A missing mountain at the women’s Road Worlds

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“Dear reader, can you help me?” Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig asked, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I’m struggling to understand why there often is a significant difference between the men’s and women’s courses.”

It’s never long before the subject of inequality rears its head in the world of cycling. The most recent is to do with the World Championships due to be held in Innsbruck, Austria this September. Last week, Ludwig, a pro cyclist with Cervelo-Bigla, wrote a blog wondering aloud why women’s courses so often lack marquee features used in the men’s race.

Not why they’re shorter, or why they’re held on a different day. A simple question: Why is the most spectacular section of the men’s race removed from the women’s?

Missing from Uttrup Ludwig’s event is a climb that will be the crux of the men’s race, with eye-watering gradients of up to 28%. “The final climb looked like a mountain bike endurance race, it’s so hard,” Vincenzo Nibali said after a race reconnaissance back in March. Uttrup Ludwig is not arguing that the women’s race needs to be the same distance as the men’s, she’s more than happy with the 150km race distance. She feels that the lack of the climb, known locally as the Höll, Hell in German, will be yet another moment in cycling’s history where the women’s racing isn’t given the equivalent platform to shine as the men’s.

This isn’t the first year where certain key climbs have featured on the men’s World Championships race and were not included on the women’s. There were similar course disparities last year at Bergen, Norway on the individual time-trial. Whilst the men’s race finished atop Mount Fløyen, the women’s was a flat finish into Bergen.

The Giro Rosa will climb the Zoncolan in just over a week’s time. Yet Mount Fløyen was viewed as too much at Road Worlds.

The UCI offered an explanation of this year’s disparity to Cycling Weekly’s Owen Rogers that is, on its face, reasonable:

“Despite the desire to include the Hell Climb in the Women Elite and Men Under 23 Road Race, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Innsbruck 2018 Organising Committee have taken into account the concerns of the population and the recommendations of the city’s security services to limit the use of the climb to a single passage on the final Sunday of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships for the Men Elite Road Race.

“We are nevertheless convinced that the route decided on for all other categories, with the demanding 8km-long Igles Climb which has an average gradient of six per cent is a demanding circuit.”

It has since come to light that on the morning of the women’s road race there will be a closed road sportive held on the Höll just hours before the women’s race will reach Innsbruck. This runs in contrast to the stated difficulties as laid out by the UCI.

“I’ve just been told that whilst the UCI have said the hill can’t be closed off twice for both the men’s and women’s races, due to local stipulations and security reasons, the hill is actually being closed on the Saturday morning for amateurs to ride up and down,’ Uttrup Ludwig told CyclingTips.

“I think this is a joke, and again shows how women’s professional cycling is regarded compared to the men’s.”

The UCI has not responded to further requests for comment on the subject.

The sportive is a 3.2km out-and-back hill climb where the fastest male and female will be awarded prizes. It’s meant to build excitement and provide a bit of revenue for the organizing committee. It need not be run at the expense of the women’s elite race, though. The sportive starts at 10 am and all participants have to be off the course by 12:30 pm. Meanwhile, the women’s race, starting 80km away, rolls out of Kufstein at 12:10 pm and isn’t expected to arrive onto the final circuits by Innsbruck until 2:30 pm. This gives ample time for the course to be clear and safe for the women to arrive and be able to incorporate the Höll climb within the last 10km of their race, too.

Currently, there are 41 out of 1500 available entries filled in the sportive.

The road race is not the only source of course disparity. The men’s individual time-trial includes the 2.6km, 10% Gnadenwald climb, whereas the women’s does not.

The UCI’s president, David Lappartient, announced last week that he is satisfied with the approval of their 2020 roadmap, which touted major moves toward equality between the men’s and women’s side of the sport. But the devil is in the details. There are mountains missing from the women’s world championships, and the UCI knows where to find them.

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