Lizzie Armitstead: Women's team launches mask continued gender imbalance in cycling
Disparity in pay and prize money and lack of media coverage remain huge problems, says Olympic silver medallist
Olympic silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead has voiced her continued frustration at gender inequality in cycling. Her comments come ahead of today’s high-profile presentation in London of the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling Team, which is backed by the Bradley Wiggins Foundation.
It also follows the unveiling at the London Bike Show last weekend of the new Team CTC, but Armitstead, who will ride for Dutch outfit Boels-Dolmans this year, says that press coverage of those launches obscures the real issues, such as inequality in pay and lack of media attention. "For me it's almost become more frustrating," she told the BBC.
"The general media in Britain don't understand the ins and outs of cycling, so they fall into the trap of believing that something is going to create real change, when for me I know it's just a media spin off.
"But, at the same time, if I become too involved in it and let it bother me too much then you become the person who's the negative person all the time - and I don't want to be that. "I'm a passionate and honest person, but I am positive,” added Armitstead.
Her positivity manifested itself earlier this month when the 23-year-old was drawn into a war of words with Nicole Cooke following the latter’s emotional retirement statement, which slammed dopers, among other things. Armitstead said the sport was cleaner now and it was more important to focus on the future, not look backwards.
Top female pros earn a fraction of what their male counterparts do - the entire budget of a top women's team is put at less than half a million euro - and for the less heralded team mates who support them, there is not even the safety net of a minimum wage, which the UCI stipulates for men’s teams.
Armitstead says she earns enough money to live on from cycling, “but not all the girls in my team can and that's the real point.
"I'm happy that I make a living from cycling, so for me it's more about the girls at the bottom end who are giving up their races to try and help me win, the domestiques, who aren't getting paid a good-enough wage."
This year, the UCI is introducing equal prize money for women, but only at world championships. In the vast majority of races, with organisers struggling to attract sponsorship and media coverage, pickings will remain slim, even for those races run alongside men’s events such as the Tour of Flanders.
Armitstead called for the media to rethink its approach to women’s racing, pointing out ways in which some races could be incorporated within coverage of men’s races.
"It's simple steps, things that aren't even hard. We have a few classic races in the spring that run alongside the men's races. The cameras are already there, the presenters are already there, your audience is already there watching the television programme, but it's not broadcast.
"Why not, at the start or at the end, show 10 minutes of the women's race? It's not a big problem to do that I don't think."
In the past Armiststead has appealed to Team Sky to support a women's squad, but says she is looking forward to her future with her new team.
"I've been told before that if they wanted a women's Team Sky they would only have to tighten up on logistics and flights," she explained. "But I'm not fighting for a women's Team Sky.
"I'm very happy where I am and I get great opportunities, so if there was a women's Team Sky the last thing I want people to say is 'oh well, you've been asking for a women's Team Sky and you're not going there', because that's probably what would happen - I probably wouldn't go."
Turning to the subject of Boels-Dolmans, she said: "It's the first time I've ever ridden for a team where - if I'm happy and everything goes well - the sponsors have signed up until 2016 so there's a real future there if I want it.
"To be around people who are so enthusiastic about women's cycling is really good - it rubs off on us all."
While the women's side of the sport has serious issues to overcome off the road, Armitstead has a problem of her own to overcome on it - the dominance of Marianne Vos, who outsprinted her to Olympic gold in London, added the road world championship in September, and is reckoned by many to be the world's best bike rider, male or female.
"I expect Marianne to be the person to beat for the rest of my career," reflected Armitstead.
"She's just a phenomenal rider. It's horrible."