Tuesday 31 July 2012

Armitstead on the issues facing women's cycling

Lizzie Armitstead
In an interview with Cycling News, Olympic silver medalist Lizzie Armitstead has hit out at "sexism and inequality" in cycling. That inequality exists is beyond doubt - it's common knowledge that many women even at the top level receive no salary at all while their male counterparts are paid a guaranteed minimum wage and the prizes awarded to race winners in women's cycling are, quite frankly, laughable compared to those in the majority of men's races. Many people will say that Armitstead is wrong in linking this to sexism and insist it's due to the harsh realities faced by the sport resulting from the simple fact that there is far less money in women's cycling. However, what the article doesn't make immediately clear is that she isn't saying that race organisers and UCI officials are overtly sexist (some of them may well be sexist, of course, but few of them would allow themselves to be seen as such) - she's saying that women's cycling's problems stem from a more deeply-rooted sexism, a belief in society that athletic competition between females can never be as exciting as athletic competition between men, and that the resulting smaller audience is why women's cycling doesn't get the attention it deserves. This  is a point of view that may not necessarily be correct; but it's a valid one shared by many and the UCI, as the body responsible for developing competitive cycling, has a duty to explore it.

Armitstead believes that one possible solution would be "forcing ProTour teams to have a women's team." That is certainly an option, and seems a good one at first - many people also support the idea of forcing race organisers to hold women's races alongside their men's events. But would it work? Would teams devote the time, money and media to their female riders as they do to their men?

When whether Team Sky should sponsor a women's team, Armitstead hits the nail on the head - "I think Team Sky is missing an opportunity," she says. That is the real answer: persuading, rather than forcing, teams that it is in their interest to have a women's team. That way, they'll give them the backing they deserve. Force them to run women's teams and they'll do so resentfully, fielding athletes who have been given the cheapest minimum of coaching, riding bikes that are only a fraction of the value and quality that the men on the team ride. Result: in the eyes of the public, who in many cases will not understand the underlying issues, female cyclists appear less talented and less competitive than the men. Sky have had plenty of opportunity to put together a women's team and have a budget more than high enough to run several; it seems clear, therefore, that they have no interest in doing so (note that they do sponsor female track cyclists - who enjoy a higher public profile than female road cyclists).

So, how can they be persuaded that women's teams will bring them more glory and, crucially, more sponsors? The riders themselves are already doing all they can - they ride to their limits, even if they've had to work a forty-hour week in order to be able to afford to be at the races in which they compete, and they raise the issues facing their sport whenever they can, just as Armitstead is doing. There are a few team officials and managers doing a superb job too - Stefan Wyman, owner of Britain's Matrix-Prendas, is a glowing example and has recently written a series of informative articles on the subject (the latest of which can be found here); so to is Karl Lima, manager of the Hitec Products-Mistral Home - both have fought for many years to get a fair deal for the athletes on their own teams and in women's cycling in general. Rabobank is another admirable case and provides excellent support for its highly successful women's team.

"The race with the Dutch girl and the English girl" -
Armitstead and Vos follow Olga Zabelinskaya
It seems, then, that it's up to fans. We can do a very great deal to save and improve the sport we love, especially right now - it's notable that people who have previously had no interest in cycling at all suddenly know the names Marianne Vos and Lizzie Armitstead because of the Women's Road Race at the Olympics (or at the very least are talking about "the race with the Dutch girl and the English girl" - hey, it's a start). We can help to make sure they keep talking about it - all we need to do is tell anyone who will listen why women's cycling is as great and as fascinating a sport as it is, write blogs about it, Tweet anything we find about it, share our knowledge and enthusiasm, go to races and encourage others to do so too. That way, we pass on the love to new fans and increase the audience, which in turn makes women's cycling far more tempting to potential sponsors - and it's their money that will persuade the teams and race organisers to make space for the women.

Monday 30 July 2012

New backer for Holland Ladies' Tour

Organisers of the Holland Ladies' Tour - among the most prestigious European women's cycling events now that the Giro Donne is the sole surviving women's Grand Tour - have revealed that they're successfully recruited a new main sponsor.

