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by Anne-Marije Rook
March 9, 2017
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
Here at Ella, every day is centred around giving voice to and celebrating women on bikes.
As money continues to be hard to come by, we are run mostly on passion, which is a common theme in the sport of women’s cycling as a whole. And while I could write a dozen articles on the gross inequality and unsustainability of the women’s side of the sport and industry, today –in recognition of international women’s day –I wanted to celebrate that passion instead. Because it’s that burning fire in the heart of all those involved with women’s cycling that makes the sport so damn great.
Untainted by big money, riders vie for titles and wins with an incredible drive. Female racers tend to come into the sport later and have (had) a career outside of cycling as well, and so their motivation is pure. They work hard and put their lives in hold simply for the love of competition and love of cycling. Combined with the fact that there are fewer events, races tend to be action-packed and drama-filled, which makes for great entertainment.
The passion extends into the industry. If you haven’t checked out our Movers & Shakers series, I’d highly recommend that you do. There are women doing great things all across the bicycling industry.
And then, of course, there’s us: the journalists telling the peloton’s stories. As so many of the women’s races remain unaired, we have the rewarding task of not only reporting on the action but also connecting you with the main protagonists in the sport. We are the grunts who are working long and odd hours to cover a niche lifestyle and sport for which people say there is no audience. But we know better. Many of us have spent copious amounts of time in the saddle and pinned on numbers ourselves. We have shared coffee, rides, laughter and tears with the athletes and staff. We know first-hand that cycling is made up of good and hardworking people, great stories, inspirational efforts and all the drama that make sport so addicting. We know that there is an audience – YOU—and we are constantly racking our brains on how to get women’s cycling the attention it deserves.
To celebrate women on bikes, I reached out to some of my fellow women’s cycling reporters and editors at the major publications to discuss the things we have learned as journalists covering the sport and to reminisce about the best races we have seen that showcase just why we love women’s cycling so much.
Here are the lessons we’ve learned from covering women’s cycling. Check back to read each editor’s top 3 women’s cycling races soon!
Pro cyclists Lizzie Deignan and Lisa Brennauer address the media at the 2015 Aviva Women’s Tour.
1. There is significant segregation
I had never raced myself, and I came to cycling knowing nothing about it. It had seemed an impenetrable sport at first, but I fell for it hard, loving the cast of thousands and the international flavour. I’d grown up in athletics, racing and watching distance running, and my second sport was swimming, so I just assumed that, football and rugby aside, all sports were unisex. My first experiences of women’s cycling were the 2008 Olympics, and the Manchester Track World Cup later that year, where women were racing alongside men, and Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley were the undoubted stars of the British road team, with Victoria Pendleton, Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel being (it seemed) just as important as the British men, bringing home Olympic gold. So the first thing I learned, when I started looking at women’s road was how wrong I’d been – that women’s road cycling was a very segregated sport, both out at the races, and in the media.
2. There is an audience
But the second thing I learned was that there definitely was an audience out there, who didn’t know how much they’d love the sport – but given the opportunity to watch, and learn more about the stars, would embrace it. I started off writing on the BBC 606 forum, because I couldn’t find much English-language news about the racing. With forum friends, we delved into google-translated race websites and reports, finding out these incredible stories about the wonderful characters and crazy races.
It became clear, really quickly, that a lot of cycling fans wanted to know more, too, and I started blogging and tweeting about the sport, and then approaching riders to interview them so I could ask them the questions that were intriguing me, as a way of demonstrating that there was an audience.
3. Women’s cycling lives online
The third thing I learned is that living in the 21st century, fans and riders, didn’t need to rely on mainstream media, because technology was giving us opportunities we’d never had before. Social media gave us unprecedented opportunities, and I loved how women cyclists grew their own fanbases and audiences, through blogs, at first, then twitter, facebook and YouTube, and now platforms like instagram and snapchat. And with live race tweeting, although we can’t see as many races live as we’d like, we can still follow the action.
|Related: Podcast: What Twitter has done for women’s cycling
Of course, these days the cycling media has caught up – and of course, I love Ella Cycling Tips, and the work of Cyclingnews, and the media types featured in this piece. But I’m really excited and intrigued to see where technology will take coverage of the sport. The one thing I’m sure of is that women’s cycling with embrace whatever new technologies are on the horizon, and riders, teams, races and fans will find exciting and innovative ways to use them to grow the sport. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Working in women’s cycling from the outside may look like a cruisey job, but most times the reality in the industry is that people are working hard, with long hours and little pay. But is it worth it? Hell yeah!
Equality may be a great moral argument but making the dollars stack up is, whether we like it or not, the key. Within the cycling community you find some of the most amazing examples of people (women and men) who put so much into supporting the sport of cycling, with little other reason than they think its the right thing to do. In business, however, most will only devote money if the benefit is clearly visible. This makes greater exposure absolutely crucial to the future of the sport.
