So, the article on the front page... this one
Notwithstanding that the comments section is full of people who don't seem to get why
there are such complaints about the women's race (hint: it's not because it's 140km but because all of the most interesting obstacles of the men's race, that will attract the most pre-race anticipation and discussion, are omitted), the UCI's pathetic attempt at justification for their ridiculous inequality requires some more colour. I would like to rebut them point by point.
Louis Chenaille, in a way I feel sorry for you, because as the spokesperson, you're the one that has to go out there and try to defend this, while the people who are actually responsible get to throw you to the wolves. I appreciate that you probably aren't personally responsible and are just telling us what you've been told to tell us. But surely you must have proof-read this crap, and instead of saying "sorry guys, I can't say this with a straight face, come up with a better explanation for me, please", you went along with it, so it's your words that I'm using here.
The UCI spent "more than two years" collaborating with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to come up with the routes, Chenaille explained, even allowing for a shorter-than-regulation men's course because of the severity of the elevation profile.
So the fruit of two entire years' labour is a really interesting men's route which loops back and forth and includes two significant and decisive climbs, and a women's race with neither of them? How much of that two years was spent trying to consider how to produce a race that would allow both
genders to adequately showcase what they are capable of?
The men race 234km with 4,865 metres of elevation gain, including part of the iconic Mount Fuji. The women race 137km, with 2,692 metres of elevation gain over two climbs. But in comparison with other races on the women's calendar, the Tokyo course ranks as one of the hardest.
Where is this 2700m elevation gain? Is this ranked literally, by going onto cronoescalada or La Flamme Rouge? You know, in the same way as Niki Terpstra once published his strava data from Paris-Roubaix and it showed 1400m elevation gain
? As far as I can see, the women start at 50m altitude, have a bunch of rolling terrain, slowly climb over low gradients to 1120m, then have a plateau, a short climb, and then a rolling circuit. I don't see 2700m in that.
But even say that you're correct, and there is that much elevation gain... you ought to know by now that just saying "they have 2700m elevation gain" says nothing for the actual usefulness of that elevation gain for selectivity and, you know, racing
. There was over 4000m elevation gain in the Big Bear Lake stage of the 2010 Tour of California, and it was utter garbage for racing, with all of the gradients at around the 3% level, too shallow to produce decisive gaps on, and the stage ended in a sprint. The 2010 Pau stage in the Tour de France featured about 5000, but none of it was decisive because the climbs were all front-loaded. There's a difference between providing riders with a difficult
course and providing them with a good
course. Maybe this course is difficult: but it isn't good, certainly not when compared to the one the men get to do, with multiple platforms for attacking. And it would be possible to include the loop with the Mikuri Pass in the race if you skipped some of the circuits, you know, while still staying within the maximum allowable distance. You could always extend the neutral zone if you're that intent on them starting at the same point.
the difficulty of the courses, field sizes and comparisons to other calendar events all led to the decisions to use different routes for the races.
Then solve the problem of field size! There's no real justifiable reason why only 67 women can start the road race. And you know, comparison to other calendar events?
While the professional men's peloton regularly takes on courses that come close to this type of severity, the women's calendar has very few races that feature this kind of elevation gain.
Right. Whose fault is this? Who is the entity that, when setting up the Women's World Tour, chose to make absolute dreck races like RideLondon and the Madrid Challenge World Tour, offering excellent coverage of the women going round and round a crit course for an hour (while the men do a real race in the first instance, and as a sideshow attraction for the end of a three week men's race in the other), and didn't give that status to difficult climbing races like the Giro del Trentino or the Emakumeen Bira - which was nearly killed by the bouncing around the calendar it was forced to do by the Women's World Tour events? Sure, the Emakumeen Bira is World Tour now, but while there are precious few real mountainous races for women, as the authority in charge of cycling, who's in the best position to resolve that problem? Me or you? Here's the thing: for the most part, the British races are doing a great job in ensuring that the women get equal prize money, or if not equality at least get a decent pot to fight it out for, and get decent TV coverage. But a race like RideLondon - that's not a race that justifies WWT status so long as it's an hour crit. Because of the coverage and the prize pot it will draw a good field anyway. Meanwhile, La Course gets to run roughshod over the whole calendar and the UCI doesn't bat an eyelid, killing off an established stage race which often included some significant climbing (the Route de France) and forcing a calendar change for one of the women's game's most established stage races (the Thüringen Rundfahrt). Now: this year's La Course was a fantastic race and a great exhibition of the kind of racing the women are capable of providing when given a tough mountainous course - when the obstacles are conducive to it
, i.e. not climbing at 2-3% for an æon under the pretence that height metres is the only thing that makes a race hard
. We have seen several instances of women actively demanding better routes - Emma Johansson refusing to turn up to the Women's Tour unless they make a more selective parcours, Annemiek van Vleuten asking the Giro Rosa organisers not to create such a tame parcours as the 2017 edition again, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig calling out the UCI on their not allowing the women to race the climb that has had everybody's tongues wagging in anticipation ahead of the Innsbruck World Championships.
