Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Unofficial, Unsanctioned Social Media Jersey

We all know that women's cycling - and the riders themselves - get a seriously bad deal when compared to the men. They don't get a guaranteed minimum wage (the ProTour men do), their teams are run on shoestring budgets and there's little job security because of the ever-present threat of sponsors pulling the plug and the prize money at most races is considerably less than any one of them could get for putting in a full week's work at a fast food outlet.

So why do they even bother? Simple - they love their sport. That's obvious from the look of sheer joy when they win (there's none of that "Well, what do you expect - I'm the greatest" bullshit macho arrogance you get with the men), the non-stop attacking way that they ride and when they turn up at race after race despite knowing it'll have probably been organised on a budget that wouldn't even get a ProTour rider out of his bed (or even paid for his sheets) and that even if they're lucky enough to win, they frequently don't win enough to cover the cost of getting there in the first place.

"Not as competitive," eh?
We all know why women's cycling is like this, too - because people like UCI president Pat McQuaid tell the world that women's cycling isn't developed enough for the riders to deserve a fair deal and because far too many people seem to still believe that female athletes aren't as competitive as the men. Fortunately, most people are bright enough to realise how mistaken they were the moment they actually see a women's race. Unfortunately, the vast majority of cycling fans will never see one because women's cycling is almost entirely ignored by the media (and a great big chapeau to those organisations that have seen the light - there are a few out there).

Fans do their bit, with blogs (I'm willing to put myself forward as representative of all women's cycling bloggers so everyone can buy me drinks, by the way) and Tweets and videos on YouTube, quite a few of which put the official videos that get made at some races to shame. There are directeurs sportif who do their bit, too. Fans do it because we like it and because we want to give something back to the riders who make the sport so enjoyable, directeurs sportif do it (and those who don't should) do it because one of the myriad aspects of their job is to help promote their team. The riders shouldn't have to do it, because they've already fulfilled their part of the deal by, well, riding. Yet they do.

Without Helen Wyman, British CX
fans would have a far harder time
following the sport
The first thing that your average male rider does after a race is find out if he's being called in for a dope test, then he might favour a journalist with a few words if he's won and they want to talk to him before heading straight off for a massage and a shower, followed no doubt with a bit of a snooze. The first thing many of the female riders do is fire up the Blackberry or laptop and bash out a few hundred words ensuring that their loyal fans get to hear about what happened in the race, because you can bet your last sachet of energy gel that they won't be able to read about it in the newspapers - and some of them have become almost as renowned for their reports as for their racing; people such as Marijn de Vries, whose own website is one of funniest and most fascinating cycling resources on the Net (Marijn is in fact a journalist; she's also an active and friendly Twitterer), and Helen Wyman, whose cyclo cross race reports are pretty much the only way for English-speaking fans to follow European women's CX.

That riders take part in races and in many cases hold down jobs to make ends meet, then find the time and the will to keep fans informed, answer their questions and promote their sport is worthy of serious respect - and recognition. Hence...

The idea was thought up by Sarah and Dan, two fans who blog and take the photos at races that other fans want to see and the mainstream media doesn't provide. The jersey competition will be for any riders who are racing in three European events this September - the hilly Tour de l’Ardèche (3rd-9th September 2012, France), the sprint-tastic Brainwash Ladies Tour (4th-9th September, 2012, the Netherlands) and the Giro della Toscana (29th August-2nd September) and it will go to the rider who’s been the best at using social media to share their thoughts on the race. Anyone will be able to nominate a rider for the jersey, based on their tweets, websites, blogs on team sites, or any form of social media.  The only restriction is that is has to be public and it’s got to be vaguely related to those races. It doesn’t matter what language they’re using, or whether it’s a series of pieces, or just a couple of photos or pithy tweets. If you see something you like, they would like you to nominate it for inclusion. I think this is a very good idea, and going by the number of retweets made by some of the top names in cycling, so do a lot of riders - female and male.

Sarah, when she first explained the idea, thought that with a little luck they might receive sufficient donations to award a t-shirt and perhaps $100 to the chosen rider. Within 48 hours of launching their website and making the idea public, donations topped $870. Days later, it's up to $1,100. That's a lot more than first prize at a lot of races (it's more than the entire prize pot at a few), and will make a real difference to the rider that wins it.

You can get involved, either by donating or, if you can't afford to donate, simply by helping to spread awareness - all it takes is a Tweet.

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