With particular reference to the Tour of Flanders, Helen Wyman spoke out about the continuing disparity in prize money between men's and women's races

British cyclocross star Helen Wyman has been on the UCI panel for cyclocross for three seasons now, with two more left on her term.

In that time she has successfully campaigned to get more live television coverage of women’s ‘cross racing and has worked to try and bring parity between men’s and women’s prize funds.

But the gap between win bonuses in road racing continues, and Wyman maintains a strong opinion on the issue, particularly when reminded about the prize money gap at last year’s Tour of Flanders, where Elisa Longo Borghini took home €1,213 to Alexander Kristoff’s €20,000.

The Women's Tour of Flanders podium (Yuzuru Sunada)

The Women’s Tour of Flanders podium received far less prize money than the men’s. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

“That to me, doesn’t make sense for an event which already has a very successful model,” she said.

“I live in Oudenaarde at the minute and so when you go out on Tour of Flanders day there are so many VIP tents that they page huge amounts of money; the buses, the coaches that transport the VIPs between different places. There’s so many of them it’s just ridiculous and all of those people are paying huge amounts of money.

“I’d imagine that one bus load would be able to equalise the prize money for the women to the men so… I don’t understand why the UCI can’t put that in place.”

In contrast Wiggle-High5‘s Swedish champion Emma Johansson, told Cycling Weekly she’s “scared that [minimum prize money] will make [women’s] races disappear because they are struggling.”

She continued: “I’m just scared that races are going to disappear and we don’t need that. But of course I would like it to grow just like the men’s has done.”

That growth is something that Wyman says she has a solution for, and is a method that has been successfully implemented in cyclocross.

Race organisers Galazo and Belgian broadcaster Sporza reached an agreement to show every women’s cyclocross race live. Although, as Wyman puts it, “it didn’t quite work out but they did show probably seven-and-a-half of them, and they also went on to show 24 races in total across the entire season, live.”

For these races the broadcasters had an average of 530,000 viewers in Flanders, an area with a population of 6.4 million people. That’s a similar number to those watching the Women’s Tour in the UK, a country with a population nearer 65 million.

“Galazo have sold all titles to their women’s series and they’ve also increased the prize money,” added Wyman, “so now it’s €10,000 for the overall winner and it goes down to 15 places, which is €20,000 more in total in the prize fund than we had before.”

It’s this system that the 35-year-old believes could help wipe out the gender pay gap in road cycling.

“When you get the television coverage in you’re able to sell the women’s race in a separate way.

“You know in ‘cross, and in men’s cycling a lot as well, you’ve actually got a very saturated market and the sponsorship has come in and there’s not many more places to get sponsorship from.

“But as soon as you open up a new market by having this extra hour of television coverage that we have in 24 races this season, suddenly you’ve got another market.”

Riders to watch this season

The lack of coverage of women’s cycling was particularly apparent at the recent Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Lizzie Armitstead was storming to victory in the stripes of world champion – and being filmed doing so as highlights were later released – while viewers were left to watch the sedate progress of the men’s peloton.

With more coverage aimed at helping grow the women’s side of the sport, Wyman questioned why races such as the Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad weren’t given live air time.

“I don’t understand why there isn’t any further television coverage,” she said, “there are points in the men’s race which are really quite dull.

“You know, there’s nothing happening: the break’s already gone, there’s people in the break, there’s people in the peloton, it’s not got to the point where they start to bring it back, there’s not huge cross winds or something which is affecting the race to make it really interesting, it’s just that lull, that 120 kilometres of nothingness where it would be perfect to put half an hour of the women’s race in.

This is what the men's OHN looked like whilst Armitstead was winning. Photo: Graham Watson

This is what the men’s OHN looked like while Armitstead was winning. Photo: Graham Watson

“You can do highlights in such short time, that you know you could put in 10 minutes of highlights and then the last 20 minutes of the race.”

Usually, when an event has both a men’s and women’s race, the cameras and television equipment will be up well in advance of either race.

“A race which has already got TV cameras in place, where the finish line is exactly the same as the men’s, where everything’s there, they should be able to use it and that’s what we’ve done in ‘cross: we’ve taken all the structure from men’s television.

“TV cameras are exactly where they are, the people [production and camera crews] who are paid for the day are paid for the day, so why not use them… They’re there, the TVs are on, the cameras are on, just use them.”