There is one advantage to the lack of dollars in women’s professional cycling, and that is that the peloton is filled with an incredibly driven, passionate and well-rounded bunch of women. They cannot rely on cycling as a long-term career, so often have or are seeking further education. They are certainly not doing it because it is an easy option, so if they didn’t have passion and determination they would never have made it.
1. A good story is a good story
I wouldn’t say this is something I learned, more confirmed. It’s the way I approach covering women’s cycling, particularly as a features writer. Set the bar at the same height. Some stories will clear it and others won’t, regardless of the gender of the subject.
2. There is an audience
Related to #1: The myth that there is no audience for women’s coverage has been busted. But you have to work way harder for the same impact.
The right story told in the right way can have the same impact as any other cycling story. However, women’s cycling stories are more reliant on organic sharing. The story itself must inspire readers to share it with others. You can’t simply chuck a big name in a headline to pull people in, at least not yet.
The result of this is that one really good women’s cycling story is worth 100 mediocre women’s cycling stories. This isn’t necessarily true on the men’s side (ratio more like 1/10 perhaps) because a writer of men’s cycling can lean on fame, of both rider and race, more easily.
3. It’s not easy
Covering a race without live TV is way harder. But riders know this and don’t tend to mind when you ask, “Can you walk me through the last 50k?”
1. The women’s cycling community lives on Twitter. For information, to talk with the community and especially to follow races, Twitter is your place to go.
2. Never trust broadcast schedules on the UCI website or websites of the organisation, visit your local provider’s schedule or consult Twitter instead.
3. There are two big movements in women’s cycling: those that feel women’s cycling can only develop when women race the same races as men and are aligned with men’s WT teams and those that think development can only be reached by sticking to their own races and scene. These movements are very passionate about their opinions.
1. Women’s cycling is proactive and progressive.
Women involved in the professional cycling industry rally together to create positive change. I think this proactive and progressive mentality is unique to the women’s side cycling. We recognize the need for equality in our sport and we frequently pull together to push for the developments in governance, events, team-rider environment and media coverage.
2. There is growth
The numbers are growing (even if it seems slow). More women are participating in cycling and racing their bikes. Organisers are creating more races that are longer and more challenging. Companies are spending more marketing dollars in women’s cycling. There’s better media coverage and growing traffic stats. More people are watching, reading and engaging. The push for equality is very slow, and we often run up against walls. There is so much work ahead but the numbers show growth.
3. Covering women’s cycling is rewarding
Covering women’s cycling has been the most rewarding experience in my career. Breaking down boundaries and building the stature of women’s professional bike racing makes me feel like I’m contributing to something greater than myself. I know that I’m making an impact. My proudest moment of the two decades that I’ve been involved in this sport was launching the Cyclingnews.com women’s page.
1. It’s all heart.
As I mentioned in the intro to this article, women’s cycling runs on passion. There is no money to be made and thus the majority of the people in the cycling world are in it simply for the love of cycling. It’s a risky business, often unsustainable and unstable. There are many reasons why people would be better off switching careers but it’s that love and dedication for the sport and/or the bicycling lifestyle that makes the bike world so beautiful. The riders, the staff, the industry folk , the fans –I’ve never been immersed in a more passionate community.
I have been touched by so many people I’ve met, and honoured by entrustment for me to tell their story.
2. It’s got everything
I never thought I would be working in sports journalism. As a journalist I have covered everything from politics to crime, but sports was never much on my radar despite having been an athlete my whole life. What I’ve learned these past two years is that sports has it all: incredibly powerful human interest stories, shocking hard news, the thrill of breaking news, and a strong advocacy side. It’s so much more than event reporting; it’s varied and interesting and it keeps me on my toes.
3. Our work is important
There are some days when this work can seem trivial, and on other days it’s overwhelming. But most days, I am motivated by the inequality in women’s sport and the need for a publication such as Ella. Across the board, women’s sports still only get a tiny fraction of media coverage, page views and funding. Not to toot our own horn but no other publication dedicates an entire site and staff to cover women’s cycling so thoroughly. From day one, we set out to use our medium to elevate women’s voices and build a community around women who bike. This is important work, not just for cycling but for women’s sports and women’s stories in general. Luckily, more publications have taken note and all of us journalists mentioned here work very hard to shine a light on the incredible protagonists of the sport, the great advances in bike technology as well as the injustices that keep occurring. Every article on women’s cycling is a step forward. And we need you to read them, share them and help us grow an audience.
Every rider on every start line has a story, and the ones that are most compelling are not always the ones that make the headlines.
Confidence counts – maybe more than anything else. It has been a treat to see (sometimes from a super up, close and personal perspective) riders blossom as they embrace their potential.
Sexism and double standards are pervasive in this sport. It makes me sad and angry and fiercely protective of other women in this sport – especially the athletes. Of course, I don’t think it’s a cycling problem. It’s a societal problem.
The women in professional cycling are strong, fierce and dedicated athletes. They are also dynamic, complicated and engaging human beings. The longer I work in cycling, the more interested I become in the human side of the sport. This sport makes me feel like I’ve found my tribe. Everyone (who wants a tribe) should have a tribe.