The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Have you heard about the Rêve Tour? Six women are riding the entire route of the 2012 Tour de France, one day in advance of the actual race, to raise money for Bikes Belong. The ride is sponsored and supported, but my understanding is that they’ll be cleaning and maintaining their own bikes. Given that there are six of them, and not 198, they’ll have to really stick together and take care of each other to make it. I think it is fair to say that for the women involved it will be easily as massive an undertaking as it will be for the men who will race it, for money, in their wake.

The Rêve Tour will not be televised. You can expect Heidi Swift, who writes for a certain magazine Padraig also writes for, to pen some compelling prose about it, but otherwise we will have very little window into what they’re doing day-to-day, and that’s too bad. I think it takes what a small cadre of men did during Stoepid Week and goes one louder.

The Rêve Tour ladies are already accomplishing part of what they set out do, because they’ve got me thinking about the disparities in our sport. Some years ago, when I was editing a soccer magazine, I ran up against a common feeling among our readership, which was that women’s soccer was inferior to men’s. It was slower, they complained. It was different.

My actual experience was that, while slower than the men’s game and less dependent on power, the women’s game was really good to watch. The women, at least at the time, were more tactical in their play, more cooperative. There were fewer cynical fouls and far less play-acting. It was different, yes, but still very good, and the pros, though paid far less than the men, were more open, giving of their time, and encouraging to young players.

Female cyclists at the very top of our sport will be slower than their male counterparts, but I can’t see that that has any impact on my enjoyment of a race. Since the advent of modern doping controls, including EPO testing and the biological passport, the men’s races have slowed as well. We are not enjoying those races less, are we?

A group of top racers going hammer-and-tongs at a grueling mountain stage is thrilling, no matter the, um, base equipment under them. The tactics are the same. The personalities will run the same gamut. It will be the same story, but different. Better in some ways.

I don’t want to go all soap-boxy about this, because I hope that I am preaching to a sympathetic choir. There is already elite women’s racing. Ina Yoko-Teutenberg, Kristen Armstrong, Evelyn Stevens, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos, Claudia Hausler, Georgia Bronzini, Chloe Hosking, these are names you’ve probably heard. They are stars, even if the UCI and ASO don’t treat them as such.

To me, the Rêve Tour won’t prove any points about what women can and can’t do. We already know they can race the same races as the men, and most of us believe those races would be just as compelling as the ones we get to see on television. What the Rêve Tour does, I think, is ask the question, “Why are things the way they are now, with unequal prize money and inadequate support from the sport’s governing body?”

And it’s a fair question.

In pro tennis, at the top level, the prize money is equal. The women get as much, and sometimes more, media ink than the men. It’s an example of two subtly different forms of the same game, offering equal entertainment value, and equal opportunity. How is cycling different?

When Chloe Hosking called Pat McQuaid a dick for his comment that professional female cyclists did not deserve a minimum wage, she was made to back down and apologize. But for what? How can the head of the UCI pretend to be interested in the growth of the sport when he won’t give even the most cursory backing to equal opportunities for women?

I have no answers. I know it’s easy to write these words, to put on an air of moral indignation. It is much harder to set out with six teammates to conquer the Tour de France and make your point with your legs, as a cyclist should.

 

Image: Robertson, VeloDramatic

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20 comments

  1. Bart

    I’m a soccer and cycling fan. I live in the United States. I’ve had to struggle to find coverage of either sport (it’s getting much better thanks to sites like RKP) for men or women over the years. I lived in Seattle when the Sounders joined MLS (Major League Soccer) and witnessed first-hand the excitement in the city for this “minor” sport. I have since moved away from Seattle but wish I was there to witness and support the emergence of the Sounder Women’s team. From afar, it seems just as exciting as the men’s team and the fans are supporting them well.

    I now live in Minneapolis. I have a 20 month old daughter and another daughter due to be born on Sept 6. I’ve only been able to see one pro bike race since my daughter was born, the Nature Valley Grand Prix Uptown Crit. We only saw the women race as the men started after my daughter’s bed-time. The women’s race was great. We (me, wife, daughter) all had a great time and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by having to leave prior to the men’s race.

    I’m looking forward to taking my daughters to WNBA Minnesota Lynk’s games. I used to be a big NBA fan but I find that the men’s game has gotten really boring. It’s all about the slam-dunk, 3-point shot and show-boating. The passing and defense has disappeared until the last quarter of the biggest games. Women’s basketball has retained an emphasis on passing, defense and team work and, in my opinion, is much more interesting to watch as a result.

    As a father of two little girls I hope that we have the opportunity to cheer on and support girls and women in these sports for years to come.
    Like Robot said, it might be different, but I think it’s just as exciting and to some extent makes it easier for the personalities to shine through.