And it's been down to Annemiek again to ask that question. And before we get down to the arguments about distance or the relative strengths of men and women (an argument that seldom seems to come up in track, CX or MTB, only in road cycling for some reason), let's refer back to an exchange from Twitter:
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
: Hi guys, can you help me⁉ The men’s and the women’s parcours for both the ITT and the RR at @ibk_tirol2018 is significantly different. Why is that? I wrote a blog about it (link below). Let me know your thoughts on this?
: What if is the organizers way of honoring the women by giving them their own course, and thereby their own race. Instead of having to be measured against the men’s performance on the same route all the time? Exciting racing comes from the riders and not the race profile. I for one look very much forward to seeing the women’s race!!
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
: The point is not that we want to be measured against the men. The point is that I want our routes to be as exciting as the men’s routes. This could be done on a different route.
The last bit is the important bit: the women don't need to have the same route, with 230k or so (parity of distance wouldn't necessarily be a bad end goal, and women's races are getting longer, but we're still some way off seeing the women take on 200+km racing with any level of regularity, notwithstanding that men's races are simultaneously getting shorter) - but they do need to be given the equal opportunity to make the race. Asgreen may not be wrong when he says that exciting racing comes from the riders and not the race profile - but the parcours is the one thing that the organisers can change to induce that intent to race, and riders are much more likely to succeed in putting on a show on a route that is conducive to doing so - and who can possibly disagree with Cille's point that she wants women's routes to be as exciting as the men's ones?
Lately, that simply hasn't been the case. I know that start/finish points mean that the Olympics are a bit of a special case (the London race featured just 2 laps of the Box Hill circuit, significantly easier than the men's with 9, despite the same length of flat run-in which was, as a proportion of the race distance, much longer in the women's course, because the organisers insisted that they start AND finish in the city centre, as opposed to the mooted suggestion that the women start already at the circuit, do several laps of the circuit and then the flat run in) but if it were just the Olympics, then there might be less criticism. Instead we get 2016 with the women not given the opportunity to race in the desert, the only selective part of the men's race (what was the problem, were they afraid that the huge crowds in Doha wouldn't get their money's worth from their free attendance if the women didn't spend the whole day riding around a pan-flat city centre circuit?), the 2018 Worlds with the big headline-grabbing climb at the end of the day being off-limits to those without a Y-chromosome, the Driedaagse de Panne which is in fact a one-day race without a single obstacle, the 2017 Worlds where the women didn't get to climb Mount Fløyen in the ITT and the repeat of that performance with the Gnadenwald climb that is in the men's but not the women's ITT... you can see a pattern developing here.
Maybe they've decided that Mikuni Pass will be closed so that cyclosportive riders can go up it while the women are on the rolling circuit, like happens every year at RideLondon and will happen on Gramartboden at Innsbruck in contradiction of the UCI's excuse for not including the climb in the women's event
. If there's one thing we've learnt from the 2018 Worlds saga it's that the elite women rank below hobbyists in the UCI's priority list.
"Given that both the men's and women's courses are at the extreme end of elevation gain, it was decided not to further exceed what riders would normally face at events on their respective international calendars. Weather conditions – likely to be hot and humid – were also taken into consideration when it came to deciding the course distances."
