This week is one of the few in the year in which women's road cyclists share the spotlight with their male counterparts.

The Road World Championships are being staged in Tuscany and tomorrow's Elite Women's race provides Great Britain's Lizzie Armitstead with the opportunity to better her Olympic silver medal from London 2012 by winning gold.

For female riders, this week is certainly a divergence from the norm: being afforded the same stage, media coverage and pomp as the men is a rarity. While the top men's road race teams have a trio of grand tours, not to mention the other stage races and countless one-day races throughout the course of their season, the women scrabble around attempting to find enough races to fill their calendar.

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This issue has been highlighted most recently with the push from several high-profile female riders to have a women's Tour de France resurrected. Britain's Emma Pooley is one of the main protagonists of a women's Tour, the idea being that the women's race would run alongside the men's equivalent. Pooley launched a petition calling for parity which has, so far, garnered over 94,000 signatures.

That women's sport should struggle to occupy the public's consciousness in comparison with its men's equivalent is nothing new, but in road cycling the situation is particularly bad. That the World Championships is one of the few events in which the men and women compete concurrently seems something of an anomaly.

For the men's road races, the roads are closed, the media turn up in droves and spectators flock to the event in huge numbers. So the obvious solution to eradicate, or at least reduce, the disparity between the men's side of the sport and the women's is to stage both races on the same day. This way, surely everyone wins - the female riders have the opportunity to race in front of sizeable crowds, the media are likely to cover it as they are there anyway and the spectators see twice the amount of action, with the men's race remaining unaffected.

In theory, it sounds like a no-brainer. But there are a few sticking points: firstly, all three men's grand tours are over a distance which exceeds the limit allowed by Union Cycliste Internationale for women's races. But the petition calling for a women's Tour makes a compelling case for this rule to be changed.

"In the 1960s, people assumed women couldn't run the marathon," read the petition. "Thirty years on, we see how erroneous this was."

This is a valid point; there are few sporting feats that men can complete exclusively. The women's times may be slower, but speed is not the fundamental barometer of entertainment. At London 2012, the women's road race was infinitely more exciting than the men's, with the Netherlands' Marianne Vos coming away with gold in an open, compelling race. This victory only added to Vos' claim to the title of 'greatest cyclist who has ever lived', male or female. The Dutchwoman is equally vocal about the disparity between men's and women's cycling.

Secondly, race organisers appear reluctant to embrace a women's race. Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, poured cold water on the idea of a complementary women's race as soon as it was mooted. He claimed that, logistically, it was impossible because of the scale of the men's event, which is already close to bursting point.

If cycling is to gain equality then more work must be done to make a women's race feasible.

At present, the most prominent females in road racing are the podium girls, silent Barbie dolls who do little more than stand on the stage looking pretty. Perpetuating this insidious idea that women are incapable of racing like men but will happily kiss them on the cheek after a victory does nothing for the credibility of cycling. For aspiring young athletes to see this as the pre-eminent depiction of women within cycling is depressing.

Armitstead, Vos and Pooley, among others, are far more valuable role models, yet they are considerably less visible to anyone other than to diehard cycling fans.

Things are, though, slowly changing for the better for female road racers. There will be a women's Tour of Britain next year, although it will not run alongside the men's race. If the crowds at the London Olympics are anything to go by, though, it will be as well supported.

Women's road race teams are gaining more credibility, as well as greater levels of funding. Sir Bradley Wiggins has placed such importance on the development of women's cycling that last year he ploughed his own money into a British women's road team - Wiggle Honda.

There are also plans by Graeme Herd, the former Scottish Cycling head coach, to launch a Scottish women's road team as early as next year. So progress, however slow, is happening. And maybe, just maybe there will be male models presenting flowers to the winner of the women's Tour.