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We are still far removed from complete equality in professional women’s and men’s cycling. Despite several developments over the past couple of years, like the introduction of the Women’s WorldTour and increasing the maximum length of women’s races, there is still a long way to go.
But, to end the road season with some positivity, let’s celebrate the moments of parity. Whether organisers stepped up to offer equal prize money, or riders proved just how strong women athletes are, here are six occasions when men and women were on par.
1. Equal prize money at 2017 World Road Champs
The 2017 World Road Championships in Bergen, Norway, were the first world championships to offer equal prize money for men and women in every event. Although prize equality at Worlds was introduced in 2013, the team time trials were not included. That changed this year.
“This decision, in line with Brian Cookson’s desire to develop women’s cycling, means that men and women across all disciplines, categories and specialities, now benefit from identical prize money at all UCI World Championships,” said the UCI statement regarding the decision last year.
Team Sunweb won 33,333 Euros ($50,000 Australian dollars) for each of their wins in the men’s and women’s team time trial. Chantal Blaak and Peter Sagan received 7,667 Euros each for their road race victory, with the silver and bronze medallists taking home 5,367 and 3,067 Euros respectively. And Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) won 3,833 Euros each for their victory in the individual time trial, while 2,300 and 1,633 Euros was awarded to the silver and bronze ITT medallists.
Although it’s still the exception to the rule, more race organisers have started to offer equal prize money for men and women. In September, World Cup Waterloo became the first UCI World Cup cyclocross event to offer equal prize money. The Women’s WorldTour event, the Prudential RideLondon has been offering an equal prize purse for the past two years — and the largest prize purse in women’s cycling at that. Other events, like the 2017 National Women’s Road Series in Great Britain following suit, offering the same prize as the men’s Spring Cup and Grand Prix Series.
2. Turning things around: more money in the Yorkshire women’s race
The Asda Tour de Yorkshire took it one step further in 2016 by offering a higher prize purse for the one-day women’s race than the three-day men’s race.
Thanks to a sponsorship deal with Asda, the Tour de Yorkshire was able to offer 20,000 Euros to the winner of the women’s race, compared to the 14,000 Euros that could be earned at a max, when a rider would win all stages and the overall in the men’s race.
The record prize purse attracted a star-studded field and it was Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild (Team Hitec) who took the victory and the prize money that went with it.
In 2017, the prize money was brought back down to 17,500 Euros for the winner of the women’s race, which is still far more than most other women’s races. With her victory, Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) earned over 15 times the amount that teammate Anna van der Breggen received when she won the biggest stage race on the women’s calendar, the Giro Rosa.
3. Stevens’ and Worrack’s 2014 Grand Tour
In 2014, Evelyn Stevens and Trixi Worrack, teammates at Specialized-lululemon, entered two back-to-back stage races to create their own Grand Tour. They started with the 10-day Giro Rosa and then traveled on to Germany to start in the Thüringen Rundfahrt a day later.
Although a men’s Grand Tour is 21 days, it also includes a minimum of two rest days. Stevens and Worrack raced 17 days straight, with a transfer from Italy to Germany in between.
“The point of it is, the female body, we can race Grand Tour lengths,” Stevens said in an ESPN interview afterwards. “We’re not going to get weaker throughout it.”
“Going into it, it was more of a personal thing, ‘Can I do this?’ and then as it went along it was, ‘Wait a minute, if I can do this, all these other women that I compete against, they can do it as well.’ It’s just a matter of having the opportunity to showcase ourselves.”
What’s most incredible about this performance is that Stevens, going against a fresh peloton, actually won the Thüringen Rundfahrt, taking the leader’s jersey after her stage four win and defending it for the last two stages. It shows women are also capable of doing a proper Grand Tour.
Stevens told ESPN she was getting stronger throughout the experience.
“The most fascinating part of the experience was that I got stronger,” she said. “I hit my best one-minute power (numbers) of the year on Day 16 of it. You hit this point of tired and it doesn’t really get any worse. You’re just there. Once I realised, ‘I’m gonna hurt for this amount of time,’ it actually got easier. It was interesting to see how the body and mind adapted to it.”
4. Equal field sizes in cyclocross
Men’s cycling has a long history and it has had a long time to develop to where it is now. Men’s cycling is also much more televised, meaning young boys are inspired to take up cycling themselves. Women’s cycling, however, is still very much in a development stage, and participation numbers are therefore much lower than in men’s cycling.
However, there have been several cyclocross races now, where the men and women’s fields were on par. Furthermore, in the last World Cup race of the 2016-2017 cyclocross season, Hoogerheide, we saw something exceptional: more female participants took to the start of the Dutch cyclocross race than male riders. A field of 71 women lined up for the race, which was eventually won by Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling).
About an hour and a half later, there were 65 men that battled for the win in their World Cup race, which means the women’s field was almost 10% larger.
5. Annemiek van Vleuten’s Strava ranking on the Col d’Izoard
When Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) conquered the Col d’Izoard on her way to winning this year’s new-style La Course by le TDF, it wasn’t just a dominant race victory, she also set the third fastest time on that Strava segment, men and women’s ranking combined.
Although the La Course win was obviously the most important result of the day, only two men have recorded faster Strava times up the Col d’Izoard than Van Vleuten — King of the Mountain Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) and 2017 Tour de France third-place finisher, Romain Bardait (AG2R).
That’s quite an impressive feat by the Dutchwoman, who crowned herself World Time Trial Champion this month.
6. Dual programmes
Teams with both a women’s and a men’s program have come and gone. Some were successful like the former Rabobank teams while others were much criticised for treating its women’s program as a side project.
Currently, Orica-Scott and Sunweb are two teams that have both a women’s and men’s team and both are seeing a lot of success with both their programmes.
Riders from Sunweb in fact credited the sharing of resources and parity in treatment as one of the reasons for that success.
Proud to be part of a team that believes in equality! Both teams shared resources & prepared in the same way, resulting in 2x world titles! pic.twitter.com/y2xvWQOupL
— Leah Kirchmann (@L_Kirch) 18 september 2017
In talking with Ella CyclingTips, Sunweb’s Ellen van Dijk stated that the team’s equal approach to time trials for both the women and men was an important factor in signing for the team in 2017. Both teams won the team time trial at the 2017 World Championships in Bergen in September, so that is something to be said for Sunweb’s parity approach.
When Movistar announced it would debut a women’s program in 2018, they too placed an emphasis on ensuring the women would receive the same equipment as the men and would be offered “the best conditions possible.”
Let’s hope other teams will follow suit.