It may have escaped your attention, M. Chenaille, but July, in Italy, can get quite hot
. We've seen 40º heat in the Giro Rosa several times in recent years and the women have handled it. They raced in Rio, which you mightn't be aware can get quite hote and humid too. And they put on a great show in Rio, too. And if you're worried about having to make the course easier because of the heat, why the hell did you put the World Championships in Doha, where Chloe Dygert exploded in a pool of vomit, Anouska Koster passed out from heat exhaustion and Sofia Arreola - who is Mexican so you would expect to be used to hot conditions - had to be taken away in an ambulance with heatstroke?
Also, it might be worth noting that as the governing body of the sport, you are responsible for events on the international calendar
. What you're doing is, in effect, washing your hands of responsibility for providing a joke of a route, by saying "well, men do lots of hard races so they can handle hard races. Women don't do lots of hard races so they can't handle hard races." Not only is it patronising to the point of insult, but it's also patently not true
. Yes, I'm using a lot of italics here. Quite a few of these things need emphasising. The women just climbed Monte Zoncolan in extreme heat. They've had a mountaintop finish on the Stelvio, and they've climbed the Mortirolo. We had a Giro Rosa this year which had three tough mountain stages and a brutal uphill time trial. 130 riders finished - almost twice the number you will have starting the Olympic Road Race. Maybe if you gave improved status to the climbers' races out there, like the Tour de l'Ardêche, the Giro del Trentino, and encouraged ASO to build on La Course into something more than a one-day race, or got Unipublic to similarly manoeuvre their one-day race into a proper one too, or had helped that Tour of Poland that was all around Zakopane get off the ground, or had been quicker to safeguard races like the Tour de l'Aude, the Route de France and had belatedly given them the same eventual protection that the Emakumeen Bira now has, then the women would not have so few races of that difficulty level.
Gracie Elvin's points may have some merit, but I also think that she overlooks one key factor in the social media outrage, which is that it's not the parcours itself but the comparison of the parcours to the men's race that is the issue
. Of course I personally would like a climbier race, most of my favourite riders are climbers, but if the men were doing a similar course with those two passes and laps of the motor racing circuit loop, people would be fine with it - maybe even more
enthused for the women's race since it would bring the longer climbs toward the finish more rather than the circuit being all-important. Like this, however, the big pre-Olympic talk is going to be about who survives Mikuni Pass, which is a complete irrelevance to the women because they don't even climb it. She is right that the size of the péloton is also a pressing concern, but I do not see this as an either/or situation; I do not think we should say "ok, we can accept the abject inequality in the parcours if they increase the number of riders", nor is it really acceptable to say "we can do a tougher course but keep the entry list extremely restricted". Neither of those are ideal. And besides - the dedicated fans will watch, sure, but in order to grow the sport, there needs to be not just a reason for fans to tune in, but a reason for them to keep tuning in
I've said many times that I do not blame those fans who only watch the women periodically at the World Championships because keeping track of the women's calendar when so little is televised etc. is more effort than they're willing to go to. Likewise, if because of your unfamiliarity with the women's péloton you don't really know who's who to really develop an attachment to the participants I get that too. But having things that fans anticipate about the races is one of the main ways to get them to tune in again, not in the 'oh look, some cycling's on' way but the 'I can't wait to watch that women's race' kind of way. As I've said many times to those continuing to peddle the "women's cycling is boring" line year after year after year, when given courses the men had interesting races on, the women had interesting races, and when given courses the men didn't have interesting races on, the women had less interesting races too. Delivering parcours where the women's race is like the men's race but with all the most selective bits taken out not only doesn't create a sense of anticipation that excites people for the women's race, it actively hurts it.
No, the parcours of a one-day race that's nearly 2 years away is not the most pressing reform required in women's cycling. But it's part of what's becoming a pattern for giving women 'lesser' races, which do not have the same hooks with which to capture the casual audience that isn't already a die-hard fan, and more gallingly, it's a problem that didn't need to exist in the first place
From that Ellacyclingtips article linked earlier, about the Innsbruck course:
The UCI’s president, David Lappartient, announced last week that he is satisfied with the approval of their 2020 roadmap, which touted major moves toward equality between the men’s and women’s side of the sport.