“Eighty-nine kilometres to go,” said Olympic road race champion, Anna van der Breggen, glancing at the press room televisions showing the men’s Flèche Wallonne race last week. She had just won the women’s event for the fourth consecutive year and made the comment as if thinking out loud, storing the information for later use.
Reflecting increased interest in women’s cycling, the number of journalists asking her questions has increased year on year. Unfortunately though none have ever been able watch the race as it happened.
Flèche Wallonne is part of the Women’s WorldTour, the top level on international cycle racing. As such the world governing body, the UCI, requires organisers provide television broadcasters with at least a 25-minute highlights package.
Flèche has been on the calendar since 1998, becoming a top tier event the following year, organisers added a women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year and both are highly coveted. However, despite their WorldTour status the only live coverage was of the final minute in split screen format with the concurrent men’s event. Even the highlights were not widely available.
Both are organised by ASO, the company who run the Tour de France and have interests in women’s events at the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of California. In 2014 they established La Course, a one-day event that takes place before a stage of the Tour on a similar course.
That does attract live coverage and, with the world’s cycling media present for the men’s race, the women’s sport gains massive publicity. However, the company have faced accusations their other women’s events are little more than a afterthought.
In the three years since the UCI introduced the Women’s WorldTour live coverage has increased exponentially, whether that be conventional television or internet livestream. This year has been a revelation, with the first seven races of this year’s WorldTour available live, even last weekend’s Tour of Chongming Island was streamed live from China.
Lower ranked races have jumped on the bandwagon too, and while some productions have been relatively primitive, races have been there for all to see, with viewing figures in the hundreds of thousands for some.
No one is asking for ASO’s women’s events be shown in their entirety, but coverage of the men’s Flèche began around the time Van der Breggen was crossing the finish line, long before the action began. Consequently showing the women’s race would not spoil coverage of the men’s event.
Just one minute of women’s racing in two of the best and otherwise highest-profile races is derisory and insulting. Some international races are organised by local clubs, and if they can be bothered to arrange television or internet broadcasts, the world’s biggest race organiser needs to step up.
Van der Breggen is one of the highest profile and successful women of the current peloton and may not personally need extra publicity, but to become mainstream the sport does, and she knows there is far more than 89km to go for women’s cycling.
Photographs by Owen Rogers