Chairman Marten de Lange announced at the end of January this year that the race had been temporarily suspended due to financial difficulties. However, around four weeks later he was able to confirm that the race would go ahead after other sponsors agreed to provide more backing, but that it would have to be a more "economical" event. "It would be a shame if this race was to disappear, especially now that it offers such a perfect prelude towards the world championship in Limburg one a week later," he said. "We are still negotiating with a potential sponsor. If that happens, we can make the race as good as previous years - which is what the successful women of Dutch cycling deserve."

The new backer, Brainwash, is a chain of hairdressers that will already be familiar to many fans, having maintained links to women's cycling for some years - it previously sponsored its own Brainwash team before becoming co-sponsor of the Rabobank Women's team. However, company managers had let it be known when the team closed that they remained keen to continue their support and presence in the sport: that they have now extended it is a promising sign that they've found the returns satisfactory. In difficult economic times that have seen numerous races and teams vanish due to financial problems, this goes a long way to encouraging other firms to become involved.

The race, which has been won in the past by such illustrious names as Leontien van Moorsel, Petra Rossner, Kristin Armstrong and new Olympic champion Marianne Vos, is due to take part between the 4th and 9th of September and will now become known as the Brainwash Women's Tour.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Idiocy at the Olympics does women's cycling no favours

So here we are, a week after a British rider won the world's greatest race and with cycling enjoying more popularity than ever before in Britain - and there's a major, international race going on courtesy of the Olympics. Great. Loads of people will be watching.

Which means loads of people will have just heard Chris Boardman's idiotic and destructive suggestion that the reason Jeannie Longo is still taking part in - and winning - races at the age of 54 must mean that women's cycling isn't as competitive as the men's.

Anyone who has ever watched a women's bike race will know that this is about as wrong as it's possible to be - so it's a pity that absolute morons come out with such utter tripe and discourage people who haven't seen a women's race before from doing so. It's precisely because of the smaller audiences, caused by this sort of thing, that women's cycling has difficulties in attracting sponsors and teams exist of annual budgets that wouldn't even cover the cost of the mood lighting on Sky's team buses.

Monday 23 July 2012

Sparkassen Giro Bochum 2012

In previous years, the Sparkassen Giro featured a stage race in addition to a criterium, but due to the Olympics it's down to just the criterium this year and doesn't have UCI status (it had been 1.1). Neverthless, it looks set to be a superb event: very few organisers do quite so much to ensure their efforts produce a great day out for cycling fans and the public as a whole - taking place in the German city Bochum on the 5th of August, there are no fewer than seven races (including one with dernys and another for inline skaters), live bands, circus entertainers and, to finish off the day, a fireworks display. This turns a race into a sort of one-day festival and ensures that the race attracts people with no previous interest in the sport, generating welcome income for the city as well as for the race itself; and if even only a few of those who come simply because it's a good, cheap day out for the kids go home thinking that this bike racing thing seems quite good fun and that they might go to a few more races in the future then the organisers can be said to have done a good job.

There are obvious parallels with the IG Markets Nocturne, which has used a similar concept to become one of Britain's most popular cycling events within just a few years. The physical aspects of the two events are very similar too, both using a tight urban criterium parcours that tests riders' skills, ensures all spectators can see the peloton go by several times and makes it very easy for television crews to capture all the action - which is precisely what the sponsors want and goes a long way towards guaranteeing their continued financial support. It's also the sort of parcours that best demonstrates the fast, furious and ever-changing nature of most women's cycling races, with attacks coming left, right and centre and the riders' order changing on every straight and corner.

The parcours is 1.5km in length and begins on Südring by the junction with Kortumstraße (51°28'43.27"N 7°13'1.13"E), a wide thoroughfare with trees along a central reservation that could make for slippery conditions in wet weather, then heads east into a gentle left-hand bend for around 500m and passes by the tall Europahaus tower. 165m after the tower is the tightest corner in the race, a very sharp left leading onto Massenbergstraße. Just across the road is a sculpture created by Richard Serra and consisting of four huge slabs of steel - it's called Terminal and will look familiar to any British fan who has been through London's Liverpool Street Station, as his almost identical Fulcrum stands just outside the station. In addition to a huge amount of street furniture, the corner is made dangerous by tramlines: they vanish again as soon as the riders get onto Massenbergstraße but are ideally placed to catch front wheels. There's also a low concrete kerb separating the two roads, too.

