Sunday, March 23, 2014

Progress

Can't race?  I helped MC for the Bonelli U.S Cup live broadcast.  Photo: Dave McElwaine

I spent last weekend attending round two of the U.S National mountain bike series in Bonelli, California.  This wasn't just business as usual at the spring races as the season opens.  Nope, Scott Tedro, Sho-Air Cycling Group, and USA Cycling have formed an alliance to make this the biggest thing to happen to mountain biking on north american soil in a long time.  Tedro wanted to make a statement with the U.S Cup four race series, and he came out of the gate charging.  He has put up eighty thousand dollars in prize money for the series, and, most importantly, this prize money is equal for men and women across the board.  There is equal overall prize money as many places deep for the men as for the women.  There's equal prize money for each individual stop on the tour.  A lot of promoters have been taking leadership on the circuit and putting up equal prize money at their races.  The majority of promoters paid equal prize money for the top three of five women and men in the 2013 series.  Sho-Air Cycling group really took this to the next level by putting up a large overall prize purse as well as paying equally at each of the races.  To really make this the premiere North American race series, Tedro and Sho-Air Cycling Group created a live stream for each of these races with playback options.  So, just like the World Cups, I was able to watch from the comfort of my own saddle back in Vermont.  This is revolutionary for national racing, and it's having an impact.  With the increase in prize money, the accessible media coverage, and the equality, there was the biggest women's field that I can remember in a really long time.  There were forty-five women toeing the line from several different countries as compared to the eighteen racing last year.  This is progress.  It's just proof that if you build it, they will come.  

Proof in the Pudding: The difference in Fontana Start Lists from 2013 to 2014

It takes effort from all of the stakeholders; racers, race promoters, governing bodies, teams, sponsors, and media to build women's cycling.  This year's U.S Cup series is a success story, but this isn't the only location that we are seeing progress.  Because of pressure from the group, Le Tour Entier, an organization dedicated to the change, growth, and progress of women's cycling around the world, the famous last stage of the Tour de France will also include a women's race.  Ideally, there would be an entire three week women's Tour de France with equal media coverage, but this is most definitely a great and hard fought step in the right direction. Moving right along with progress for women's road cycling, all of the women's road racing world cups will now be live broadcast on the internet with certain stations buying coverage for post race airings.  This is another revolutionary step.  It's an opportunity to see how exciting women's road racing can be other than every four years at the Olympics.  Awesome.  

Change is in the air.  There is a new president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), Brian Cookson, who is interested in growing women's cycling.  His actions already back his statements.  He appointed Tracey Guardry as his Vice President of the UCI, and the UCI also has a newly minted Women's Commission.    The UCI also started paying equal prize money to the podium at the Mountain Bike World Cups last year, and, because of this leadership, one of the most famous stage races in South Africa, the Cape Epic, is now paying equal prize money for the first time in their long history.  

On a smaller scale, Jojo Petterson and Lisa Nye Sallidin, both on the USA Cycling mountain bike committee, created the USA Cycling women's committee.  These are women that sit on all of the USA Cycling committees (mountain bike, road, cyclocross, and track), and our goal is to grow USA Cycling's female membership which has been stuck at thirteen percent for years.  The women's committee meets over phone once and month, and I always get off the phone really excited about the future.  There is momentum behind the movement to grow women's cycling.  The Little Bellas are primed to feed more women into the sport, and I'm excited to be in the midst of the change.  We need to keep working and keep progressing, and, most importantly, give positive feedback to the stakeholders when they stand up for equality and push the boundaries of the sport.  

So, thank you to all of those sponsors who put up extra money to equal out the prize money.  Thank you so the race promoters who asked for the extra dollars with a tight budget in the name of equality.  Thank you to the factory teams who realize the marketing potential of female racers and made the investment.  Thank you to all the women and men volunteering time to these groups and committees solving the puzzle.  Thank you to the media for providing equal coverage.  Thank you to the female racers who support these equality efforts by showing up and racing.  You know who you are. We really appreciate all of your initiatives.  All of these efforts combined are moving the needle.  Let's keep going and create so much change that we break the needle.  

Thank you for giving the Little Bellas something to aspire to; hope and a future with equal footing. 

0 comments: