After winning her first WorldTour race of the season at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday, Annemiek van Vleuten said that winning women’s races has become harder to do. The 39-year-old has, in the past, easily dominated the Women’s WorldTour, often taking solo wins by large margins.
This year, however, the increased depth of the women’s peloton has given her greater competition, something, she says, that is down to teams paying living wages to their riders — which Van Vleuten believes is more valuable than prize money.
“I’m not a big advocate of more prize money,” she told VeloNews. “Prize money will not raise the level but a minimum salary for everyone in a WorldTour, that will raise the level and people can go full time. That will give us better battles and it will make the sport more interesting and more international…The creation of the Tour de France Femmes has got a lot of teams interested. They see now that from a commercial point of view more interesting to have a women’s team. That causes more money in women’s cycling. Already, 14 teams pay a minimum salary. That’s huge. Two years ago, teams were complaining. So, I think that is awesome.”
With more riders able to make a living from racing, teams are better equipped to work together in races, she says.
“It’s more dynamic and more teams have a plan to win. I’m also super happy with FDJ, for example, they have Grace Brown and Marta Cavalli out there and you can see they also have a like a plan to win. When I started cycling there were only two or three teams [with a plan]. This year is a really huge step in that more teams take responsibility to go for the win and have a plan and not only follow the strongest teams.”
Van Vleuten also pointed out that the Tour de France Femmes has not only influenced team dynamics, but has inspired other races to better their offering.
“I like that now the Giro d’Italia announced, for example, the course way more early. They feel the pressure, I think, I don’t know, but at least I have the feeling they feel the pressure like ‘oh, we also should come up with the courses and cannot wait until one month to go,’” she said. “They know that they have to show it on television, and they cannot sit back and relax and think we are the best stage race.”
The former world champion, who been in the sport for almost fifteen years, noted the growth in women’s cycling over the years. “I cannot explain how big women’s cycling has grown since I started. It’s super cool to be part of that and it’s super important people also ask now ‘hey, why is this race on television?’ Years ago, never would they ask that question. I love that. It’s a good development.”
“Before no one was watching women’s cycling, only the really hardcore fans, but now you also have a lot of people that switch and were first a fan of men’s cycling. Sometimes they say like, ‘I think the women’s race is more interesting. I’m more keen to stay at home for the women’s race.’ When I hear that, that makes me proud. In the end, we’re also here to entertain and inspire people.”