  • Michael

    Your argument is not only weak, it’s non existent.

    Thanks for the praise though, I am very good as you suggest and it’s not as easy as I make it look.

  • Riggah

    No one ‘deserves’ anything! That word is becoming misused in this age of entitlement. The men get the TV coverage, the money and the recognition not necessarily because they ‘deserve’ it but because there is a huge public demand for what they do and the riders & promoters negotiate the best deals they can from the sponsors.
    Punters don’t care who trained harder than whom or how far they’ve travelled to be there, they just want to see the best cyclists racing each other to the best of their ability. And it’s a simple fact of life that men’s cycling provides the fastest, most competitive (most brutal!) spectacle over the greatest distances and up the biggest mountains.
    Besides, if we’re going to be ‘equal’ about applying ‘equality’ then let’s have equal prize money for Junior races and Masters races and all other categories. Why is it that women seem to think that they’re the only ones who ‘deserve’ equality?

  • Riggah

    ‘Michael’, you’re good at telling others they’re ‘wrong’ and good at being patronising. It makes your arguments look weak, very weak.

  • Dave Smith

    Unfortunately, numbers have to be contextualised within the objectives of the funder (sponsor, broadcaster etc.,) and the size and characteristics/profile of the target audience they seek to access, in order to justify their involvement. If the potential audience does not do that, then the choice of that activity as a sponsorship platform would be sub optimal, irrespective of how big that number may appear to a lay person. There are hundreds of sponsorship opportunities available to a funder, both within sport and outside it. Cycling, regardless of gender needs to operate within that very competitive market. Never in 25 years working in this market did my agency turn up to a pitch where the potential client said, “We want you to find the platform that will waste our money the quickest”.

  • Michael

    What are you blathering about huge corporations for?

    You should perhaps have read the article.

  • Deskjockey

    tennis players “sell” equipment and just as many men watch women play as women watch men play…for different reasons. tennis is an outlier sport and should not be used as a comparison…try soccer or basketball or rugby, instead…

  • Deskjockey

    how many people walk into a LBS and buy a bike because Wyman endorses it or Contador? would anybody even recognize Wyman?! 1 out of a million? if you have a women’s race on one channel and, at exactly the same time, a men’s race on a different channel, how many viewers would watch the women’s race? 1 for every 1000? if women raced against men, how far back would they finish? women routinely start racing after picking up a bike in/after college and a year later they’re “pros”. the depth just isn’t there. so these are all factors for why women in this sport get what they get. what these racers rally want is to have segregated equality. female doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, etc. go “head to head” against men so of course they deserve equal pay. but, what’s next, paying women soccer players $1M/week even if 10 people show up to watch them play?! this is, unfortunately, no different.

  • j_ee

    By your logic, junior races should also have the same prize money cause they can be equally interesting and unpredictable.
    But why stop there? who says our local club rides aren’t as interesting? I bet I should earn a million every time I hop on my bike on the weekend…

  • j_ee

    “It’s not “basic economics” it’s just sexism in these industries with nonsense like your post trotted out”
    So huge corporations with tens and hundreds of accountants and analysts choose to pay male cyclists’ more (and make less profit in the process with no real justification) because they are all sexists. If that’s how the world spins in your view, good luck with that, I’ll park it here.

  • Hans

    There are, to my knowledge, far fewer women than men in cycling, both on and off road, which means that there’s less competition, and therefore, in theory it should be easier to make the top tiers in the sport, so while I think that the cycling industry might be wise to try to tap into the womens market, I don’t think that the argument for equal pay is a very strong one. I’m pretty sure that male models make less money than their female counterparts, and not much is said about this outrage. I’m just thinking out loud here, and you’re welcome to disagree with me, but; if we take the case of mountainbiking, it is a sport that is (to my knowledge) a sport started by a bunch of guys, and the first people to produce bikes were guys, and the again, the majority of people in the sport and industry are guys. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t participate in it, but if they want a pro tour with coverage and money, then why don’t they create races and try to sell a package to sponsors and media? I’m not really specifically for or against, but It does seem to me that there is a sense of entitlement, that I don’t think is entirely justified.

  • Michael

    > If you ask “average” cyclist fans to name all the currently active female cyclists they know, I doubt the average number would be higher than 3-5.

    Well, exactly. That’s because the 3-5 are the gold medal winning track and road cyclists who were made famous by the Olympics or para olympics.

    People like Laura Trott, Dani King, Jo Rowsell, Marianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead, Dame Sarah Storey et al. You’ll note too that these are the same women in the adverts I mentioned. The same women who do still make headlines (even in spite of their efforts not being televised)

    Vos has probably made more headlines for NOT cycling than the women that are doing the events she has dropped out of because of her problematic year with fatigue and injuries.

    Which, if you think about it, is ridiculous – you can’t even say that’s because of GB – she’s not British.

    Similarly I suspect many are aware of a female CX rider simply because of a motor found in her bike – that’s the “Lance Armstrong” effect where the cycling media (this publication included) is fixated on cyclists exposed for cheating and doping rather than the clean competitors. If every article that quoted the buffoon Lance Armstrong who is still doing his “boo hoo hoo poor me” to anyone who will write an article focussed instead on a women’s race that would improve things.

    > That is the current status quo

    That’s exactly what I’m saying is the problem. That there’s no lack of interest in women cycling, just a status quo inside cycling that chooses to keep them low profile and not pay them.

    > “I don’t see why advertisers would be able to pay less money to women if they can get away with it but not do the same thing to men while they’re at it.

    Do you live in a cave? It happens in numerous situations, not just cycling. It’s not “basic economics” it’s just sexism in these industries with nonsense like your post trotted out to justify it even when there’s clear evidence that you’re wrong.

    Of course if a woman athlete happens to be cursed with good looks she’ll find money, but only because she’s treated by the industry as a pull for lechery and lewd comments.

    Whenever women cyclists have gotten the publicity for their sporting efforts and successes people are interested – and yes, the olympics absolutely does count to show this.

    > unless you can produce some hard numbers

    My posts have as many hard numbers as yours do. If anything they are far more accurate and detailed than your hand-waving.

  • j_ee

    1. I don’t think you can use the Olympic games as a viable example. These happen once every 4 years, come with a lot of hype, and it’s always on TV. A lot of people watch them because of the conviction that it is deemed important or in support of their country regardless of the sport. In the same fashion that the world cup attracts far more viewers than just passionate football fans.

    2. “the majority of the adverts feature some of the female cyclists”. I’d like to know which eurosport you’re watching. Some adverts do feature female cyclists. But the majority? That’s a long, long stretch.

    3. “it shows they expect us to know who they are”. If you ask “average” cyclist fans to name all the currently active female cyclists they know, I doubt the average number would be higher than 3-5. That number would perhaps be 5-fold higher when you ask them about male cyclists. Sure you might argue exposure and TV times are a direct cause to that, and I partially agree to that, but that also makes your following arguments moot.

    4. “the truth is just that people have got away with paying women less and some continue to do so.” That is absolute bullshit. I don’t see why advertisers would be able to pay less money to women if they can get away with it but not do the same thing to men while they’re at it. It’s not like they become charitable towards male athletes all of a sudden. It’s basic economics. Advertisers would pay good money if they think they’re getting a good return on their investment. They won’t if only a very small portion of the population ends up seeing that advertisement. And that is what defines the disparity in pay all along. Not some moral favouritism towards males or a discriminatory attitude towards females. Which brings me to my last point

    5. “there’s very little evidence in any field, when men and women are on an
    equal footing in terms of publicity that there’s any less interest in
    them and their work”
    You missed the main point that there is NOT an equal footing in terms of publicity in SPORTS. Male athletes in most cases receive more publicity. That is the current status quo unless you can produce some hard numbers to prove otherwise (your initial post lacked any). It might not be the case in showbiz, but my post was solely about sports in general and cycling in particular.

  • J1

    I’ll let you rant on…..there’s nothing wrong with Fords these days though!

  • John Westwell

    Let’s hope you’re never taken to hospital in an emergency. You tend to end up in an NHS hospital under the care of junior doctors, especially late at night or at the weekend.

  • Norfolk_n_Chance

    The NHS is for C1, C2, D & E’s who are happy to waste money on tattoos, Benidorm holidays, pet insurance, 80″ telly, Barrett homes, Hire Purchase, Fords, Planet-X bikes, Aldi (etc etc).

    I’m fedup with the revolting NHS and am happy to see it die a thousand deaths and am happy to make a teeny sacrifice each month to have private healthcare.

    So if those ‘professionals’ want to continue with their miserable career in the failing NHS, then it’s their own choice. They made choices in their teens and still continued to study for years…. if they continued down that path knowing what will be, then they screwed up. CHOOSE LIFE!

    Having raced, trained and followed cycling for the last 27 years I know what’s what. The speed, tactics and the fact that only 4
    (maybe 5) female road racers are any good makes racing pretty much dull all the time.

    In other news, did you catch the Opening Ceremony at the Olympics. Bit left wing wasn’t it. Discuss ; )

  • Dave2020

    The sexist dinosaurs belong in the 19th. century. I bet they don’t argue that welterweight and other classes in combat sports are any less ‘deserving’ because they’re not the ‘strongest’ competitors. Do they think that the women’s high hurdles should be the same height as the men’s, or the discus the same weight?

    Closer to home, the UCI only has to look to triathlon for a better example.

    Doing TV coverage of road cycling will always be more difficult, and it doesn’t put bums on seats like tennis, but there’s no excuse for not broadcasting the best parts of the women’s race, when the sight of the men’s peloton, at the same moment, is akin to watching paint dry.

    When they’re given equal TV billing on the track, I bet as many people tune in to see Laura win gold as Jason and her events are longer. (and more demanding)

  • J1

    You do realise if enough junior doctors decided to change career (that they’ve studied 8 years for) then the UK would be in crisis pretty damn quickly. Also, the term ‘junior doctor’ just refers to anyone that isn’t a consultant/specialist, it doesn’t mean doctors that are fresh out of University….that’s a lot of people. I’m glad you don’t run the country.

    Women’s cycling is more unpredictable too, but I imagine you’re one of these people who has watched one race and formed an opinion. Men’s cycling can be very boring at times too don’t forget.

  • Dave2020

    It is both logical and perfectly reasonable to introduce greater equality in prize money, but salaries are a separate issue. There’s an informed and level-headed discussion on the subject on the Oz website; EllaCyclingTips. . .

    “The opportunity for women’s cycling is a big one, and now is the time to break the cycle it’s been in for too long….Despite numerous examples of there being a large audience out there wanting to watch women’s cycling on TV (2014 Women’s Tour in the UK had an audience of 2.2m over 5 x 1 hour highlights programmes) seeing professional women’s road cycling on the TV in the UK is still a rarity,”

  • Samuel Clemens

    Love the username/logo.

  • Dave Smith

    I would love to see some of the disparities addressed, but there is no logical reason why women and men’s salaries and prize money should be the same. Any sport, event, team etc., irrespective of gender, represents an asset that is available to purchase. The value of the asset is determined by the purchaser (sponsor, event organiser, broadcaster etc., depending on the extent to which it can contribute to their marketing objectives. Because these differ then some assets will be more valuable than others. Hopefully, the continued development of womens’ cycling will progressively increase the value of the asset and feed through into increased interest from funding sources and improved rewards. That said, where funding comes from government sources, social enterprises etc., there is a stronger case for parity vis a vis commercial businesses funders.

  • David Kerry

    I’ll second that opinion.. Both of them

  • Steve S

    Nice post, I agree completely. I’m as un pc as you can get and I can’t understand why women and men’s sport don’t get equal billing, especially with cycling where there is so much female talent. And one things for sure, a female pro or a top female amateur would kick all our butts on a bike.

  • Dave2020

    The point was clearly spelt out.

    If the cap fits, wear it.

  • Riggah

    Never mind the abuse. What’s your point?

  • Norfolk_n_Chance

    Women’s cycling is utterly dull so does not deserve equal pay. Like watching 2nd cat rr (but 2nd cat rr are faster and don’t crash as often). If female cyclists don’t like the pay, change career.

    (Same goes to NHS Junior Doctors…. change careers!).

  • Dave2020

    Some very predictable rants on this thread. The usual suspects – why do they think anyone would be interested in their immature prejudice? They’re making an exhibition of themselves, displaying their fragile male egos for all to see.

    The sporting spectacle of the final climb into Siena is just as entertaining in the women’s race as the men’s, but we’re given saturation coverage of the men’s race and nothing of the women’s. The UCI is asleep at the wheel.

  • Michael

    It doesn’t border on the delusional.

