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

by Simon_MacMichael   January 25, 2013  

Lizzie Armitstead in Boels-Dolmans kit (source Boels-Dolmans)

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."


25 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I see her point, but surely the new teams and big names will in turn bring the media attention, which will result in more money going into the sport, and thus to the riders?

Happy to be corrected if wrong.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3723 posts]
25th January 2013 - 11:13


Be careful of what you wish for Lizzie, its the money and wealth in male cycling that maintains the high cost doping programmes, tricky.

Ah, but that was then

posted by Pitstone Peddler [104 posts]
25th January 2013 - 11:39


Pitstone Peddler wrote:
Be careful of what you wish for Lizzie, its the money and wealth in male cycling that maintains the high cost doping programmes, tricky.

Isn't she wishing for a living wage for female cyclists? It's not exactly megabucks, is it? There's pretty huge step between making a living and the kind of wealth top male pros accumulate...

posted by hoski [78 posts]
25th January 2013 - 11:48


Here's what you do:

1. Hire Billy Jean King or Martina Navratilova to be the supremo of women's cycling
2. Take half the money but do the same grand slams, i.e. GdI, TdF, VdE
3. Make the ladies peloton half the size of the mens
4. Produce a champion who can articulate her abilities to the press
5. Wait 5 - 10 years

I know it's tough, but it's achievable. I'd add a 3 week tour in the Americas. Look at ladies golf and tennis and know what your target audience is.

Do not end up like ladies basketball in the US . . . something with nowhere to go. Think ladies golf or tennis please, please, please . . . oh, and realise you're in 1972 on a development scale.

Cannondale Supersix Evo US Champ Edition - Campy Super Record
Cannondale Supersix Evo Team Liquigas - Campy Super Record rebuild
Pinarello Dogma 60.1 - Campy Super Record
BMC SLR02 - Shimano 105

posted by mike_ibcyclist [57 posts]
25th January 2013 - 11:52


if Lizzie wants equality surely they should have had a kit designed that didn't "cup" the female form???

Good job Rapha didn't take a leaf out of this design guide, shorts that cup Brads male form would have been hideous!!!!

What do some people think when they design race kits?

posted by RacePace [19 posts]
25th January 2013 - 12:31



posted by themartincox [493 posts]
25th January 2013 - 13:23


What a load of boels. Bom bom.

It's not about a 'living wage', hoski. Armitstead is wanting something approaching parity with the men. Frankly, ain't gonna happen. Men's cycling is often dull to watch, women's is the same without the exciting bits. And maybe Lizzie is behind on the news, but sponsors are generally leaving the sport, not entering it. And the if the shitfest that is the UCI and anti-doping oversight continues, existing sponsors may well look at reducing budgets or following the likes of Rabobank out the door (Sky must be praying that this season doesn't chuck up any more fraudulence).

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:07


I couldn't get past the picture.

mingmong's picture

posted by mingmong [242 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:20


RacePace wrote:
if Lizzie wants equality surely they should have had a kit designed that didn't "cup" the female form???

Good job Rapha didn't take a leaf out of this design guide, shorts that cup Brads male form would have been hideous!!!!

What do some people think when they design race kits?

I thought that too. Sepp-Blatter-esque, ridiculous.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [1249 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:25


"She's just a phenomenal rider. It's horrible."

Refreshing condour there. Sadly without Vos, Armistead would be in the same unrivalled position. Sport is nothing without competition. When there's a group of contending athletes the TV coverage and money will come.

Then one day when you retire a couple of the Great British Public will recognise you on Strictly.

posted by sidesaddle [79 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:25


...yeah Im struggling to get past the picture here..

posted by NeilXDavis [118 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:27


What channel can I see Liz's next race on?
I think it just needs a bit more support from the mens side. If the teams start saying to the media "why aren't you covering the womens race?" then maybe things will change. I would want to see it and lets face it most cyclists or armchair fans would. Its more unpredictable and exciting to watch.

posted by pmr [193 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:30


RacePace wrote:
if Lizzie wants equality surely they should have had a kit designed that didn't "cup" the female form???

Good job Rapha didn't take a leaf out of this design guide, shorts that cup Brads male form would have been hideous!!!!

Was it the Italian national kit a year or two ago that did exactly that? A heart shaped cock patch, or something like that?

posted by a.jumper [833 posts]
25th January 2013 - 14:40


Lol I'm not sure how sexist it is to suggest that women can't be equal if they look like women.

posted by Parkaboy [13 posts]
25th January 2013 - 15:03


dullard wrote:
What a load of boels. Bom bom.
Men's cycling is often dull to watch, women's is the same without the exciting bits.

I presume you didn't watch the womens Olympic road race last year then? Frequently womens cycling is far more exciting than the mens.

posted by fred22 [209 posts]
25th January 2013 - 17:44



Nope, I did watch it. And the men's. And neither created a huge excitement. Men's races finishing in a bunch sprint are usually the best. If you find women's racing frequently more exciting than the men's, then good for you, get out and watch it.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
25th January 2013 - 19:48


Why don't they start the men's and women's races at the same time. Double your money and half the cost!

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1621 posts]
25th January 2013 - 21:29


Top comment Mike bicyclist. That is exactly what they need.


posted by NorthernRouleur [26 posts]
25th January 2013 - 21:39


Sorry, I have no idea what was discussed in this article other than the headline - I whole heartedly support the need for equality in all areas of working wages especially sport, but wherever there is a photo of Lizzie Armitstead in tight fitting clothing I will always find it difficult to concentrate on anything else Love Struck

Strax's picture

posted by jdstrachan@yaho... [53 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:03


Looks like a candidate for next years Cyclepassion calendar! Cool


brockhurst5's picture

posted by brockhurst5 [30 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:07


The inequality in female coverage and pay stems from the inequality in female participants and spectators. As this gradually increases, so too will coverage and pay.

The glass is 50% capacity.

mrfree's picture

posted by mrfree [58 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:15


L love Lizzie.

The Olympic men's road race was tedious, the women's was edge of the seat.

She has got a point - why should they be paid less, do they put in any less effort?

And based on her current form, I think Mariane Vos could give some of the lads a run for their money.

Come on UCI, sort it out.

posted by Littlesox [89 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:39


I feel for the professional women cyclists, they should be able to earn a decent living as professional sports women, but I'd quite like to get the same money as the pro's too.
But I'm just a male third cat, riding shorter races at a slower speed, and the prize money (on the rare occasions I get any) reflects that.
If you want the same money as mens professional racing, ride the same races at the same speed.
Does half the distance at the same speed as a second cat race deserve the same money as mens pro racing...?

posted by matthew2689 [2 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:44


Not sure about road, but watching the women's cyclocross vs the men it's painfully obvious tha there is a performance related pay issue. Women WILL catch up with men in terms of quality and entrainment, but the World Cup races still seem painfully poor when you see the women's races ...

I stress that I do love watching the races but its clear that U16 races in the UK have better riding displayed than these top level women's races. As I say, the quality WILL improve, but it seems so, so far behind at the moment. Still. Sadly. The same isn't true of women's MTB or downhill, which both seem to have grown proportionately with the men's scene.

minnellium's picture

posted by minnellium [84 posts]
26th January 2013 - 0:22


Vulpine are part of Matrix Racing Academy, FANBACKEDWOMENSCYCLING and the Bedford International stage race this year.

I'm not looking for a pat on the back. I just want to make a heartfelt point that we're doing this because we love racing, and we see women's racing as hugely exciting, less corrupted and a fantastic way for a small company to really get it's teeth into high-end racing with fantastic athletes.

There is so much promise in women's racing and I see it in a very positive light. Wiggle and CTC entering the fray is a sign of a slow rise for women's racing. FANBACKEDWOMENSCYCLING is getting huge support. There is more passion and anger turned to positivity than many realise.

We don't want to see embarrassing tokenism, leering, podium girls and condescending pats on the head. We want to make sure hard as nails racing is supported and gets coverage.

I want to see Tour de France Feminin back. A women's Tour of Britain. Britain at the top of the road racing tree along with the men. A growing base of support for juniors and riders of any age coming through.

Because if you love bike racing, you want to see it flourish, especially if its entertaining and tough. And women's racing should be a huge part of the great changes. Not because its politically correct, but because it's future greater fame is deserved. High quality racing and commitment.

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posted by aslongasicycle [369 posts]
26th January 2013 - 10:33