City Hall seen from Bongardstraße, where riders turn left
80m after the corner, riders pass by the entrance to a tunnel and follow the road for 294m through right and left-hand bends leading onto Bongardstraße - the visible through the buildings on the right is the Propsteikirche St. Peter und Paul, founded by Charlemagne and built between 785-800CE but extensively remodeled since. The road then straightens out and continues for 200m to a 90 degree left turn onto Viktoriastraße by the grand City Hall - there's a lot of street furniture along Bongardstraße, but the junction is very clean and smooth; Viktoriastraße remains the same for 135m before being split into two narrow lanes by a central reservation - a potential problem if a large number of riders attempt to get into the lane at the same time, creating a bottleneck. The last corner, a 90 degree left, lies 198m ahead; it's another wide, clear junction with the only obvious hazard being a manhole cover in the middle of the road, right in the line of riders on the right of the peloton - this could be very slippery if conditions are wet. Riders then continue straight along Südring, passing the finish line 80m later. As is always the case with urban races on roads used by trucks and buses, there is a possibility of spilled diesel along the entire parcours.

Start lists have not been released, but will be added here when available. This year, the race does not have UCI status - it had previously been 1.1. However, it attracted some of the top names in women's cycling over the last few years including Ellen van Dijk, Tiffany Cromwell, Chloe Hosking, Noemi Cantele, Valentina Scandolara, Linda Villumsen, Hanka Kupfernagel, Annie Simpson, Helen Wyman and current World Champion Giorgia Bronzini - it seems likely therefore that it will still draw a very competitive field.

Amateur race 13:00
KNAX MiniGiro 14:30
Professional Men 16:00
Professional Women 18:00
Fun Giro 19:30
Derny Race 20:00
Full programme including bands and fireworks

Tuesday 10 July 2012


"Rose of Winter" is a cyclist, artist and bicycle mechanic who makes a living buying up vintage bikes before restoring them into beautiful fixed-gear machines which are then sold on.

Brian is an idiot, who admits that he knows nothing about "bykes" (as he calls them), but seems to think that he still knows more about them than "Rose of Winter" does, probably because she happens to be a woman.

Here's a hilarious account of what happened when they met on Ebay.

Have you ever heard of... Hélène Dutrieu?

Hélène Dutrieu
Born in Tournai, Belgium on this day in 1877, Hélène Dutrieu became arguably the world's first female cycling superstar. Her father, an officer in the Belgian Army, seems to have been of the unusually enlightened opinion that girls and young women should be permitted to have ambitions other than marriage and children; having been raised in such a healthy and nurturing environment she decided after leaving school at the age of 14 to make her way in the world of work. We don't know when she began riding a bike, but there's a good chance that like many of the male cyclists who turned professional in those days she used a bike to get to work and discovered she was good at riding it - and at the age of sixteen she turned professional with the Simpson Lever team.

In 1895, Dutrieu set a women's hour record and she won the World Speed Track Championships in Ostend in both 1897 and 1898, becoming a household name and earning the nickname La Flèche Humaine. In August 1898 she also won the Grand Prix d'Europe, then a few months later the Course de 12 Jours in London - for which she was awarded the Cross of St André by the king of Belgium. In those days, it was impossible for even a woman as talented as Dutrieu to make a living from racing (even now, more than a century later, the vast majority of "professional" female cyclists are forced to find work between races); so she began appearing at variety shows and public events as a stunt rider, one of her most famous stunts being to ride a vertical loop. She also performed stunts on a motorbike and in cars, later becoming a racing driver.

In 1910, Dutrieu became the first woman to pilot a plane with a passenger; later that year she became the fourth woman in the world (and the first from Belgium) to earn a full pilot's licence, after which she became a stunt aviator with a new nickname - The Girl Hawk - and won numerous competitions and set new records (and caused a minor scandal when she revealed that she didn't wear a corset when flying). In the First World War she drove an ambulance between the trenches and was later installed as director of a military hospital, then after the conflict ended she became a journalist. When she married in 1922 she took French nationality, later becoming vice-president of the women's Aero Club of France and established the Coupe Hélène Dutrieu-Mortier, an award of 200,000 francs for the female Belgian or French pilot to have completed the longest flight in any one year. She died on the 26th of June 1961, aged 83.

Monday 9 July 2012

Have you ever wondered...

...where 80% of the trophies produced annually end up? This video explains all.


Part 2

Part 3