    It’s quite evident from the 2012 Olympic coverage that female cyclists (and athletes in general) are just as interesting to the public, and they become household names through the TV coverage of their successes.

    When I watch the TdF on Eurosport and other events, a lot, perhaps the majority, of the adverts feature some of the female cyclists who are now household names in Britain because of their Olympic track or road success.

    Clearly, if sponsors and advertisers are willing to use these women in adverts during this men’s event it shows they expect us to know who they are – perhaps more so than some of the men in the races they are covering.

    It also shows – as do some of the paralympic Olympic cyclists, boxers and so on that the public are interested in watching women’s sport.

    As someone who started watching cycling around the 2012 Wiggins TdF win and then the 2012 Olympics, it was a shock to discover that all these women who were on TV being interviewed and winning gold medals left and right, more or less completely disappeared the following year. Whereas the men were on TV every other week.

    No one can watch what isn’t shown on TV.

    Secondly, the disparity in the earnings described in the article, €1213 to €20000 does not reflect anything in your list. It’s just the status quo – it’s what these people have been able to get away with. As Helen points out, there’s plenty of money floating about to bring more equality to the prize fund.

    Indeed, cycling has never really been hugely popular, albeit it’s growing now – and even if it is popular, there are no ticket sales. So if they found money to pay male cyclists in the past then clearly the money is there.

    And you’re wrong – there’s very little evidence in any field, when men and women are on an equal footing in terms of publicity that there’s any less interest in them and their work. Whether that’s the movie industry, the music industry, sport, or television – the truth is just that people have got away with paying women less and some continue to do so.

  • Simon E

    “just race the same race” – oh dear, clearly you didn’t put much thought into that comment.

    The women athletes deserve TV coverage, prize money and recognition. They train hard and travel the same as the men but have far fewer opportunities to get personal sponsors or any kind of career after retirement.

    While women’s racing doesn’t pull in the same viewer numbers, for those that do follow it is every bit as engaging as watching the men.

  • Altimis Nuel

    This, I couldn’t agree with you anymore….

    If you want equal rewards, just race the same race, that’s simple!

  • Riggah

    The “ludicrous” situation in tennis is that women receive the same prize money for fewer sets, and because of the shorter, less demanding matches they are able to compete in the doubles where they can win even more money, unlike the men.
    So when you read the words ‘equality’ and ‘parity’, substitute them with ‘privilege’ and ‘concessions’ to get a sense of what’s actually being demanded.

  • Riggah

    It only “seems ludicrous” if you have an outrageous sense of entitlement. Having separate female events, a form of discrimination in itself, and then demanding equal prize money is ‘having your cake & eating it’! The prize money is there, the women just have to compete against the men for it. But of course that would never happen because women would win even less.
    Be thankful that there is a women’s pro scene at all and be careful not to kill the golden goose.

  • EB

    There is pay parity in grand slam tennis and there has been for over a decade. It doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for there to be at some point, although describing it as ‘ludicrous’ at the moment is well OTT. Also the prize money is much much bigger. And tennis is ****. Even grand slam darts is a magnitude bigger.

  • Samuel Clemens

    Check out how many people watch women’s cricket or women’s rugby. Most folk don’t even know that it exists.

  • Samuel Clemens

    Far fewer people interested in women’s racing. Also, if you want ‘equal(ity)’ then race with the men for the same prize money. Simple.

  • borts

    While I feel and understand the women’s frustration, the money parity won’t happen mostly due to lack of sponsorship. The only solution is revenue sharing which probably will never happen.

  • j_ee

    I’m not against better (more) coverage of women’s races but to talk of equal rewards, pay, etc… to women athletes compared to men borders on the delusional. Would they attract the same amount of viewing, merchandising, marketing, potential? Seems not. It’s the sponsors that pay for cyclists’ salaries to start with and in a sport where even the men’s teams and races are folding sometimes due to lack of sponsorship, why would any company want to pay money for advertisement to be seen by even less people? It’s a business after all.
    Sadly this isn’t even limited to cycling but most other sports, where male counterparts of the competition attract far higher viewing rates.
    Does women cycling have potential for further growth? Most certainly. Recent trends and popularity of some female cyclists definitely shows that. Will it become as famous as male cycling? Highly unlikely. Within that logic, an equal pay would not equate to a fair pay.