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“The economic model for women’s competitions is sputtering”: Women’s E3 Saxo Classic cancelled after just two years

The organisers cited fears of a “mountain of debt”, scheduling conflicts and low confidence from the sponsors as reasons behind the decision

Continuing the theme of misfortune that's befallen women's cycling in recent times, the cobbled Flemish one-day race Women's E3 Saxo Classic has been cancelled by the organisers after just two years of hosting, citing rising organisational costs and low confidence from the sponsors, as well as scheduling conflicts with other races.

The men's edition of the classic, previously known as E3 Harelbeke, with treacherous cobbles, steep climbs and narrow roads, first began in 1958 and taking place in the week preceding the famed monument Tour of Flanders, it soon went on to become a sought-after race as riders began using it as a testing ground for their legs, the most recent winner being Belgium's Wout van Aert.

Women's E3 Saxo Bank, also known as Leiedal Koerse, meanwhile, kicked off in 2022 as a UCI 1.2 event, with pro cycling's governing body set to promote the race to a 1.1 from 2024. But organisers Velovrienden have decided to pull the plug on the race.

The race's press officer Jacques Coussens told Sporza: ""The economic model for women's competitions is sputtering... Organizational costs continue to rise, while the attractiveness for sponsors remains below growth expectations.

"The board of the Nieuwe Velovrienden, the organiser of the women's race, had examined whether a final edition in 2024 in Bavikhove, together with the juniors, was feasible, but the negative economic model is also at play for this edition.

"The organizer fears that the last edition would be too loss-making and did not want to end up with a mountain of debt. That is why the board of the Nieuwe Velovrienden decided to pull the plug on the Leiedal Koerse women's race due to a lack of long-term perspective on the calendar and a lack of healthy financial prospects."

> Women's Tour cancelled for 2023, organisers cite lack of financial backing

The cancellation of Women's E3 Saxo means that of all the main spring Classics, only Milan-San Remo, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and now the E3 Saxo Classic lack a race for women.

However, unlike the other spring Classics, which includes the fortnight of prestigious cycle racing in Flanders to take place in late March and early April, the Leiedal Koerse was held at the end of April alongside a junior men's version of the race and not near the date of the men's WorldTour race.

According to Coussens, the scheduling issues, information of which were obtained by the board of organisers through "various contacts" also played a big part in the decision to take the race off the calendar, as sponsors didn't find it lucrative enough.

He said: "The intention was to have the women's race run on the classic Friday of the WorldTour race E3 Saxo Classic for men from 2025 with a start and finish at the Forestiers Stadium in Harelbeke.

"There are calendar problems for moving the women's race. On the Thursday preceding the E3 Saxo Classic for men, there is the WorldTour race for women in De Panne and on the following Sunday in Gent-Wevelgem. Both are sticking to their statutes and date."

This continues a worrying trend as race organisers cite financial woes and struggle to stay afloat. In March last year, the Women's Tour, the biggest women's race hosted in Britain, was on the chopping block.

The organiser SweetSpot, also responsible for organising the men's edition of the Tour of Britain, had said that the landmark race will go on a hiatus owing to high running costs and a lack of sponsors and commercial support — reasons quite similar to the cancellation of E3 as well.

In fact, just a couple of weeks before the cancellation, Sweetspot had issued an urgent appeal for sponsorship for the 2023 edition of the race, with reports suggesting the organisers were facing a £500,000 shortfall.

Women's Tour Oxford (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

> "We have been fighting so many headwinds for the last three or four years, that it's come to the point where we really can't carry on": Women's Tour owner and Tour of Britain organiser SweetSpot goes into liquidation

And just earlier this week, it was reported SweetSpot was entering voluntary liquidation, with liabilities likely to extend significantly past £1 million. Chief executive Hugh Roberts, said: "It's the end of an era. It's 20 years of hard work that have come to this.

"We have been fighting so many headwinds for the last three or four years, that it's come to the point where we really can't carry on in the current climate and the current business environment that we find ourselves in.

