Women’s racing part III

In parts I & II of my series, I talked a lot about the long history of sponsorship and money issues regarding women’s racing and offered up some possible solutions.  There’s been some great feedback, comments & dialogue started on and off-line as a result.  I can only hope this helps to stir the pot in a positive motion.

There might be some natural questions arising from readers now like ‘Well, how much do women really get paid then?’ I’m quite sure that the general layman’s opinion when they hear the word ‘pro’ cyclist, is that the athlete, male or female, is getting paid more than enough to survive on when in reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  The average salary for both the male and female ‘professional’ cyclist is well below the poverty line.  How then does a professional-leveled cyclist train and race if  the time required is quite exceptional & unique when compared to other sports if they’re not getting a sufficient salary?   Combine that with the travel time necessary during the middle of the racing season and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that holding a regular 9-5/40 hour work week job is pretty close to impossible.  I remember asking that very question as a new Cat 4 racer to a pro female cyclist and her answer was ‘They’ve all got something going on…’ In other words, they’ve either got a really flexible job, work part time and somehow survive on that salary or have an incredibly supportive significant other.  In other words, virutally none of them survive on what they make as a bike racer.  Hence the term ‘poor bike racer’.  Unfortunately, the men’s side of the sport isn’t that much better and they survive on earnings that aren’t much higher in reality.

Within the international racing scene it was recently stated that women’s racing hasn’t been developed enough for there to be a minimum wage instituted. It doesn’t take more than some deductive reasoning skills to do the math as to why this is the case.  How can women’s racing be developed to its’ full extent when they aren’t being paid a salary that minimally allows them to focus on train and racing ‘professionally’?

There’s a unique culture within women’s racing that is even more enigmatic to the general public than what I’ve already discussed; and is in part a direct result of the monetary pay-outs discussed.  There are unsaid rules and ‘rights of passage’.  When you’re a newly upgraded cat 2 and therefore now racing with the Pro/1/2 category all the time, even though you’ve essentially earned your upgrade, you’re not ‘done’ yet…so to speak.  There is a level of respect that still has to be earned by the women you now race with.  I don’t want to lower it to the level of say, the same sub-culture in a high school environment where the teenager is desperate for acceptance into the ‘cool kids’ club, but there does seem to be some level of pretension.  However, once the women who have been racing Pro/1/2 for multiple years notice you being brave enough to mix it up with them at the front of the peloton, are now capable of hanging on the tough climbs and are working hard for your teammates, they start talking to you more and respecting you.  They also give you more room to maneuver in the pack and license to execute certain moves during a race that would otherwise be snubbed or harped upon.  Part of it might in fact be this elitist attitude but I believe it’s also because they know what kind of sacrifice you had to make in your training and personal&/or professional life to get to that level of fitness, because they had to do it too.

Earning your cat 1 upgrade then is more than just about winning the race and being strong; and I now believe that’s as it should be.  It shows you’ve mastered the sport, not just physically but also know what it takes to play the sport tactically, be an ultimately self-sacrificing teammate and that you’re also willing to promote a sponsor’s products in a professional manner.

4 Responses to “Women’s racing part III”

  1. Bob says:

    GREAT read (again), Heather! Thanks for this series!

  2. marc cox says:

    Well, thank you for writing this episode. It’s interesting to find out what it’s really like for the elite’s and I’m sure there’s more to tell. It would be great to see some comments and thoughts from team mates on the subject, men and women alike. Personally I’ve never understood quite how athletes manage full/part time jobs AND training and racing at all. There are many here in the uk who believe that actually it goes someway to improving the toughness of a rider (although I’m sure the riders would have much to say about that!). Would be nice to see more ideas on how the situation could improve. I still think track and olympics are a valid suggestion, its certainly worked well for us. We’ve seen Sky installation vans emblazoned with both men and women riders and Victoria Pendleton sells wholemeal bread for Hovis ! We’re lucky enough now to have recognisable celebrities like her now, none of which would have come about had it not been for the Olympics exposure. Maybe time to get on the boards and take some of our medals 🙂
    Hope to see you write on some more subjects in the future – perhaps a cycling/art related theme ?

  3. Bob B says:

    Nice series Heather. It would be eye-opening, for non-elite athletes to read about the additional stress, off-the-bike, involved with trying to make ends meet while trying to train at the same time. How that stress can cause fattigue both mental and physical is difficult to comprehend for the casual or weekend athlete.

  4. John says:

    Another well written and informative piece. Keep up the good work, training, and writing!

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