Tour de France and Olympic time trial champion Bradley Wiggins has said that he may dip into his own pocket to fund a women’s professional cycling team.
“I’d love to have a professional women’s racing team,” he told ITV4 programme The Cycle Show.
“There’s no reason the women’s side shouldn’t be on a par with the men or certainly better than it is because it’s pretty poor really, certainly the funding of it and how much they get paid in relation to what they achieve,” he added.
Wiggins’ comments come at a time when there are growing calls from within the UK and beyond for more money o be put into female cycling.
Olympic team pursuit champion Dani King, who plans to focus more on the road with her Matrix Fitness-Prendas team after February’s UCI Track World Championships in Minsk, is among those who hope that the success of Britain’s female cyclists at the Olympics and elsewhere might bring more money into the sport.
“I really hope new investors will see that giving talented women the same sporting chance as their male counterparts in this amazing sport is worthwhile, and if we were to achieve this will mean a true lasting legacy for women’s cycling in the UK," she said last week in an interview for the team’s website.
With female riders earning a fraction of their male counterparts – for a start, the UCI does not stipulate a minimum wage, unlike for male ProTeam riders – and much smaller rosters than men’s teams have, the annual budget of a typical women’s team competing at top level is tiny by comparison; the figure most often bandied about is 5 per cent of the budget of a male team, equal to €500,000 if assuming a men’s budget of €10 million.
Australian rider Chloe Hosking, who landed herself in hot water earlier this year after calling Pat McQuaid “a bit of a dick” for what she claimed was the UCI’s lack of support for female riders, was among those to welcome the Tour de France winner’s words, tweeting a link to the video and saying “If you're going to listen to anyone, listen to @bradwiggins.”
However, in the current environment, even the most successful women’s teams remain vulnerable to the threat of losing sponsorship.
Earlier this month, the management of the AA Drink-leontien.nl team, whose riders include Olympic silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead and former world time trial champion Emma Pooley, announced that the team would be folding at the end of the season.
The team’s managers, Michael Zijlaard and his wife Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel, said they were pursuing new challenges outside cycling after nearly two decades of involvement in the sport, coinciding with the team’s sponsor deciding not to renew.
It’s the second year running that Pooley and Armitstead, among others, have been forced to look for a new team, following the closure of their Garmin-Cervelo team at the end of the 2011 season.
Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters blamed that decision on the fact that French DIY retailer BigMat had withdrawn promised sponsorship, preferring instead to back the men’s team FDJ, and insisted that it was impossible to meet the shortfall by taking money from the budget of the men’s Garmin team.
Starved of sponsorship and TV coverage, the paradox is that women’s racing is often gripping viewing when it does get shown – last year’s world championship road race in Copenhagen, won by defending champion Giorgia Bronzini of Italy, and the women’s Olympic road race, in which Marianne Vos of the Netherlands held off Armitstead to win from a three-woman break being two examples.
That point isn’t lost on Wiggins“The women’s racing at the Olympics was one of the most exciting races, the road race, so there’s no excuse that it’s not as exciting as the men’s,” he said. “I think something has to change, certainly, yeah.”
One female rider who can already count on Wiggins’ support, meanwhile, is his wife, Cath – she’ll be riding in the women’s race at the Newport Nocturne in Shropshire this weekend.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.