Where are all the Women?

I’ve wanted to write a post about the lack of female participation in road racing in Switzerland, and other places for a while now. Although I only really started to race last year, I come from a background as a professional rower and top-level multi-sport athlete so you can assume that I at least have some good references for comparison through the other sports I have done.

Now, I’m not going to bang on about how women receive so little coverage in cycling (we all know that is true – for whatever reasons) but what I am going to bang on about why I think it is that way and what could be done about it.

Have you heard of the expression “the fish stinks from the head”? I never did, until I came to Switzerland. Ironically that is where the UCI is located too, in Lausanne. The UCI and the media don’t do women’s road racing justice. Back in 1924 Alfonsina Strada rode in the Giro d’Italia. I believe she got more coverage than the current women’s peloton get on television these days. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have seen the female peloton on television (outside of the Olympics and the World Road Championships).

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Alfonsina Strada, women’s cycling pioneer

Of course, the UCI are not the sole culprits. Clubs and national federations are also to blame. There just isn’t enough being done at the club level to encourage young women to get out there and cycle bikes. Without an increase in the number of women riding at a young age, the landscape will never change. Young girls will always be turned off riding in a club full of older men so the clubs need to start recruiting young teenagers and planning fun events to encourage them to participate. When I asked some local Swiss club riders if they had any young female talent in their clubs, and why weren’t they racing, they replied that the clubs are mainly for people to get together and train, but not for teaching them how to race. But surely, I ask, isn’t that also the purpose and duty of the clubs? To develop young riders? To teach them all about the art of cycling? To present them with the opportunity to race? Most teenagers love socializing and rarely need an excuse to get together – presenting them with one that is as much fun as riding around the countryside and forests together would surely be really successful!

Lack of Race Categorization and Standardization

Another problem I see exists, at least in Switzerland, is that event organizers don’t categorize their races effectively. In Ireland, as far as I know, there are 4 categories – everyone can get a slice of the cake. In Switzerland however, there are just elite races with 2 categories for women if you are lucky (Femmes Elite (FE) and Femmes B (Femmes B)) or Jedermann/Granfondo races (for non-licensed riders these events are similiar to Sportives but timed) The majority of the participants in the elite races are at quite a high level, they are mostly pro or semi-pro’s -therefore it is very discouraging for amateur riders to take part as they have little to no chance to keep up with the bunch. How hard would it be, for a governing body, to develop some better rules about the categorization of events? If anything it would make the events more commercially viable and attractive to a more cyclists with a wider range of abilities.

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