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Tour de France champion says female cyclists deserve more support and money

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.

23 comments

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Darthshearer [134 posts] 3 years ago
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Try telling you current employers Bradley. Its a disgrace that a team as big as Sky doesnt have a womens team, they want to be ashemed of themselves.

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bikewithnoname [81 posts] 3 years ago
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Here’s a thought. In the world of pro sports. £450k for a full year’s sponsorship really isn’t very much. Surely we can find 50k people willing to donate a tenner a year (or even just 5k people to donate 100quid) to be part owner of a mutually funded cycle team?

I think I may genuinely look into this. I’ll just need to find someone with a background in mutual society, co-op or even charity law that could advise if this were possible.

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drheaton [3318 posts] 3 years ago
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Darthshearer wrote:

Try telling you current employers Bradley. Its a disgrace that a team as big as Sky doesnt have a womens team, they want to be ashemed of themselves.

Umm... I'm pretty sure that no other 'big' team runs a womens team, Garmin's folded, HTC went a few years ago, BMC don't, Liquigas, GreenEdge etc etc... Why single Sky out as a discrage? Every team is in the same boat, look at HTC last year and Liquigas this year, even in men's cycling sponsorship can be withdrawn at any time and trying to run two teams at the level that Sky currently operate is a massive job.

Likewise, look at the big football clubs in the UK, how many of them have womens teams?

bikewithnoname wrote:

Here’s a thought. In the world of pro sports. £450k for a full year’s sponsorship really isn’t very much. Surely we can find 50k people willing to donate a tenner a year (or even just 5k people to donate 100quid) to be part owner of a mutually funded cycle team?

I think I may genuinely look into this. I’ll just need to find someone with a background in mutual society, co-op or even charity law that could advise if this were possible.

If you take some inspiration from the co-operative football clubs in the lower leagues you can see that it could work. A fan group with enough money can buy a football club and AFC Wimbeldon was set up in a similar way so ownership and funding could be put into place but you'd need a seriously professional set up to deal with the needs of the riders and the logistics of it all. Also, the article is really saying that £500k isn't enough to make the life as a pro-female-cyclist sustainable so you may need closer to £2m to get a set-up that comes close to being as professional as the men's teams.

Also, cycling doesn't seem to have the same 'fan' culture as football so fans of womens cycling as a whole might put the money in but if more than one team was set up on that basis the dontations would end up spread pretty thinly. Also, there's a huge risk of drop-off of donations after the first year or two, without media coverage to get the greater population involved it'd be hard to keep up the level of interest needed to make it sustainable.

The other major obstacle is having the proof of funds needed to get a UCI license, operating on a continuous flow of donations is risky and leaves you open to quick drop offs and lots of peaks and troughs, that doesn't lend itself to prooving to the UCI you've got the funds needed to operate for the future 12 months which you need in order to get your license. Look at Geox last year, last minute withdrawl of funds and the UCI didn't give them any lee-way despite just having won the Vuelta.

If you get any further though, I'm in  4

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drheaton [3318 posts] 3 years ago
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Also, check out

http://www.supporters-direct.org/

which has plenty of support for getting a football/rugby co-op off the ground.

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NeilG83 [283 posts] 3 years ago
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I have disagree with you on one point. Last years womens' world champs road race was awful; quite possibly the worst race I have ever seen. However, the Olympic road race was fantastic.

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bikewithnoname [81 posts] 3 years ago
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thanks drheaton, I hear what you're saying it would be a big challenge, but not an insurmountable one I think.  39

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seanieh66 [196 posts] 3 years ago
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Hmmm, not a word from Wiggins on the Story of the week though.

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 3 years ago
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Good stuff from Wiggo, he's gone up still further in my estimation and seems a thoroughly decent cove.

It's also to his credit that he's not commented on the cycling story of the week. He wasn't there, so why should he?

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Chiswick [45 posts] 3 years ago
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Agreed. His Cofidis kit went in the bin - more than just a physical gesture.

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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As much as I dislike the dopers, I wish I'd have been there in the airport to fish it straight back out again!

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Sudor [184 posts] 3 years ago
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Well done Bradley

If (relatively small) Cervelo could run a women's team for a few years alongside their pro mens squad surely there's a British based sponsor that would derive marketing benefit from sponsorship of a UK women's team - the likes of Lizzie Armistead and Emma Pooley (and those destined to follow them) deserve better than the existing hand to mouth nature of funding for women's road racing. It's about time that Pat and the boys at the UCI did more development work on women's racing in Europe & North America and other countries with a culture of cycling to support it.