"The conditions that were set for us to extract ourselves from the position with British Cycling were too onerous. British Cycling wanted to still receive the full licence fee that they felt they were due in 2022. Despite the Queen dying in the middle of the race and all our other partners showing a little bit of financial sympathy to us they were insisting that the fee they felt they were owed should be paid in full.

"That, along with Covid, with not having a race from September 2019 to September 2021, the debt taken on board to keep the whole thing afloat. Local council bankruptcies, belt-tightening all over the place – that does not augur well for events that rely on government support.

"British Cycling say they have a plan [for the men's Tour of Britain] but I don’t know what it is. There was no room to negotiate. We were not even given the grounds to appeal."

British Cycling said it is "making every possible effort to  ensure that the Tour of Britain and a UCI Women's World Tour stage race take place in 2024 and beyond, and will be in a position to provide further details in the coming weeks". 

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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53 comments

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Velophaart_95 | 5 months ago
5 likes

Look at the MTB & CX World Cups; women's race, followed by the men. Organisers are obliged to host a women's race - it's part of the deal. Should be the same for road races - if they can't afford a women's race, then they can't have the men's race either......

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Simon E replied to Velophaart_95 | 5 months ago
2 likes

Nice idea but I suspect you're totally unaware of the massive headache that organising a road race is, even a local league or 1/2/3/4 handicap race on a small circuit.

If they can't do it in Belgium, where closing roads for a bike race is normal, then there's zero chance of doing it in cyclist-hating Britain. I'll not be surprised if the Women's Tour and ToB don't resurface for several years.

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squired replied to Velophaart_95 | 5 months ago
1 like

Wasn't that what led to the demise of the Tour of California?  If I remember correctly there was a new rule that if you did the men's race the women's one would have to be the same length (7 or 9 stages or whatever it was).  That was the end of the race.

Women's cycling has got away with goodwill from sponsors who knew that being seen to sponsor female cycling was likely good for their brands.  However, at a time of economic turmoil any sponsor is ultimately looking at return on investment.  If they can't get that they will look elsewhere.  That is likely part of the reason why male domestic cycling is in such a dire state with only Saint Piran propping it up now.

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mctrials23 | 5 months ago
2 likes

This is the problem in many many womens sports when it comes to professional levels. Unfortunately its often a chicken or the egg scenario. They will never be profitable...unless people are prepared for them to be unprofitable while their support base is grown and the profile of the sport is increased. 

Womens football is a good example. Its growing all the time but for most teams, the mens side is still propping them up. Eventually they will stand on their own but for now, the historic lack of interest and investment means many sports are starting from a low position. 

Unfortunately the time of free money is at an end for now so advertisers/organisers want to see returns on their money now. Not it 5 years. 

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cyclisto | 5 months ago
0 likes

I wanted also to organize a tree looking race but unfortunately sponsors were a bit hesitant.

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don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
1 like

Put the women in the men's race, U23s race against Elite. I can see no reason not to have the women mixing it up with the men.

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
9 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

Put the women in the men's race, U23s race against Elite. I can see no reason not to have the women mixing it up with the men.

Because for the short time the men and women were together it would be a dangerous mess as the much larger, heavier and faster male riders barged to the front, then the women would swiftly be dropped* and you'd end up with two separate races on course at the same time, which would be a logistical nightmare in terms of team cars, ambulances, TV coverage etc. The comparison with U23s is absurd, male U23 pros are often on a par with their senior colleagues (e.g. Bernal winning the Tour aged 22, Pogacar winning two Tours starting aged 21). Ridiculous suggestion.

*See for example last year's Paris Roubaix, male race average speed 46km/h, female race average speed 39 km/h and that when the women were only racing 145km and the men were racing 256km.

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

That's very disrespectful to women, mate.

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
5 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

That's very disrespectful to women, mate.

I knew you would come back with some such accusation, "mate", which is of course every bit as absurd as your original suggestion. It is a simple fact that elite female racers would simply not be able to hold their own in a race with elite male racers, as you can see from the average speeds I quoted above even before you factor in the bigger size and heavier weight of male racers. It's disrespectful to women to suggest they should be forced to race in an environment where they wouldn't have a hope of winning, or even coming in the top 100, and where they would quite likely be placed in unnecessary danger, rather than having their own races. I've never seen a single female pro suggest or request that they should compete in the same road races as men - are they all disrespectful to women as well?

