Look around you at the next group ride or race you’re rolling in. You’ll probably find yourself in a field of Y chromosomes for the most part. Charity rides seem to be an exception to this rule, but even then I’d guestimate the balance leans towards testosterone.
Coincidentally, two of my favorite bedside reading materials wrote about this in their latest issues.
Ben Atkins took a look at the most dominant rider in recent times in his article from Peloton Magazine titled “More Than a Cannibal.”
“After the retirement of Eddy Merckx in the late 70s, the cycling world waited almost 30 years for his replacement. When it did arrive, it was Dutch … oh yeah, and it was a woman.”
Yes. A woman. Marianne Vos has been consistently besting her competition since turning pro in 2006. That's her up above, racing cyclo-cross in addition to on the road. And I’m not talking about in one race a year that she specifically focuses on ad nauseum like one particular Texan did in recent memory. She’s been ranked the number one female rider in the world fairly consistently for the last seven years. Similar to Merckx’s domineering campaigns, this requires Vos to go out and give it her all throughout the season: classics, one day events, and stage races alike.
But regardless, I’m guessing that few cyclists would recognize her name, never mind snatch it out of thin air if asked to identify a top woman pedaler.
That leads us into the second article from one of my favorite reads, Rouleur Magazine, which tangentially connects. “Worthy of Their Hire,” by Graeme Fife, opens by looking at another great European rider, Helen Wyman (a top notch athlete in many respects I might add), and the vast inequities between the purses in the men’s and women’s fields. As Fife points out, “In World Cup races men take away €5,000 [roughly $6,433], women €1,000 [roughly $1,286]. (The second-placed woman gets less than the 20th place man).”
And you think the wage gap has disappeared? According to a Bureau of Labor Statistic quoted in Forbes magazine here in the US, “In 2012 full-time employed women earned just 80.9% of the salaries their male counterparts did.”
According to my math, women in the peloton are earning roughly 20% of what their lycra-clad male counterparts are while still putting in 100% of the sacrifice, effort and dedication.
And that’s just at the top of the ladder in some of the best case scenarios. Forget about it when you start going down to the lower category racers or lower tiered races. Of course this only refers to the race winnings and affects just the top few women. I don’t have any concrete numbers for women’s salaries, but suffice to say those who aren’t on the podium regularly (like Marianne Vos) are even worse off. Luckily for the women here in the States, it’s a little better off (and I stress little), at least in the world of cyclo-cross:
We’d all like to think we live in a perfect world, but the truth is that money oftentimes makes the world go round. Let’s follow a chain here: low women’s cyclists’ salaries – low women’s team budgets (typically in the €100-150,000 range, whereas the average male Pro Tour rider salary is €264,000) – low women’s race earnings (see above) – low sponsorship – low coverage (both in print and on TV) – low public awareness – and right back to the beginning. It’s the old chicken and the egg question; you can go around and around the chain in circles with low being the all too common denominator.
Pick up issue 37 of Rouleur to read more about the issue and
what Team Wiggle Honda is trying to do about it.
So now let’s circle back to your local group ride. While I can’t directly draw a line between the two, the lack of local ladies with the lack of $’s or €’s or whatever they use as currency in your neighborhood, I can’t help but think there is some link between the two. And while I’m not saying throwing scads of money at the problem will immediately solve it (cultural mores, tradition, stupidity, etc. all compound the issue), I am suggesting that we can do something about it. How about starting off with a little encouragement and some support?
The Little Bellas up in Vermont have the right idea, helping get young ladies build their confidence and get out on the trails. Looking around here locally though doesn’t find the same helping hand. I could be wrong, and if so please point them out ladies.
Reading about it and bristling with indignation is one thing.
If any of you out there, either as individuals, employees at a business, or owners, would like to help sponsor a women’s club/team (no matter how small or large the contribution, financially or otherwise) here in Western Mass, get in touch with us here at Speed & Sprocket. We’d like to try to put something together in the coming year that encourages women to get out on bikes, be they mountain, road, or cross bikes, and creates a support system that insures their success, and more importantly, their enjoyment of the sport. If you are a lady who’d love to be a part of such a team, whether as a rider or as an organizer, drop us a line, too!
Speed & Sprocket Cycle Works is a company with a passion for bikes. We offer in home service on your bike as well as nutritional and training guidance for your body.