The SHEcret Pro: On Worlds, minimum wages, and Grand Tours for women

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The SHEcret Pro is back and she’s got a lot on her mind! In this post our anonymous insider gives us the goss from the Road World Championships, offers her thoughts on the newly announced minimum wage for top women’s teams, and explains her frustrations with calls for three-week women’s races.

Well, here I am, almost at the end of yet another professional season. I’m on a bit of a high after the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, a race that had more climbing than any other recent edition of Worlds. It must be said that while the course was tough, it wasn’t necessarily the unequivocally rider-against-gravity race that some were expecting.

Granted, the 14%, 5km Gnadenwald climb ignited some pain, and shed a few riders who were never going to make it anyway, but it was too early in the race for the real contenders to risk pulling off any big attacks there. The Olympic Circuit climbs were hard too, but there were notably some ‘non-climbers’ up there, making the race hard and mixing things up.

It was odd watching US national champion (and sprinter) Coryn Rivera in a breakaway she had no business being near, attacking over the top of climbing specialists. It’s this kind of stuff that makes Worlds so special — it doesn’t follow the pattern of what we expect in Women’s WorldTour races.

That said, it really came as no surprise that it was one of the Dutch ‘unholy trinity’ that took the win. This time it was Anna van der Breggen who took the victory with a now-trademark solo move. With a team of seven behind her, including recently re-crowned world time trial champion Annemiek van Vlueten, and last year’s world road champ Chantal Blaak, the Dutchies were going to be hard to derail.

I feel a bit like the peloton heaved a big sigh of ‘of course’ when we heard from our team cars that van der Breggen was three minutes up the road. If I’m being honest — and, dear reader, we know each other well enough now to know that I am — I think van der Breggen was always likely to win, regardless of the parcours. She has won lots of big races in her career but the rainbow stripes were one of the only big victories missing from her palmares. She had been working towards this one for a long time.

Never forget that cycling is a sport where you lose way more often than you win, so to chip away over the years and opt out of some big races this year (ahem, the Giro Rosa?) meant that, unlike many others who just turned up because it was Worlds, (especially in the men’s race) van der Breggen’s planning was en pointe.

Van der Breggen was able to create some insane time gaps by the finish, and it does have the rest of the peloton thinking ‘Just what does she do that makes her SO good?” A lot of us just put it down to ‘Dutch blood’ and leave it as that, continuing to better ourselves in any honest way we know how.

She mightn’t be like this with her own teammates, but to the rest of the peloton Anna is a woman of few words and usually keeps very well composed after big wins. However, you could see by her face on the podium just how happy and relieved she was to become the 2018 world champion. Chapeau Anna, may we all be like you. Or Annemiek. We all wish we were as tough and tenacious as her.

And finally on Worlds, well done to Amanda Spratt on her second place. As one rider said to me afterwards, “Getting silver to the Dutch is basically like gold.”

Minimum wage

In other news, the UCI has announced a minimum wage for top-tier women’s riders — €30,855 per year (around AU$50,000 or US$36,000). That is a hell of a lot more than my teammates or I get close to earning, same with many others I have spoken to. We survive on the smell of an oily rag, and hoard food from buffets so we can avoid paying for our own snacks on long car trips across Europe.

At some point I could probably write a whole article on the ins and outs of the newly announced structure and wage. At the moment though, with only limited information about the actual terms and conditions, the peloton is agreed that, on face value, it seems to be a good thing.

From a purely selfish rider’s perspective, it would be a huge relief to know that professional cycling could be a viable, long-term career. Imagine not having the stress of having to find an off-season job so you can pay rent! Or feeling guilty that your other half does the lion’s share of the earning when you are off busting your guts and ripping up your skin for not much more than a ‘token’ wage.

But a minimum wage isn’t without its risks. It has the potential to threaten the livelihood of the very teams that make up the women’s peloton; teams that exist thanks to the passion and commitment of staff and sponsors. On the flipside it might motivate riders to step up even more now that there is an actual monetary incentive …

Will a minimum wage make it harder to get signed to one of the new top ‘WorldTeams’? I for one am certainly aiming to step up my training, professionalism, and racecraft next year to try and catch the attention of as many teams as possible. I know I’m not the only one.

Grand Tours for women?