If SKY/BC could pull together a business plan surely sponsors would follow? at least as media moguls Sky could do more to publicise wormen's racing on TV. As for a fan funded cycle team I'm in with £50 per annum - just need another 8,999 contributors.

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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I'd drop £50 on that.

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Darthshearer [134 posts] 3 years ago
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Err Green Edge do have a womens team.

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JonD [389 posts] 3 years ago
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>Likewise, look at the big football clubs in the UK, how many of them have womens teams?

Women's football took off (again) during WW1 - munitions factories had women's teams. In 1921 the FA banned women's teams from using FA league grounds -if they hadn't, the situation may have been somewhat different.

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drheaton [3318 posts] 3 years ago
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Darthshearer wrote:

Err Green Edge do have a womens team.

Apologies, I didn't really look into it and worked from memory, the point still stands though, its unfair to single out Sky for criticism. I agree though, as a British team Sky would be well placed take advantage of the boom and start a team with the likes of Pooley and Armitstead. Having a big team that works well in one big media market (britain) might also help to increase exposure of the sport as a whole across Europe and the rest of the world in a similar way to how Discovery/US Postal and Sky increased exposure for men's cycling in the US and UK.

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hairyairey [296 posts] 3 years ago
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JonD - thanks for that bit of information it explains a bit why the media ignores women's football. Where is the female version of Match of the Day for example?

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bigant [43 posts] 3 years ago
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They will all have to grow sideburns.

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Joshmo [11 posts] 3 years ago
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Im deep £50 may stretch to £100, who's in charge then?  26

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 3 years ago
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Chiswick wrote:

Agreed. His Cofidis kit went in the bin - more than just a physical gesture.

Best bit of that story was how he borrowed a team t-shirt from David Millar so he could slip away incognito... er, Saunier Duval  3

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Simon E [2546 posts] 3 years ago
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Why is funding a women's team so difficult?

ROI.

Until the media - which includes road-oriented websites that feature racing [cough], mention no names [cough] - start reporting the sport more thoroughly then no-one is going to want to sink money into a women's team. How are we supposed to know when the Giro Donne happens? Answer: July. And how can a team like Mulebar Girls get any publicity or support when no-one knows they exist?

For anyone wanting to follow women's racing they will find that unearthing content or race ifno on CN is hard work, the Comic is even worse, but the following are good places to start.
Matrix-Prendas team are typing furiously in an attempt to get noticed: http://www.onthedrops.cc/
Also http://www.podiumcafe.com/section/womens-cycling
Twitter: @ds_stef, @HelenCX, @_Pigeons_, @cyclopunk and more.

A recent article on the subject:
http://www.andbike.cc/when-cycling-came-to-britain-part-iii-women/

Of course, depth of talent/finding talent is another thing. Events need women's races but in turn those races also need entrants. I don't know what British Cycling is doing to encourage more women into cycle sport after the incredibly successful Olympics we've had, which suggests it may not be much. And when BC reported soaring membership figures, how many were women?

Rider blogs are only a small part of the picture. The Smithfield Nocturne women's race nearly didn't happen and the organiser of this Saturday's Newport Nocturne near Telford in Shropshire had appealled for female riders to enter and now has 47 entries. It is the job of the big players - federations, teams, event organisers etc - to attract riders and help bring them to the notice of spectators and readers.

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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Cheers for the links Simon - this is from a Dani King article on onthedrops:

"According to Ernst & Young in its report on the economic situation of the professional peloton, the total budget for the 40 men’s pro teams in 2012 has risen to €321 million for the 40 Professional teams, an increase of 36.5 per cent in just 3 years. The average Pro Tour male salary now sits at €255,000. In stark contrast, a vast majority of the 37 professionally registered women’s teams have a total budget of less than €255,000, meaning they operate an entire team for less than the average salary of the male Pro Tour professional."

Wow. That's not good.

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Apres-mapk [12 posts] 3 years ago
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according to notfastenough's post . If all the mens teams dropped one rider,they could all operate a womens team each? well that could work ? What do you think ?

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Simon E [2546 posts] 3 years ago
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Apres-mapk wrote:

according to notfastenough's post . If all the mens teams dropped one rider,they could all operate a womens team each? well that could work ? What do you think ?

You're missing the point. It's not just a 'take a bit from here' back-of-envelope calculation. They still need bikes, vehicles, staff, itinerary, planning...

It simply isn't going to happen without adequate media exposure i.e. sponsors' names appearing on TV, in the press and on cycling website news articles. That is why sponsors put the money in.