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

I never said that women would be competing against the men, but don't let that get in the way. I said mixing it with the men, which you have interpreted how you have interpreted it.

Suggesting that females are too fragile to take the rufty tufty of a men's peloton is a little insulting, isn't it?

A woman would still win the womens' race (within a race, or follow on race, or whatever the structure is of sharing race days).

But hey...

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
4 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

Suggesting that females are too fragile to take the rufty tufty of a men's peloton is a little insulting, isn't it?

No, it isn't, any more than it would be insulting to a flyweight to suggest they would lose to a heavyweight. It's a simple matter of size, weight and power, male riders have a lot more of all three and in the close contact bumping and boring of a peleton at the start of a race women are inevitably going to come off second best. That's not saying they're fragile, it's a simple fact that if Lizzie Deignan (5'6", 57kg) is jousting for the same space with Wout van Aert (6'3", 78kg) she is going to come off worse. Would it be insulting to women, and accusing them of being "fragile" to say it would be foolish for the England women's rugby team to take on their male counterparts in a full-contact match? Of course it wouldn't. Stop being silly.

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

But 1.75m and 60kg Jonas Vingegaard can? Stop pulling silly comparisons to justify your putting women in their place with your telling them what they can't/shouldn't do and come back with a positive solution to the problem. No wonder so few women post here. Chao!

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
4 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

But 1.75m and 60kg Jonas Vingegaard can? Stop pulling silly comparisons to justify your putting women in their place with your telling them what they can't/shouldn't do and come back with a positive solution to the problem. No wonder so few women post here. Chao!

You're the person telling women they can give up their own races and race with men, not me. If women want to do that, fine, let them. Can you show me a single female pro who's ever asked for that? No, you can't, so it's you who is telling women what they should want/do even though it's quite clear they have no wish to do that, for the obvious reasons I have stated, not me.

 

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

Wow!

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john_smith replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

Because for the short time the men and women were together it would be a dangerous mess as the much larger, heavier and faster male riders barged to the front, then the women would swiftly be dropped*.

What would be dangerous about it? Since when has riders getting dropped been a problem? Since when has big, heavy riders racing with smaller, lighter ones been a problem? It's certainly not unheard of for women to compete against men in UCI road races.

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Rendel Harris replied to john_smith | 5 months ago
2 likes

john_smith wrote:

What would be dangerous about it? Since when has riders getting dropped been a problem? Since when has big, heavy riders racing with smaller, lighter ones been a problem? It's certainly not unheard of for women to compete against men in UCI road races.

It would be dangerous because the height, weight and strength differential between the biggest men and the smallest women is much greater than that between the biggest men and the smallest men, the women would be left with a choice of getting barged out the way or just not competing at all and letting the men go through. It would be a problem when all the women were dropped, as they would inevitably be, because you would then have effectively two races, a man's and a women's, racing on the same road at the same time, with all the logistical problems that would create.

I can't believe that anybody would genuinely defend such a ludicrous idea, if it was workable, you think it wouldn't have been tried already? It's not, it wouldn't work, neither male nor female racers would be in favour of it, it's a complete nonstarter.

I've never heard of women competing against men in UCI road races, I assume you have examples? I mean of course in a professional road race, not something like the Grand Fondo series which is entirely different.

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john_smith replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

With respect, you sound as though you have no idea what you're talking about. Riders don't just crash into each other because one is taller or heavier or stronger than another. In any race riders get dropped, and unless they are taken out of the race they can finish a long time behind the fastess riders. It really doesn't have to be a problem.

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Rendel Harris replied to john_smith | 5 months ago
2 likes

Why do you bother saying "with respect" when your following clause shows you have none? I fear it's you who has very little understanding: in the opening stages of a classics race there is massive bumping and boring to gain position and smaller, lighter, less powerful women would inevitably be pushed out. Despite the person who started this nonsensical debate trying to frame me as a sexist for saying women shouldn't be racing with men, it is anyone who supports it who is actually being sexist (I don't know of anyone involved in professional cycling of either sex who actually does), saying to women no you're not important enough to have your own race but we'll be generous and let you race with the men. Yes of course they will push you out of the way, you will end up dozens of kilometres behind and all the TV and fan focus will be on the men's race, but aren't we nice for letting you race at all?

