After the Philadelphia Cycling Classic in early June, a dozen women from the top teams in the U.S. met to begin what they hope will be a long-term project to raise the profile of their sport. Robin Farina (NOW-Novartis for MS), the 2011 road national champion, has taken a lead role in organizing what is being called the Women’s Cycling Association.
“It’s something that’s been in a lot of our minds, but we need one person to put it together for us,” said current U.S. champion Jade Wilcoxson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), who attended the Philadelphia meeting. “And Robin is that person.”
The initial meeting of the new association included top riders such as Farina, Wilcoxson, 2010 National Racing Calendar champion Janel Holcomb (Optum), former national champion Alison Powers (NOW), Jamie Bookwalter (Colavita-Fine Cooking), and former junior national champion Alexis Ryan (NOW).
Farina was not yet prepared to discuss the full details of the project when contacted by VeloNews this week, but topics discussed in that first meeting included raising salaries, gaining access to top-level stage races such as the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge, and attracting more media exposure. It is expected that a more complete mission statement will be released at the Cascade Classic later this month.
“If you look at women’s cycling as a job — and it is my job — and you have this kind of pay inequality, it would be unacceptable anywhere else,” said Wilcoxson. “Cycling is a subculture within the global fight for women’s equality.”
The Philadelphia meeting marked the first organized effort among women riders to work together.
“It’s the first time in the United States there’s been a meeting of riders from different teams,” said Rachel Heal, who directs the Optum women’s team and attended the meeting. “They’ve realized, ‘well, we race against one another every week, but in this, we need to work together.’”
The inspiration for the new organization has come from a variety of sources. Farina looks to the success of Billie Jean King and her creation the Women’s Tennis Association as a model of what she hopes to achieve.
The women are also well aware of Title IX, the landmark U.S. legislation which prohibited education discrimination on the basis of gender and had far-reaching consequences for women’s opportunities in sports.
“Look at Title IX. It was hugely important,” said Wilcoxson. “You can ask how Title IX created change in women’s sports. It was 40 years ago, and this year, American women brought home more gold medals from the Olympics than the men did. Establishing rules and a framework for change can succeed, but it takes time and effort.”
None of the issues discussed in Philadelphia are necessarily new. Riders like Olympian Georgia Gould (Luna) have been outspoken on their concerns about equity in cycling, and each year, there are calls from fans and riders for inclusion of women riders in races such as the Amgen Tour. But this is the first time that women riders have begun a concerted effort to address them.
The riders’ discussions in Philadelphia were mostly open-ended. “We used the meeting to get everyone’s ideas on the table,” said Wilcoxson, who is especially passionate about the need for greater visibility for women’s races.
“I think a first step needs to equality in racing. That should be a given,” said Wilcoxson. “What kind of message does that send to young girls? They’re out riding bikes with their friends and their brothers, and they come in and see the Tour and there’s no women? What does that say?
“What does it say if the only woman they see is on the podium in a tight dress, kissing the winner? Your job is to stand on the podium and kiss the man after his hard day’s work. It does nothing to improve body image or self-confidence. I want to see strong women on the podium after an equal day’s work.”
As one of their first projects, the women have put together a survey to gather information about salary levels in both men’s and women’s cycling. Beth Newell (NOW) took the lead on the project.
“It’s a small project to get things going and better inform the conversation with some data,” said Newell. “I think the conversation around women’s minimum salary has been too vague. Also, I think with the men’s Continental teams, there will be surprises, with lots of those guys not getting salaries.”
Newell has brought in a Ph.D. economist to analyze the data collected from the survey, and she is looking to have the survey data compiled by early August.
“It’s taken 40 years for women to come back with more medals,” said Wilcoxson. “Forty years! You need a long-term commitment to improve the sport. And hopefully, that is what the Women’s Cycling Association can do.”