• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Women cyclists may be better served riding alongside the men for the time being

Just a few short years ago, road cycling was viewed as a remote and exotic pursuit, embraced by Europeans but not the British.

Marianne Vos tops the bill at the Women's Tour, the first time she will race in the UK since the 2012 Olympics. Picture: Getty Images
Marianne Vos tops the bill at the Women's Tour, the first time she will race in the UK since the 2012 Olympics. Picture: Getty Images

Nowadays, this could not be further from the truth. You cannot walk more than 200 yards without some amateur cyclist whizzing past you in ill-fitting lycra, leaving far too little to the imagination.

And if confirmation was ever needed that professional cycling as a sport has exploded in this country, then look no further than the arrival of the Women's Tour, the female version of the Tour of Britain, which will take place next week in England.

A one-day women's race was staged in September during the men's Tour of Britain and now the inaugural five-day Women's Tour starts on Wednesday.

The Women's Tour is managed by Sweetspot, organisers of the men's race, and is one of the most highly-rated women's races on the calendar. The key factor is that the women will have complete parity in prize money with the men, something hitherto unheard of in cycling.

This exalted status that the race has attained has ensured that a stellar cast will line up on Wednesday, with Dutchwoman Marianne Vos topping the bill.

The 26-year-old, who will return to British shores for the first time since she won Olympic road race gold at London 2012, is nothing short of a phenomenon. She has won two Olympic gold medals and has been crowned world champion on no fewer than 12 occasions. What makes her so remarkable is her versatility: she has won silverware on road, track and in cyclocross.

Vos should be a world superstar and household name. She has been more successful than Roger Federer; more dominant than Tiger Woods was even in his prime.

The Dutchwoman will not be the only world-class rider on the start line next week, though. Olympic track gold medallists Laura Trott, Joanna Roswell and Dani King will all be racing, as will Scotland's Katie Archibald.

What makes the Women's Tour stand out specifically, though, is the decision to stage it as a stand-alone race, rather than run it alongside the men's race in September.

Opinion is split over whether or not this is the best route to go down. Guy Elliot, director of Sweetspot, maintains that hosting a women's race in its own right is the best way forward and that, logistically, it would not be possible to hold the men's and women's races concurrently but this issue should not be regarded as insurmountable. Many of the races on mainland Europe hold both men's and women's versions on the same day.

My personal issue with holding the races separately is that it may limit the public exposure for women's racing. This summer, female riders will race a one-day event which finishes on the Champs Elysees just before the men's Tour de France concludes later that day.

The female cyclists have spoken of their excitement about racing in front of one million fans with the gaze of the world's media on them. This is the inarguable advantage of holding both races concurrently, the result being that women's cycling is broadcast to a much wider audience than may be the case if they race separately.

However, Elliot's vision for the Women's Tour is nothing short of inspirational. He claims that this race will be: "the only cycling event in the world where women are not second best. It cannot carry on that we discriminate against women in sport from the age of 15." Stages will be themed around health, social issues or tourism and you cannot fault Elliot for his ambition.

My concern for women's racing, and for women's sport as a whole, is that, to be taken seriously, it needs to be given the opportunity to shine and the best way to do that may be for the women to share a platform with the men until they have established themselves fully in their own right. Women's cycling is growing rapidly, but its reputation still lags far behind that of the men.

Much of this negative attitude is down to social conditioning. For centuries, men have been regarded as by far the superior sex when it comes to sport and, while the male riders may cover the course slightly quicker than the women, it does not necessarily translate into a more exciting race. These ingrained and insidious attitudes are precisely why the Women's Tour only secured a title sponsor just last month, why women's races are cancelled at the last-minute because of financial issues and why Vos is all but unheard of to anyone other then cycling aficionados.

This is not necessarily a criticism; it is merely reality. These women riders can sustain a race in their own right. My worry is that by pushing for too much, too soon, progress could ultimately be slower.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

230587