  2. Harth

    I have followed women’s soccer since the early ’90s and have described it exactly as you did. It befuddles me why my soccer-fanatic buddies ignore the women’s game. Oh well. Turns out my wife fell in love with it and we don’t miss a match if possible, and now she has come to love the men’s game too, if only at the highest levels (discerning taste). I see many of those women as national treasures, heros in a way.

    I am anxious to follow the Reve tour and look forward to Heidi’s updates. It is a daunting undertaking, to say the least. I will be pulling for them more than any racer in the actual tour, that is for certain. I don’t know Heidi but have been reading and appreciating her work since the early stuff in the Oregonian and her blog. She has an amazing ability to translate cycling into the real world and make the connection for people who don’t even ride.

    I used to follow women’s cycling, mostly mountain biking, in the days of Furtado and Sydor, etc, but these days I don’t see much information anywhere and I don’t seek it out. Why not? I don’t know…maybe information overload. I don’t follow the men all that much either, just the big races.

    Why am I writing this? I’m not sure. I have a stepdaughter who rejects bicycles and cycling and dabbled in soccer but never committed to applying herself. Bummer. I have a dad who is a man’s man and a lifelong coach of many sports. He loves softball. That gives me hope. The recent anniversary of Title IX was a reminder of from where we’ve come and how far we have to go.

    Cheers,
    Harth

  3. Winky

    The problem is with equal salaries and/or prizemoney for women is that if he are applied out of a sense of “fairness” rather than because the market allows for it, is that they will reduce opportunities for women. Fewer races will be able to afford the prize-money, and fewer pro- teams will be able to afford the salaries. Professional sports are ALL about marketing and the degree to which customers will support the “show” by paying admission or buying sponsors’ products over their competitors’.

    Whether we like it or not, that is the reality.

  4. Brad

    Robot,
    Quick update on your “very little window” comment. Heidi Swift will be posting daily reports from Rêve at pelotonmagazine.com and we will be posting photos from @velodramatic of their adventures daily as they ride through France.


    1. Author
      Robot

      @Brad – It wasn’t my intention to criticize or belittle the coverage on offer, just to contrast it to the coverage the pro men will get. If you could work some helicopter shots of chateaus and a farmers strike into your stuff, you’ll be as good as the NBC coverage. We’ll be sure to tune in. Thanks.

  5. blacksocks

    I’m thrilled by the prospect of this group of women riding the Tour together, for the simple joy of discovering their limits as individuals and a collective. Who here has not dreamed the same dream?

    For me, Reve is not about calling out the historical unbalance in cycling and racing. The Reve Tour is a look to the future, where more women are more passionate about cycling, and the industry and culture grow and strengthen with the balance that women will bring to sport.

    I cannot wait to send them a congratulatory note when they reach Paris!

  6. Frans Verbiage

    @Harth: For info on Womens cycling ,I highly recommend Podium Cafe on the SBNation sports blog network. You’ll find many well informed,highly entertaining individuals writing about the Womens side(and everything else) there. The site participation continues to evolve ,(many links to interviews,race videos,cyclist Twitter accounts,etc). It really is a wonderful source for good information about those cycling XX chromosomes.

  7. Ben

    “but McQuaid is a dick”

    They wouldn’t have bothered making her apologize if she was wrong, now would they?

  8. Patrick

    The last two professional cycling events I was able to attend by being in the right place at the right time, 2009 Portland Cup CX, and 2011 USPRO Crit, the women’s pro fields were every bit as kick-ass to watch as the men’s. Maybe the gals were riding a little slower, I couldn’t tell; they were still ripping faster than I could ever hope to.

    I don’t currently know any men racing professionally, but I know one woman, and she’s as outstanding an ambassador for what professional bike racing should be that anyone can hope for.

    Here’s to equality for the gals both on and off the bike; and
    good legs every day to the bike goddesses of the Rêve Tour!

  9. rashadabd

    For what it’s worth, I watched women’s cycling for the first time during last year’s World Championships and completely enjoyed it. I found myself pulling for some woman from Canada that was making a comeback and out in solo break away for most of the race (she got caught obviously). I just don’t see much t.v. coverage for it in the States (as most of you know, it’s tough to find the men’s races most of the time). As a father of 3 daughters, I wish we could get to see more of it.

  10. DDD

    Regarding women’s tennis. While the women’s game can stand on it’s own sometimes I think it has more to offer than the men. It is not equal. Women have shorter matches than the men.

  11. Bart

    Robot, thanks for posting the Swift stage updates. It’s great reading them as I can’t imagine taking on a challenge like they are doing. The descriptions are fantastic!

  12. Mike's

    Some sports are participatory, others are spectator. In collegiate sport, be equal. After that, if there’s a market for it, it’ll be a spectator sport, if not, just enjoy participating.

  13. Jprummer

    I love woman’s softball it is way better than baseball. