Female cyclists fight for exposure
In ski racing, track and field and other Olympic sports, women have attracted something approaching equality with the men in exposure. In soccer, the U.S. women’s national team might actually have more name recognition than the men’s. So why is it so much harder for women in cycling to get their share of exposure?
That’s what Rally Cycling rider Abby Mickey would like to know.
“I think our races are more exciting, they’re shorter, the tactics are completely different,” said Mickey, who will be racing in the second Colorado Classic. “And honestly, who would you rather see in Spandex?”
Mickey was born and raised in Aspen, and Olympic ski racer Wiley Maple is her cousin. His teammates on the U.S. men’s team don’t get near the attention that comes to Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, but in cycling, women have fewer races and are seldom on television.
“There’s a lot of money in men’s cycling, and that’s why they continue to grow and continue to have such incredible races,” said Mickey, who finished third in the Colorado Classic last year. “The women in the sport are very, very smart. Most of them have graduated from college, they’re all really good at social media. By putting money into a women’s pro cycling team, you get a lot out of it. A women’s team can run on a quarter of the budget of the men’s, if not less.”
The high-profile Amgen Tour of California this season had seven stages for the men and three for the women. The Tour of Utah no longer has women’s races. Last year’s Colorado Classic had four men’s stages but only two for the women. This year there are four stages for both genders, and on three of the four days they will race on the same course, although the women will be racing shorter distances.
FOR WOMEN, ONLY FLAT COURSES REMAIN
On Saturday, Aug. 18, the men will race 100 miles from Denver’s RiNo district to Lookout Mountain, Red Rocks, Evergreen, Conifer, Indian Hills and Kittredge before heading back downtown. The women will race a timed criterium around the Velorama in RiNo that will take about an hour.
“In a perfect world, we’d have a big climbing stage like that and a longer circuit, but the ability to showcase a really fast, exciting hour of women’s racing here in Velorama is a great opportunity,” said Sean Petty, the women’s race director who spent 20 years at USA Cycling including seven years as its CEO. “We have a great product, exciting racing, great athletes. They’re certainly willing and able to do the big climbs, and a lot of them.”
Mickey believes getting women’s cycling more TV exposure is what the sport needs to grow.
“I think I see more women out on bikes than men,” Mickey said. “The recreational side of women’s cycling is growing exponentially. It’s a huge market that’s virtually untapped at the moment.”
Broadcast live on Eurosport 1 in Europe, UnitedHealthcare rider Katie Hall continued her outstanding season on Friday, Aug. 17, climbing faster than the rest of the field on the course which runs 1,574 feet in 10 miles up Vail Pass.
With overall wins at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila in April and California’s Tour of California in May, Hall, now halfway through the Colorado Classic, is in position for another significant tour win.
Having placed 14th in Thursday’s Vail circuit race, she took the leader’s jersey with a 26 second lead in the General Classification over teammate Leah Thomas. Stage 1 winner Rebecca Wiasak of the Fearless Femme team finished 39th in the time trial and stands 27th in the general classification.
Friday’s course was relatively flat over the first five miles, climbing only 350 feet from the base of Gondola One to East Vail, but it steepened over the final five miles, climbing 1,100 feet to the finish near a runaway truck ramp at 9,630 feet.
“I feel great about it,” said Hall, 31, a resident of Oakland, California “It was a really hard TT course, just because of the altitude. I felt like it was really important to pace it really, really well, because if you go too hard here, it just takes a long time to recover because there’s just no oxygen up here.”
‘LOOK FOR RALLY’
Hall went out conservatively on the flat miles at the start to conserve energy for the lung-aching second half.
“I still feel like I didn’t save enough, and I was really dying in the end,” Hall said. “But everybody feels that way up here, so I’m happy how it worked out. This one is difficult because you are pedaling the whole time. There’s no real downhills, no places to recover, and it just gets harder and harder. So if you don’t leave some energy for the end of the race, you can lose a lot of time at the end.”
Hall turned pro with UnitedHealthcare in 2014. The team is in danger of folding if a new sponsor is not found soon because UnitedHealthcare has told the team’s owner it will not renew its sponsorship at the end of this season. For that reason, these are jittery times for the team’s riders, but not for Hall. This week it was announced that she will be joining one of the world’s top women’s teams, Boels Dolmans, of The Netherlands.
“It’s a big step,” said Hall, who has a masters degree in molecular toxicology from the University of California Berkeley. “Just to be part of such a strong women’s team over there, I’m excited for it, really want to be able to do really well for my teammates. I’m so thankful to have had this biking family for the last five years.”
Hall said heading into Saturday’s Stage 3 race in Denver, look for Rally Cycling to make a move.
I think there’s a lot of sprinters here looking for opportunities, but I think Rally always shows up here ready to race, and I expect that they’ll be aggressive,” Hall said.
This story combines two pieces from reporter John Meyer that recently appeared in the Denver Post newspaper.