Britain’s top female road rider, Lizzie Armitstead, says that there should be a minimum wage for women’s riders, just as there is for their male counterparts.
The 25-year-old from Otley, West Yorkshire was speaking to Sky Sports News HQ at the end of a season that has seen the hugely successful launch of the Friends Life Women’s Tour in Britain, plus the inaugural edition of the one-day race in Paris, La Course by Le Tour.
That race, held on the final day of the Tour de France on the same Champs-Elysées circuit the grand tour finished on later that afternoon, will return next year, it was confirmed today.
Meanwhile yesterday, Vuelta a España director Javier Gullén confirmed that there are plans to hold a similar event on the final day of the Spanish race in Madrid next year.
Armitstead, who rides for the Dutch team Boels-Dolmans, believes the women’s side of the sport is moving in the right direction, but says more needs to be done.
"It's kind of the chicken and egg scenario,” she said. “It's media exposure, it's sponsors. At the end of the day, cycling is a business, so we have to be able to offer something to a sponsor, and without exposure, that's going to be difficult but that's where the UCI perhaps has to be a little bit stronger.
"There have been some good realistic steps and good progression. I think the International Cycling Union (UCI) has put in some good ideas and some good strategies but obviously there's still a long way to go.”
La Course came about as a result of the Tour Entier campaign launched last year by riders including Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos, who won the inaugural edition.
But Armitstead said: "I think before we talk about having a three-week Tour de France, which has been a massive talking point this year, we need to talk about the professionalism of it.
“You can't expect a woman who's holding down a part-time job to train for the biggest race in the world. She has to have a minimum wage and I think it's something that is pretty crazy that we don't have that."
Currently, the minimum annual wage for a UCI WorldTour rider other than a neo-pro year is €35,000, and typically will be supplemented by bonuses. Top riders, of course, can earn millions.
It’s a world away from the women’s side of the sport; this year Emma Pooley, a former world time trial champion and winner of some of its biggest races, retired from road racing to focus on the bigger money available in triathlons and long-distance running.
She has also called on professional teams to consider funding and running women's teams alongside their existing men's teams.
If professional men's teams are now going to have development teams, women's teams should too, she believes.
UCI president Brian Cookson made women’s cycling one of the six key pillars of his electoral campaign last year, but acknowledged that finances are an issue.
He said: "You can't just develop professional sport by passing rules about minimum wages. There has to be money coming into the sport," he said.
"If companies want to sponsor the sport, they have to feel there is a value in sponsoring the competitors whether males or females and so it’s important what we do at the UCI level and also at national federation level is get behind women’s cycling, support it as much as we can, and get as many sponsors in as we can.
“We need to raise the media profile, so there is more of a value, so we can then offer more full-time professional careers to more women than is the case at the moment.”
Armitstead, winner of a silver medal behind Vos at the Olympic road race at London 2012, has just finished the most successful season of her career, taking gold in the same event at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow after winning the season-long UCI Women Road World Cup.
"I'm really happy with the season as it's been a massive success for me," she reflected.
"The Commonwealth Games was a real goal because of what it means to the public, and what it means to my family, but personally wining the Cycling World Cup has been a bigger achievement for me.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.