Still waiting for your examples of unisex UCI road races? Alternatively, can you find any example of a female professional racer saying that she would like to race on the road with men?

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john_smith replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

Marianne Vos raced against men at Edmond-Pier-Egmondon quite few times. If I remember rightly Laurens Ten Dam was riding on one occasion too, and I think Vos might have been faster then he was. She certainly beat a lot of the men.

As for road races, I have seen them on the continent with Elite, women and U19s all starting together.

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Rendel Harris replied to john_smith | 5 months ago
0 likes

john_smith wrote:

Marianne Vos raced against men at Edmond-Pier-Egmondon quite few times.

EPE is a mass start mixed-sex beach mountain bike race, it's not a UCI race nor is it a road race. What were these races on the continent you saw, you must be able to remember what they were?

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

The person who started this debate didn't cancel the race, so is not demanding that women do anything. The person that started this debate did not claim that Lizzie Deignan should not race with men while accepting that similar sized Vingegaard, or more similar Adam Yates can. The person that started this hasn't made outrageous statements to support their misogyny by claiming that women are not demanding to race with men. The person that started this knows that women are hard as fuck and can take the knocks and get back up. The person that started this is not scared of women. I'll let you keep on digging though, chao!

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
1 like

don simon fbpe wrote:

The person that started this hasn't made outrageous statements to support their misogyny by claiming that women are not demanding to race with men.

Are women demanding to race with men? Presumably you have examples? This would be a more sensible debate if you would stop posturing and accusing people of misogyny simply because they reject your idiotic and, ironically, deeply sexist idea that women should have their races taken away from them and merged with those of men.

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

don simon fbpe wrote:

The person that started this hasn't made outrageous statements to support their misogyny by claiming that women are not demanding to race with men.

Are women demanding to race with men? Presumably you have examples? This would be a more sensible debate if you would stop posturing and accusing people of misogyny simply because they reject your idiotic and, ironically, deeply sexist idea that women should have their races taken away from them and merged with those of men.

You can, of course, illustrate where I have said this, can't you? Half term seems to come around earlier each year.

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john_smith replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

They are not demanding to do it. They are doing it. Mixed racing is not a problem. You are trying to make a problem out of it.

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Rendel Harris replied to john_smith | 5 months ago
1 like

john_smith wrote:

They are not demanding to do it. They are doing it. Mixed racing is not a problem. You are trying to make a problem out of it.

Once again, a single example please of a professional UCI road race where men and women race together. Just one.

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john_smith replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

Where did I say anything about "professional"?

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Rendel Harris replied to john_smith | 5 months ago
0 likes

john_smith wrote:

Where did I say anything about "professional"?

This discussion was about the possibility of women being placed in the men's Saxo Bank Classic, a professional race. But go on then, have you got examples of a UCI-sanctioned amateur road race in which men and women compete together?

 

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don simon fbpe replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

Why does there have to be a previous example of a new concept? There are examples of UCI races where women have run the same course on the same day, something mentioned as being logistacally impossible. And why haven't you responded to Lizzie being too light and fragile to compete against bigger stronger males, like Adam Yates? While we're here, you'll be happy to quote the bit where I demanded that women have their races taken away. And if you want an example of a long distance stage race where fragile women mix it up with big strong hard men, have a look at the Titan Desert. Or you could just go quiet. Chao.

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Rendel Harris replied to don simon fbpe | 5 months ago
0 likes

Sorry "mate", your decision to sink to the level of playground insults makes it rather pointless to give you any reply, you've made both yourself and your arguments look very stupid at the same time. I'll leave the relative number of likes on our comments to speak for itself regarding what others think regarding your sexist suggestions. Ciao.

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

Hello rendel, do you ever get dizzy running around in circles (when you aren't digging holes for yourself)?

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