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UCI president Brian Cookson strolled the cobbled roads of the Champs Elysées on Sunday, attending to media and supporting the women’s La Course race ahead of the final stage of the Tour de France. As the women’s peloton sped around the Arc de Triomphe, Cookson spared a few minutes of his time to talk to Ella CyclingTips.
La Course by le Tour was created after a public lobbying effort by Kathryn Bertine (Cylance Pro Cycling), Emma Pooley (Lotto-Soudal) and Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv). While the ultimate goal is a multi-stage women’s Tour de France, the riders and race organisers ASO settled on a one-day event in Paris, just hours before the men’s peloton arrive on the Champs Élysées to contest the final stage of the Tour.
While the course is little more than a criterium, what makes La Course so exciting is the ambiance, the TV coverage, the crowds, and the fact that women are now a (very small) part of the biggest cycling event in the world. Now in its third year, Cookson said the event has grown every year, yet we probably won’t see a three-week women’s tour any time soon — although that is, of course, up to ASO.
“[La Course] has grown every year, not just in terms of the quality of the event but also in the number of people coming out to watch, the interest it has generated in the media and so on. We are very happy to continue supporting this event. Things are going well and we are definitely pushing things in the right direction, I think,” said Cookson.
The key to continued success, however, lies in slow progression.
“What’s important about women’s cycling is that it evolves in a sustainable way. If we suddenly had a three-week women’s tour, I’m not so sure we have the strength and depth in the women’s peloton yet to cope with that, and you know what, if you invented men’s cycling today I don’t think you’d start with something like a three-week Tour de France anyway,” Cookson said.
“I think what we are seeing is a really good incremental growth in women’s cycling –we are seeing some events that are strong on their own with no involvement with a men’s event, we’re seeing some events that work well in association with a men’s event – let’s see how that develops and evolves over the next few years and I think a natural evolution will be much more successful than imposing something that’s similar to the men’s situation.”
We are now 12 rounds into the inaugural Women’s WorldTour and ccording to Cookson, it’s going well. Well enough to generate new sponsor interest and we might be seeing some new events next year as well.
“We are seeing a lot of interest from sponsors and organisers wanting to put on new events – Amstel Gold for example want to put on a women’s event as well,” Cookson revealed.
Cookson also revealed that a new French women’s professional team will be joining the World Tour next year although he could not give any more details at this time.
Many argue that women’s cycling isn’t growing fast enough. When asked what the UCI’s biggest hurdle is when it comes to growing women’s cycling, Cookson spoke about the perception and (media) treatment of women’s sports in general.
“Historically, women’s sport has been treated as a very poor relation to men’s sport. And that’s not just a matter of international federations or national federations, it’s a matter of the media – buy a newspaper and you’ll find that women’s sport occupies a tenth, if that, of the men’s coverage—but in the last few years there has been something of a sea changing attitude and we are seeing more interest from the public and from the media in women’s sports of all kinds. And that is reflected in women’s cycling,” said Cookson.
“We as a governing body can’t change the world overnight but we can help to put in place the circumstances by which other can contribute, and teams, riders, sponsors and organisers can get behind women’s cycling in a way that has never happened in the past.”
With only a week till the 2016 Summer Olympic Games kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cookson is looking forward to some great performances, as the Olympics –for women’s cycling especially –is the pinnacle of our sport.
When asked if the Briton has a national bias, he joked: “I’m entirely independent and impartial now as a Swiss resident with a British citizenship. Though I’ll be surprised if Great Britain win quite as many gold medals as they have in recent years but I think they’ll still be thereabouts.”
“In terms of the women’s events, I think we’ll see some fantastic performances in the road race, which is a very challenging course, definitely one for the climbers. I think the time trial will be challenging as well, which is still quite stiff in terms of the climbs,” he said.
“The track, well who knows? There are always some surprises there but the traditional nations won’t have it all their own way. We are seeing stronger performances now from other countries that are coming back up in the track. And bmx and mountain bike, again, we’ll be seeing some great performances from all around the world.”