UCI clarifies absence of women at Cycling Gala

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Whether the talk is about UCI’s inaugural Cycling Gala this past weekend or the Abu Dhabi Tour that preceded it, there was one question that keeps popping up in social media: where were the women?

“The UCI Cycling Gala was to reward the world’s best Elite Men and Women road cyclists of the year. I can confirm that female riders were invited to the Gala,” said Sébastien Gillot, UCI’s Head of Communications.

Of the 19 award categories, five celebrated the achievements of female athletes with awards for the Women’s Elite UCI Road Race World Champion, Winner of the UCI Women Road World Cup, Women’s Elite UCI Individual Time Trial Champion, Women’s Elite UCI Team Time Trial Champion and the Women’s UCI Hour Record holder.

Yet only new world hour record holder, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, was in attendance at the Gala. World champion and world cup series winner Lizzie Armitstead announced that she was unable to attend, but where were the others? Was it cost prohibitive? Should the awards have been held closer to the world championships – which is the end of the season for many athletes?

“Invitations were sent as soon as the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond were completed and of course travel and accommodation was provided,” clarified Gillot. “We were extremely honoured to have had Molly Shaffer Van Houweling with us on Sunday at the inaugural UCI Cycling Gala. Unfortunately, the other recipients were unable to attend.

“Given this, the decision was taken to delay the presentation of the awards for the female riders who weren’t there. We are in the process of contacting the riders to arrange a time when we can present their awards.”

This being the inaugural event, Gillot said the UCI is “always happy to learn and continually improve to ensure we have an even better event for next year.”

Perhaps with the Women’s World Tour next year, we will see more female categories to be celebrated at the Cycling Gala. And now that riders and teams know to mark their calendars for this event, let’s hope for a bigger turnout of female athletes. Even better, in the future, any race preceding the event should feature a women’s race (even if it’s a one day race) to give women a reason to travel to whatever faraway land the gala is held in.

Still, it was good to see such a social media out-pour in regards to the absence of female athletes –even if, in this case, it was perhaps a little unjust to the organisers. It shows that people are paying attention; that women’s cycling deserves to be celebrated and most importantly, that women’s cycling has a significant following. Well done, interwebs.

In fairness to the UCI and Brain Cookson’s leadership however, the past two years have brought progress to the sport of women’s cycling: there’s more coverage; there’s going to be a Women’s World Tour as well as a new Women’s Under-23 category for the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships and equal prize money in the vast majority of its events. There is still a ways to go, certainly, but improvements, too, should be recognised.

The most important thing we can do – as female cyclists and as fans of women’s cycling – is to show up when invited, to get more women to the start lines, to tune in for broadcasts and make ourselves visible.

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