Does sexism in cycling still exist?

Last week, during the World Championships, Sky News ran the news package below, about the Call For Sexual Equality In Sport, based on the news that the UCI is to insist on parity between men’s and women’s events at London 2012.

Brendan Gallagher in The Telegraph has a good overview: Read London 2012: Victoria Pendleton to be given chance of triple Olympic cycling gold

Today Lizzie Armitstead signed for Cervelo Test Team for the next two seasons. She’s currently the most promising British woman riding and joins Emma Pooley at a team with a good pedigree. As Stage Hopper points out on twitter:

“It was only 4 years or so back that Nicole Cooke was questioned for joining the same team (when they were called Univega ProCycling)”

“Thanks to her efforts they topped the world rankings in both the seasons she was there laying the foundation for the Cervelo we see today.”

More’s the pity that they couldn’t keep Cooke, but it’s not like they’ve gone wanting. A glance at the season’s results has them and Columbia-HTC as placing riders in the front group of almost every race of note this season, be it for stages or overall.

I have to say I feel sorry for Nicole Cooke whose season as World and Olympic champion has been more cursed than most.

Setting up Vision 1 Racing was an ambitious project, more so given the lack of a headline sponsor from the outset. But you don’t do a unique double like hers without pushing outside your comfort zone and being ambitious in your goals.

It clearly seems to have taken its toll on her racing form which hardly seems surprising now. It can’t be easy trying to get a team off the ground with the weight of expectation entirely on your own shoulders?

Increasingly I’ve been questioning the levels of equality in the British side of the sport, especially given the establishment of Team Sky. Here’s what the press release said about its aims:

Team Sky will aim to:

  • Create the first British winner of the Tour de France, within five years.
  • Inspire people of all ages and abilities to get on their bikes, through the team’s positive profile, attitude and success.
  • Add further support to competitive cycling in Great Britain.

OK, aim number one is the shoot for the stars headline, but the other two are the meat of what this about, right?

I don’t see any support for women’s cycle sport in anything announced to date.

Could an Olympic and World Champion not be an inspiration to the roughly 50% of the population who are female? Or the hugely personable Pooley and Armitstead?

Or the countless other young talents who are apparently having to make their own way along the road while their male counterparts can see a clear transition from U23/Espoirs to the seniors, potentially on a British team? where’s that path for the women?

I’m not trying to start a fight here, I just think that this is a really important part of the strategy that is missing. And I’ve yet to hear it properly addressed.

Let’s dispatch a few of the obvious get-outs:

No one else is doing it – you mean apart from Columbia-HTC and Cervelo Test Team. British Cycling managed to come up with a deal to run Halfords Bikehut to ensure Nicole Cooke’s double in 2008.

There’s not the depth of talent there – Italy’s women looked pretty deep on talent, likewise The Netherlands and GB isn’t short either with Cooke/Pooley/Armitstead. And if you’re going to develop the talent, as GB have done, where are they meant to go?

There’s seems to be an increasingly long list of British women coming through with serious talent and no English-speaking team to go into. Rosters aren’t big, 13 seems about average, and the pool is getting big enough to support another team.

They race a busy calendar but at half the size of the men’s team, the costs are lower. Plus economies of scale mean that run in the same setup they can use many of the same resources.

So anyone got any answers, or am I going to have to go out and get them myself?

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