Saddled With Prejudice

Alice Cobb is the British National Junior Hill Climb Champion and rides for Squadra Donne. In an article that she originally posted on her blog, she writes about dealing with an all too commonly-given reason for not following women’s cycling, and what needs to be done for the sport.



Alice Cobb is National Junior Hill Climb Champion

I had written a rather mundane post about the end of my first term at university and the beginning of the festive season. However, when I came across a certain comment last night I felt obliged to erase my previous splurge and re-designate this post to women’s cycling.

The comment in question was a kind and respectful remark…

“Men aren’t interested, love, because the best woman in the world isn’t as good as the average male club cyclist”.

Ironically my first reaction wasn’t exactly ”lady-like” and the temptation to respond to this piece of prejudice diatribe with a few well-chosen expletives was quite overwhelming!

I also thought about inviting the gentlemen to a women’s Tour Series race; after all if ‘the best woman in the world isn’t as good as the average male club cyclist’ then he would have no problem keeping up with a national level bunch, would he? 26mph round a tight city centre course is obviously just an easy ride for him… Or how about treating him to a track session? A day as (wo)man 4 in the pursuit team… I’m sure he could easily keep up with Laura Trott, Dani King and Jo Rowsell as they poodle around the track at 55kmph…

However, our kind friend does actually make one point apparent. Whilst his ignorance creates an initial surge of anger and frustration, it does indeed highlight the fundamental problem the female pro peloton faces: a lack of media coverage and awareness.

Perhaps if he had seen professional women’s racing he may not be making such remarks. Women’s racing is exciting to watch, often very aggressive and attack-minded and I’m sure given the opportunity many people would chose to watch it.

The regurgitated argument that women aren’t as fast as men so the racing isn’t worth watching is quite frankly utter rubbish. Yes men are the physically stronger sex, and therefore professional men will be faster than professional women, but speed is entirely relative. When you watch the TdF or Paris-Roubaix, do you watch it for the average speed or for the excitement of competitive racing?

I have never heard of anyone switching the TV off out of disgust when racing is a few mph slower than expected:

‘Right that’s it! Paris Roubaix is so boring this year because they’re 2mph slower than last year! I don’t care if there are two groups up the road and Cancellara is trying to bridge them alone… This racing is just too slow to watch.’

Joking aside there is a serious point here. The inequality is underpinned by a lack of television and media coverage and a vicious circle is created. The lack of coverage leads to a severe lack of sponsors and investment, consequently making it harder for female athletes to reach their full potential and discouraging participation. Not only are we damaging the current pro scene but we are also jeopardising the future growth of women’s cycling.

If you think I’m spouting out some feminist prolix then perhaps take a look at the facts:

  • Women’s sports make up only 5% of all sports coverage
  • Women’s sport only receive 0.5% of all commercial sponsorship in the UK
  • The inaugural Womens’ Tour of Britain is yet to secure sponsorship
  • There isn’t an U23 category for women at major champs
  • The average salaries paid to male cyclists with the top ProTeams has risen from €190,000 to €264,000 in the last 4 years. In the same period, women still haven’t been given a minimum wage
  • Chris Froome took home €450,000 for winning the Tour de France whilst Mara Abbott, the winner of the Giro Rosa – the biggest race on the women’s calendar – gained just €460

Change needs to occur and it needs to come from the very top. We have a great number of volunteers working incredibly hard at the grassroots level and their commitment to women’s cycling not only meritmore recognition but also deserve to be matched by those who have the power to make even bigger change.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the uphill battle women are facing will begin to level off and women will no longer be an afterthought in media coverage. Hopefully women will no longer be marginalised and saddled with prejudice.