Women’s road cycling has spent the last few years in a deadly spiral – less money, fewer races, less media coverage, leading to less money, fewer races,
and so on.
The centrepiece of this, and the reason it’s impossible to do anything about it, is the universal truth that no one wants to watch women’s cycling, because it’s slow and boring.
Other than the Olympics, of course. At the Olympics the women’s road race was better than the men’s, we can all agree on that. And the Olympic track programme’s star was without doubt Laura Trott. But apart from the Olympics, and apart from the World Track Championships, and the Track World Cups, and (now I think of it) the Tour Series crits this summer, where Hannah Barnes has been a bigger draw than any of the men… apart from them, it’s too dull to contemplate.
Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos and others decided, some time ago, to tackle this by trying to pressure race organisers into putting on more and better races. This is probably as good a crack to put your crowbar into as any, because the other links in the spiral of doom, money men and journalists, are almost impossible to shame into action. Their suggestion was a women’s Tour de France running at the same time, over the same course, as the men’s event.
This produced yelps of outrage from people who claimed that, never mind the principle of equality, the logistics made it utterly impossible. That’s right, we can’t have a women’s Tour for the same reason you can’t have your next-day parcel delivery until tomorrow week.
I’ve got the solution to that problem right here – run the Tour as men-only and women-only races in alternate years. Logistical challenge neatly reduced to annually changing over the signs on the start-area loos. I’ll do that myself, if it helps.
The problem is not ‘logistics’, and certainly not ‘boredom’. The problem is the will to actually change things. Cycling is, from top to bottom (but especially bottom), a very male-feeling activity. And most men rather like it that way. Cycling is, in all the respects that matter, the world’s largest shed. There are things to tinker with, things that are not totally reliant on electronics.
Bikes are the last chance most of us have to have a manly-feeling fiddle, without the dire consequences that come from trying to improve your iPhone using a screwdriver and some garden wire, or ending up, as a friend did, with a loo that flushes with hot water.
Heinz of the time
It’s an opportunity to exaggerate. Women are (I generalise) good at spotting male exaggeration. I can only assume it’s millions of years of experience and disappointment.
Men are highly credulous, and the benefits to the ego are considerable. My next-door neighbour still thinks I’m Maurizio Fondriest, and on the same basis I accept that he once competed in World’s Strongest Man, but has been missed off the relevant Wikipedia list. We both like this arrangement.
Cycling offers men the chance to dress amusingly – and that’s all most men want from life.
After a working week constrained by convention, spending Sunday morning dressed in a jersey printed to resemble a giant Heinz ketchup bottle is a blessed relief.
There are things to secretively, guiltily spend unjustifiable sums of money on. Let’s be honest, if a Pinarello Dogma isn’t the equivalent of a £5,000 handbag I don’t know what it is.
The Tour could include women, of course it could. It would be all the better for it. It’s the shed that would never recover. Soberly dressed men and women would ride sensibly priced bikes that worked. It would be awful.
With both Fabian Cancellara and now Bradley Wiggins expressing interest in the Hour Record, surely it is time that the UCI in its wisdom repaired this once great event by rescinding the ‘drop handlebar’ old-style rules that they introduced in response to the ‘Superman’ position record of Chris Boardman. Instead they should let riders use a current track pursuit bike.
Alvin Jones, email
Alvin – the problem is that at the moment there are two hour records – the ‘athlete’s’ drop handlebar one and the ‘best performance’ Superman one – and if we went with your suggestion we’d have three. The chaos and confusion would be even worse than it is at the moment. Bearing that in mind, will you promise me you won’t suggest this plan directly to the UCI? Please?
Great inventions of cycling – 1870 The club
The early cycling clubs were posh – among the first were those of Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the somewhat eccentric Pickwick Bicycle Club, whose members to this day refer to each other by the names of characters from Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers.
The aims of clubs have remained the same. They are, in ascending order of importance, companionship, fresh air, stopping at cafes to eat buns, criticising the puncture repair technique of members on club runs, and telling anyone who buys anything from a new hat to a new bike that, “I could have got you that at trade price if you’d asked.” Trade price deals are tense sensitive – they only exist in the conditional perfect.
The benefits of membership are numerous. Often there is a discount at a local bike shop. In one instance a club in Yorkshire managed to negotiate a rate of 2.5 per cent from a local shop, and counted it a triumph.
You can enjoy a free critique of your riding style, clothing choices, and nutritional preferences (“Eat buns, young man, and only buns, not this energy food rubbish”). While this can be irritating, bear in mind that it will only last as long as it takes the next new member to sign up.
As if all this was not enough, remember that a club run can go faster than you can on your own, so you’ll be able to update your Strava records at fully half the effort. It’s now quite acceptable to spend an entire club ride staring mutely at your GPS. It’s what everyone else will be doing.
This article was first published in the September 5 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!