Brian Cookson, the president of the British Cycling Federation who is trying to unseat UCI President Pat McQuaid in the upcoming election, has vowed to “bring parity to men’s and women’s cycling.”
In a blog post on his website, Cookson makes his case for women’s cycling to become more mainstream and equal to the men’s side of the sport. That would include, he said, a women’s version of the Tour de France.
“Let’s be clear, cycling, like many sports, has been male-dominated throughout the sport’s history, and continues to be so,” Cookson wrote. “But the world has changed, continues to change, and we need to change with it.”
Cookson talks about the women’s road race at the 2012 Olympics as one example. It was one of the most exciting events of the first weekend at the Games, ending in a close finish with Marianne Vos of the Netherlands winning the gold medal ahead of Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain) and Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia).
“The race was easily better than the men’s and that’s also often the case at the World Championships,” he wrote.
The problem in women’s cycling, Cookson said, is a lack of exposure. That means less sponsors are willing to fork over money to support teams and races, which eventually leads to low wages for professional riders.
Cookson said the job lies with the UCI to increase interest in the sport to make it more attractive to potential sponsors.
He said Great Britain is making strides, as it will host a five-day stage race for women next year that Cookson hopes will be equivalent to the men’s Tour of Britain someday.
“We must also work on rewarding the efforts of elite women riders by guaranteeing a minimum wage and ensuring modern employment standards are introduced for the top-level teams,” he wrote. “This will not automatically mean that every [female] rider will instantly be paid a decent salary. … But I believe it is an essential step we can take right now, to set a new aspirational baseline for teams that wish to register at the highest level.”
The UCI’s election is in September.