The cycling world is truly phenomenal in its ability to empower and unite millions of people across the globe. Yet, the more you look at it, the more you start to realize certain patterns. Among these are the often striking differences between men and women’s cycling when it comes down to factors such as sponsorship, pay, and race permissions.
And, although they tend to receive less media coverage than that of their male counterparts, women in cycling are incredible athletes and role models (see: You’ve Got to See This Bloodied, Tough-as-Nails Junior Racing After a Nasty Crash). From how women race – leaving nothing behind – you’d never guess that there isn’t a minimum wage for a professional female cyclist, or that the typical budget for a women’s cycling team is about $200K (versus $20-million for an equivalent male team), or that the latest female “equivalent” to the Tour de France is a 1-day stage race – and that the group of women who get the most media coverage throughout the Tour are the ones who present flowers and kiss each stage winner (see: The Real Reason There’s No Tour de France for Women).
There is no sugar coating it: the gender disparity in cycling sucks at the moment, at least at the highest level of the sport. As individuals, however, we can do our part to support initiatives towards athlete equality by racing in events (such as local events) that pledge equality. And, we can give female cyclists some well-deserved recognition.
So, in that vein, watch this space for shoutouts to just some of the amazing women out there who remind us what cycling’s all about. And, who better to start with then Annemiek van Vleuten?
You might remember her from the Rio 2016 Olympics road race. She was in a good position to take gold before she hit a corner wrong, resulting in a concussion and three fractures in her spine.
A month later, Annemiek wasn’t just back on the bike. She was competing in, and winning, local races. In moving past her horrific crash, Annemiek showed just how strong she is, physically and mentally. As she put it, “Rio is not a scar for me. Cycling is about dealing with the ups and down as an athlete. It’s a good quality that you need. You have to set new goals and not look back. I’m actually grateful I have the ups as well as the down like one last year. I’m happy to have had an amazing season.”
Annemiek awed yet again a year later in Norway at the 2017 World Championships when she took the World Champion title for individual time trial. Not only did she win, she also showed just how much of a world class athlete she is. In the 21.1km women’s course, she averaged 40.025kph. Tom Dumoulin, who won the 2017 men’s TT world championship, was just slightly faster – averaging 41.626kph in the men’s 31km course.
In 2017, van Vleuten raced for first in both the time trial and the road race at La Course by Le Tour de France. Climbing Col d’Izoard in the French Alps, her Strava recording shows that only two of the male riders racing in the TdF beat her time in the last 5km of the climb.
When asked about the segment, Annemiek responded, “One small good thing is that people start to realize that maybe, because of the Strava segment, the girls are actually pretty fast.”
Most recently, Annemiek won the 2018 Giro Rosa only days before flying over to France and winning La Course by the Tour de France just a few days afterwards. And, from her reaction, we can see that no matter how decorated she is as an athlete, she wins from the heart.
While it is possible to grow jaded by issues resting at the core of elite racing (such as gender equality), there are incredible female athletes out there fighting no matter what. It’s important to remember that change in the sport can happen and that little actions can add up. On the highest level, we can support female racers like Annemiek who’ve dedicated their lives to the sport. Locally, we can get out there and support progressive initiatives.
In the words of former professional cyclist, Kathryn Bertine, “If we want to rise above the inequality, it’s the women who have to rise up together and say, ‘No more. This is not okay. I deserve exactly what the men have.’”