Professional Cycling; Too Hard for Women…
Women’s Professional Cycling is still battling “old men” mentality but achieving the awareness, recognition and sponsorship that the sport deserves is slowly becoming easier with the onset of social media. Judith Arndt believes we’re onto a winner with our tweets, blogs and Facebook.
Judith Arndt’s career in medals and podiums is so extensive it’s difficult to pick even one or two career highlights. After spending 18 years either on the track or at the head of the peloton, there’s little she hasn’t won and provides invaluable insight into life in the women’s peloton. In her final season with team Orica-GreenEDGE, her years of experience make her a valuable leader and asset in the development of women’s cycling, passing her skills to the next generation.
This is what Judith had to say about some of the changes and some of the continued challenges in professional cycling 1999 to today.
It is only in the last 15 years that women’s cycling has been recognised by the UCI as a professional sport, and in that time, there has been significant development of both sponsorship and the level of competition. So isn’t it about time the UCI took the next step forward and acknowledge women’s professional cycling with an understanding of what a minimum wage is?
“Now almost 15 years later we are still struggling with money, which is partly caused by all the doping scandals in men’s cycling in the recent past. Not many sponsors want to invest in cycling and unfortunately it doesn’t matter if you are male or female” remarks Arndt.
1 in 5 professional female riders in today’s peloton ride unpaid, without a salary; that’s no cash at all. How do you survive in a foreign country with no income? In this circumstance, riders are required to live under their own means, use their savings, have a part-time job when at home in the off-season, even loan money from family and friends. ‘Living the dream’ comes at a high personal cost when you don’t get paid. There are riders who are paid and who reportedly earn an average of around $25,000 per annum, or ~$2,083 per month. The lifestyle can be good, if you have personal sponsors providing you with nutrition, clothing, equipment, if you have somewhere cheap or free to live and a good network of cyclists and supportive people around you. If you’re doing it on your own, it’s just a tough slog off the bike and a tougher ride against Judith in the saddle!
“Ten years ago women’s cycling had just turned professional. The UCI had introduced the first women’s trade teams in 1999. So it had just started to be a professional sport and really everything was difficult” comments Arndt.
It’s not difficult to understand how true this is.
So what does the governing body of the sport have to say about all of this? In the eyes of UCI President, Pat McQuaid, the level of investment and sponsorship in Women’s cycling reflects the capability of the pro female peloton “Women’s cycling is just not developed enough yet that we are at that level yet”. Really Patrick? Pat probably won’t be winning women’s choice ‘most supportive man of the decade’ award anytime soon.
What level does the sport have to mature to in order for all riders to be paid a minimum wage? In the humble opinion of this writer (with backup from Bronzini, Tuetenberg, Vos (just to name a few)) the capability is already there! To achieve a minimum wage in the pro-peloton will take recognition in the form of sponsorship, media coverage and finally UCI endorsement (I feel a small riot outside Pat’s house would do nicely too).
Media coverage is essential, I would sleep longer and more consistently if I wasn’t always scanning twitter and obscure live-feeds online for race updates! Do you want to see more racing covered more often? Looks like we sport-crazed Australian’s are on the right track says Judith. Just yesterday I was delighted to see no less than 10 minutes spent following the Womens World Cup races in Drenthe and Cittiglio on CyclingCentral! Big shout out to SBS for that one!
“Overall [media coverage] has gotten better. It also depends which country we are talking about. I think traditional cycling nations (f.e. Belgium, Italy etc) are finding it harder to accept and to cover women’s cycling. ‘Newer’ countries to cycling (USA, Australia, Asia) are usually more open towards our end of the sport” comments Arndt.
Sponsorship will follow the media. [Due to the] introduction of World Tour teams (Orica-GreenEDGE, Rabobank, Cervelo, Highroad), the level of sponsorship for women’s cycling has increased. “The higher level of sponsorship leads to a higher level of performance, of course. If you get looked after by excellent staff, you use the very best equipment, you get a monthly salary, you can fly to the races instead of spending your travel days in a car… all those things make you go faster in the end, because all you have to do is focus on training and racing” reflects Arndt.
So what needs to happen for sustainable change in both the ‘old man’ mentality and the conditions for riders of the sport? Judith comments that social media is helping reach more cycling enthusiasts than ever before, is a great way to encourage potential sponsors and gain awareness for the female pro-peloton.
So what can you do? Come on people, demand media! Get involved through twitter, Facebook, visit the team sites, don’t be shy, get involved with your favourite riders! You can start by checking out the Orica-GreenEDGE website here and you can follow them on Twitter here.
*Pictures supplied by Orica-GreenEDGE