 euro for neo-pros. Pro Continental teams must pay a minimum of 30,250 euro to their riders, except for neo-pros for whom the minimum is set at 25,300 euro.
Brian Cookson, president of the UCI, promised a minimum wage for women’s salary in his election campaign but has since taken a step back from this promise, saying having looked at the issue in-depth it’s clear that introducing a minimum wage at this time would do more harm than good to women’s teams.
A minimum wage for women was a talking point at the Women’s Team Seminar; however, the introduction of minimum salaries will be a slow process. The consensus is that there are far bigger fish to fry than salaries in terms of the professionalism of the sport.
The women’s working group has proposed that teams be required to pay a minimum salary to a minimum of two riders in 2018 for inclusion into the top tier of the proposed two-tier system.
“We’ve learned in a presentation at the seminar that the existing minimum salaries in men’s road cycling are not imposed by the UCI but rather a byproduct of joint agreements between riders and teams associations,” noted Marcellini. “The UCI’s role is to enforce those agreements and not to establish them.”
“I see the conversation has evolved a lot in the past three years regarding minimum salary,” Marcellini added. “Of course this is a goal, but everyone involved – riders included – understand now that there are other important steps to be taken before minimum salary in women’s cycling becomes a sustainable move. If we enforced a minimum salary now, half of the teams would go out of business, and half of the peloton would be without a team. What is important to say here is that we are all working together to take the steps that will allow for minimum salary to become a reality in the future.”
Additional key considerations
Beyond the main issues outlined above, talking points included:
- expansion of live streaming and television coverage for women’s events
- the use of social media by the UCI, teams, riders and race organizers
- how to find sponsors and keep them happy
“We used to be thought of as the enemy,” said Marcellini. “There was an us against them sentiment between teams and the UCI. I think teams are starting to see that we’re all on the same side, and that working together, we can do something really great for women’s cycling.”