Last week saw a momentous change in the world of bike racing. The International Cycling Union saw long-standing president Pat McQuaid ousted in favour of Brian Cookson, the president of British Cycling.
McQuaid faced much criticism during his presidency, not least for failing to take a strong enough stance against the doping that tarnished the sport. Cookson — best known for overseeing the recent renaissance of British bike racing — ushers in a new era for cycling’s international governing body.
The change has generated particular excitement among female cyclists who have long been calling for an equal platform and, in particular, a women’s version of bike racing’s flagship event, the Tour de France. A women’s version of the Tour was introduced in 1984, but without the media attention or sponsorship lavished on the men’s event, it could not survive and folded five years later.
Since then, cycling’s governing bodies have adamantly stuck to their guns as far as a women’s Tour is concerned: it’s logistically too difficult to attempt to run a second race in conjunction with the massive cycling circus that the men’s event has become. There wouldn’t be enough hotel rooms en route to support a women’s race. And most frustratingly: women aren’t physically strong enough to compete in a race as grueling as the Tour.
Most of these excuses have been debunked as exactly that. There are plenty of large scale, world-class cycling events that can and do have a women’s race alongside the men’s, such as the Tour of Flanders and the Fleche Wallone. In Vancouver, we have the Gastown Grand Prix and the UBC Grand Prix, both part of B.C. Superweek that includes women’s races in all five events.
As B.C. Superweek proves, holding the men’s and women’s events on the same day ensures critical infrastructure is already in place and media coverage is guaranteed.
Sports physiologists have confirmed that women are capable of competing at these distances, regardless of current International Cycling Union restrictions that limit us to much shorter distances and durations.
Anyone who’s attended the criterion through Gastown knows women’s racing is exciting, dynamic and a wonderful spectator sport. It’s sad that these opportunities don’t extend to the most elite events in world cycling, those races that appeal to global audiences, draw millions in sponsorship dollars and also motivate other athletes — of both genders, ideally — to take up the sport.
A dedicated group, led by cyclists Marianne Vos and Emily Pooley as well as World Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington and pro-cyclist and ESPN columnist Kathryn Bertine, has been advocating for a women’s Tour.
Their campaign, called Le Tour Entier, aspires to change cycling. On their website you can read the group’s manifesto, learn more about the benefits of a women’s Tour de France, and sign a petition supporting the introduction of what would undoubtedly be a game-changing event for women’s cycling. More than 95,000 people have already signed on.
For now, the election of Cookson to top of the International Cycling Union gives female cyclists hope that after the long status quo of the McQuaid years, change is at last a possibility.
Bertine, the cyclist and columnist, voiced her support and optimism. “We believe that Brian Cookson […] presents an opportunity for women’s cycling to move forward.”
I very much hope she’s right.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at www.sidecut.ca, or send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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