The Giro Rosa, the nearly invisible race

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The 2020 Giro Rosa is now going into its seventh stage and the race has been full of thrills and spills so far – not that anybody outside of those covering it or working it have been able to see much of the action.

Despite the best efforts of a few Twitter stalwarts and a daily highlights show on Eurosport/GCN and RAI, the race has gone largely unseen. There has been public outcry on social media from women’s cycling fans who are lamenting the fact that they are unable to watch the race live.

While those attempting to follow the race from home simply want to see an exciting race with some of their favourite riders play out in real time, to the riders and staff themselves it’s more personal.

“Obviously, it’s not good enough and I think it’s right that it’s being questioned,” said Lizzie Deignan of Trek-Segafredo. “I obviously want my friends and family to be able to support me and I think that some of the previous races that we’ve had live coverage for, like Plouay, La Course, and European [Chapionships] have shown just how attractive women’s cycling is.”

Over the past few years there has been a steady rise in the number of women’s races being shown live. Fans from all over the world have been able to put names to faces in the women’s peloton and pick out their favourites. In 2019, the UCI introduced a stipulation for Women’s WorldTour races specifying that they must show at least 45 minutes of live coverage to qualify for WWT status.

For reasons unbeknownst to all but the organisers and the UCI themselves, the Giro Rosa has managed to circumvent this regulation (alongside the limit on stage distance). In a statement about the lack of live coverage, Giro Rosa director Giuseppe Rivolta, said the following:

“The situation that the whole world is experiencing in recent months does not escape anyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has put every possible human activity in check, upsetting the plans of every workplace. Added to this is a great difficulty, known to all insiders, to find space in the television schedules. For this reason, with deep regret, we are unable to ensure the live television of the race.”

Rivolta implied that, in his view, the race being viable to run and covering it live were mutually exclusive possibilities. “Having to choose, we have decided to protect the women’s cycling movement and give up on live coverage,” he said, “allowing the women to compete, which they absolutely need, especially in light of the many other canceled races.”

For Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), the organisers’ reasoning did not suffice. The British rider described the lack of live coverage as “pretty disappointing.”

“I can see where they’re coming from with having to choose if they put the race on or if they cut back on budget but I think for us probably the most important thing is to have TV coverage,” she said. “Our sponsors are paying for us to be on TV and get the media coverage and this is the biggest race in our calendar so I think it’s disappointing and I hope other races will not do this because it is huge for us.

“We just want to show our jerseys and show our faces and hopefully it will get better.”

For many, the stinger in this particular case seems to be that the Giro Rosa is already a race which has become synonymous with bad logistics over the years. It seems to get away with such disappoinments by virtue of being the only race akin to a ‘grand tour’ that the women’s peloton has.

In fact, amongst the peloton and other veterans of the Giro, the shambolic organisation has become something of a joke – this year, though, few seem to find it very funny.

“It’s a joke,” said Lizzy Banks of Equipe Paule Ka, winner of stage 4. But she definitely wasn’t laughing. “People do want to invest in women’s cycling but if they can’t see it then they can’t invest in it.

“Give the people what they want. Let’s get their media out there. Let’s get it on TV.”

Banks after winning stage 4.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of FDJ Nouvelle Acquitaine was inclined to agree. “It’s super sad to be honest, yeah,” she said. “If it’s a WorldTour race they have an obligation to have the live coverage and it’s just a shame that that they don’t deliver this …

“It’s super sad because I see so many frustrated fans wanting to to watch the race.”

Dan Lloyd, Head of Racing at GCN – which acquired the rights to the highlights created by production company PMG Sports – suggests that his organisation can only show what’s being created.

“To the best of my knowledge I don’t remember ever being given a live offering, or certainly not in the last few months at least,” he said. “You can only show what’s being given to you; we don’t have a huge influence on what that would be.”

Lloyd sympathised with the frustrated Twitterati but was at pains to point out that the fault did not lie with GCN or other platforms. “I understand that people get frustrated with the people that are giving them the end product, but we’re just a sort of link in the chain really,” he said. “There is the end consumer and there are the people producing the live images, then there are people who are delivering those live images to the consumer.”

Lloyd did reveal that there’s a different production company involved this year, compared with last year. “It was a different company that we were negotiating with this year versus last year,” he said. “But as far as I was aware there wasn’t going to be any live production of the race for quite some time.”

Speculating on the reason behind the lack of live images, Lloyd added, “the reason will basically be budget as far as I’m concerned … it’s another example of the huge disparity between the sides of the sport.

“It’s not excusing it but, it’s like a chicken and egg: you want to get more exposure for the women’s racing and put it out there because that will build up the audience and people will get to know the personalities and the characters, and the more people understand about the racing the more people are going to want to watch it.”

Lloyd also gave an insight into the cost of well-produced live coverage of cycling races, which involves deploying helicopters and aeroplanes at great financial cost. “If you want to do a high-level production you need helicopters and aeroplanes above the race to bounce the images from the camera up to, and then they bounce them back down to where the TV compound is.

“It costs an enormous amount of money, particularly for bike racing because it’s a moving structure — it’s not a stadium where everything is in one place. It’s a challenge from a budget point of view.”

For those in the peloton who remember the days of no coverage whatsoever, the highlights are welcome even if they don’t go far enough. “It’s a good thing to know at least that there is a highlights package which will be available on GCN,” said Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (CCC-Liv). “Unfortunately, no live coverage but I suppose it’s better than nothing. Before we only had highlights packages on RAI Sports so it’s been mostly only covered in Italy so now at least there is international reach.”

It seems there is a fine line between the women’s peloton feeling the need to be grateful for every bone they are thrown when it comes to coverage and recognition, and being unwaveringly demanding of what they deserve. Many are hopeful that the introduction of the promised women’s Tour de France in 2022 will set a precedent for other races.

Ina Teutenberg, Trek-Segafredo directeur sportif is hopeful for the future of live TV coverage. “It’s sad, I mean what can I say? But hopefully it will get better,” she said. “Obviously the UCI have some rules that WorldTour races have to show a certain amount and hopefully once the organisations get feedback the TV stations will actually work on it a little bit better to show more live.”

Arguably, it is not the role of the riders themselves to advocate for their own rights; you could argue it should be the job of organisers, sponsors and TV production houses and platforms to step up. Thankfully, then, Lloyd said that at GCN: “we are really pushing for as much women’s coverage as we can possibly get.”

Let’s hope that in the not-too-distant future a women’s ‘grand tour’ can achieve the exposure it deserves.

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