British Cycling president Brian Cookson is putting together a meeting between Tour de France organiser ASO and representatives of the women’s racing community to discuss the possibility of setting up a women’s equivalent of the Tour.
Cookson is standing for the presidency of cycling’s governing body, the UCI, against incumbent Pat McQuaid. Writing on his blog today, he says: “There has been a lot of attention recently on the need to develop women's cycling at all levels of the sport and quite rightly so.
“Cycling, like many sports, has been male-dominated throughout the sport's history, and continues to be so. But the world has changed, continues to change, and we need to change with it. There are some key things that we can do right now that will make the development of women's cycling happen more easily and more quickly.
“A women's equivalent of the Tour de France is one potential solution and the focus of attention of a really successful petition which now has over 77,000 signatures.
“Undoubtedly having a female equivalent of the biggest bike race in the world is certainly something we should explore so I am currently setting up a meeting involving Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley and other key representatives behind the petition with the right people, including Tour de France owners ASO, UCI Management Committee member Tracey Gaudry and myself.”
Cookson mentions the women’s Olympic road race as an example of a successful women’s event. “Despite the rain, the crowds and television audience were huge, just as big as for the men's race, and they were rewarded with a thrilling contest that was a superb sporting spectacle. The race was easily better than the men’s,” he writes.
However, the loss of many once-significant women’s events and the struggle of the last remaining women’s grand tour, the Giro Donne to stay afloat, indicates women’s racing has serious problems.
“Women's road racing is caught in a negative cycle where lack of exposure is putting off sponsors which means that women find it hard to earn what they should which limits the talent attracted,” writes Cookson. “It's a classic case where we need the governing body to step in and provide a solution to grow the sport so it can become self sustaining.”
“We need to stop the negative spiral that has developed under the current UCI administration, whereby dwindling exposure, sponsorship and support is leading to fewer events and reduced rewards for the women's professional peloton.
“To do this, we need to work closely with organisers, sponsors, teams and broadcasters to create new events on the professional calendar.”
One such event is a five-day women’s tour in the UK, which Tour of Britain organisers SweetSpot announced earlier this year.
“The event will be separate from the men's race, but it will be promoted to a high standard and will, I'm sure, be the first step in having a full equivalent Tour of Britain as it develops.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.