Let’s talk about the push for longer races and three-week Grand Tours for women. To all of you keyboard warriors and well-meaning women’s advocates out there: stop trying to get us to race the same distance as the men! There is a well-defined set of reasons why this isn’t currently feasible, nor has anyone asked the current crop of racers if it’s what we actually want.

Yes, it is super impressive that a group of women can ride the men’s Tour de France course, or that one woman rode every stage of the Vuelta a España before the actual race, but those physical accomplishments deserve applause as their own feats. It is not helpful to use them as a gauge for the capacity of Women’s WorldTour racing.

I for one wouldn’t have the mental fortitude or patience to complete such impressive feats, but it does miff me that these efforts seem to receive more media attention than our racing just because they are directly comparable to a men’s course. The men are not just riding the Tour or Vuelta, either — they are out there doing some of the hardest and most awe-inspiring athletic things you can do. If they just wanted to ride it for distance’s sake you wouldn’t see them in a team jersey.

Congrats and thanks to the ladies riding the men’s courses, for achieving awesome physical feats. But let’s be clear — this doesn’t translate to racing. I feel these feats overshadow the voice of the actual women’s peloton.

Women’s racing is hard and it is exciting, but we do not have the depth (yet — the WWT has only been around a few years) to field large enough teams and to have riders prepare for these three-week tours between calendar clashes. Most obviously, we do not have the resources to completely support the sheer physical commitment that Grand Tours require.

For many teams on tour, we are cooking our own dinners, or sleeping in average hotels with compromised temperature control. Only a select few teams have buses with showers and places to relax. Often, we do not have the budget to employ enough staff to support a three-week tour. We’re just not there yet.

And what of the suggestion that we women should be racing the same distance as the men? Women’s racing is its own wonderful thing, with characters and wonder and exciting storylines everyday. I think you will find that slapping another 100km on to our races — just to make them a carbon copy of men’s races that so many worship — won’t automatically make them better.

We don’t need more kilometres, we need more TV time, more media coverage, and more viable prize money. Hell, make the courses more technical if you want excitement.

I think women’s racing has the potential to be more attractive to spectators. What we lack is the ground-level resources to have the same privileges as the men’s teams. There is so much behind the scenes that needs work, but let’s not let that overshadow the good work that is already being done.

Things are changing. We just need you, dear readers, to believe in us as much as we do ourselves.

The off-season … and China

So, with Worlds now done, it’s straight to the gelato and cake for most of the peloton. Most of us are embracing the off-season, particular those of us that raced Worlds and that may have been extra vigilant with our nutrition in order to gain any advantage we could over the bergs of Innsbruck.

I don’t usually like to follow the yoyo diet trend, but man it was good to get a double scoop chocolate gelato the day after the race, and enjoy some G&Ts in Innsbruck instead of yet another recovery shake.

We are human, after all, and cycling is full-time. During the season you can’t just switch off from being a cyclist. Every decision you make affects your ability to perform. Right now it’s like Friday afternoon has finally come for us and we get an extra-long weekend.

Before we can fully relax though, there’s one more race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar: the Tour of Guangxi in China. Anyone in the peloton I have spoken to about it has rolled their eyes and referred to it as a ‘holiday race’. Most of us will go home and put our legs up for a few weeks, only to try bringing them back to life in some sort of capacity for this one-day race. I like to reframe it as ‘going in fresh’.

The race is 140km long on a punchy course, so the racing will be hard, especially with precious WorldTour points up for grabs. These hold even more weight now that points mean a potential ‘WorldTeam’ name badge.

I do think it is kind of a shame that the peloton sees Guangxi as a joke, but the truth is, it really is at a silly time of the year. Many riders are running on fumes after a long, tough season, and unlike men’s teams we don’t have a neo-pro squad we can send out to the later races while the big names enter off-season mode, mentally and physically.

I think we will see some Asian teams looking to take advantage of the sleepy legs of the Euro teams, just like the Australians do at the Tour Down Under.

In any case, I will be to China with a role to play for my team and if I’m going well, I’ll have a go. That’s another good aspect of this race. There are so many riders absent or cooked, that you can put your hand up to be the protected rider and get the spot.

China is actually a really fun place to race and the way I see it, every race makes me a better racer.

Until next time,

The SHEcret Pro

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