‘Tour de France does not do enough for women’s cycling’

Britain's team pursuit squad celebrate winning gold at the 2016 Olympics

Joanna Rowsell Shand (far left) won Olympic gold with Britain’s team pursuit squad in 2012 and 2016

The Tour de France does not do enough for women’s cycling while equality in the sport varies around the world, says British double Olympic gold medallist Joanna Rowsell Shand.

Tour organisers ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) hold a one-day race – La Course – to coincide with the men’s three-week event, but it is criticised for its length and lack of TV coverage.

“The biggest bike race in the world is the Tour and they don’t really seem to care much about women’s cycling,” Rowsell Shand, 30, told BBC Sport.

“I don’t think it’s unfair to say that really, because they’re not doing much for it.

“It varies around the world. The biggest platform for sport is the Olympic Games, when we have equal events. That’s great, but it’s the gap in between which needs to be filled.”

The 10-stage Giro Rosa – which takes place in July – is the sole Grand Tour on the women’s calendar.

Rowsell Shand, who retired from international cycling in March 2017, said: “In the UK you’ve got the Women’s Tour growing year on year – it’s now six days so it won’t be long before it’s the same length as the men’s race.”

David Lappartient – the president of the UCI, cycling’s world governing body – has urged the ASO to extend La Course to 10 stages.

But race organiser Christian Prudhomme told Eurosport in February: “We organise many other competitions and want to develop women’s cycling, but this is a no – simply because we do not know how to do that during the Tour de France.”

The BBC has asked ASO to comment but has yet to receive a response.

Rowsell Shand says prize money during her career was as low as £20 to £50 in some races.

“For me it is about the principle of why a man should win all this money and a woman wins an event of the same standard but gets less money,” she said.

“Of all the years I was on a pro team I was on a salary for two of them. For the rest I was over the moon to be on a pro contract, but it was for zero money – that was normal, and you were lucky if you got some kit or a bike or something.”

With the Women’s Tour paying the same prize money as the Tour of Britain, and increasing the race to six stages compared to the men’s eight, Rowsell Shand says positive steps are being taken.

“Towards the end of my career, everyone from around Europe said they loved racing in the UK because there is great coverage and support on the roads,” she said.

“I think TV coverage is the biggest thing that women’s cycling needs, because that’s what brings in the sponsors, therefore pays salaries.”

Women’s Tour sponsor Ovo Energy last year brought prize money in line with the Tour of Britain to “help provide an equal platform on the world cycling stage”.

Adrian Letts, the company’s CEO of retail, said: “This year, we are shining a light on the disparity in gender participation due to factors that hinder women considering cycling.”

After research by British Cycling found 69% of the UK’s cycling population are men, Ovo has launched a series of Night Rides to address the barriers that women face such as confidence on the roads, concerns over safety with other road users, and poor cycling infrastructure with unsafe road surfaces.

Rowsell Shand said: “We haven’t got the participation figures of women in cycling here that they do in the Netherlands and Belgium, but we do seem to be improving the coverage and the exposure, which is what the sport really needs.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cycling/48542046

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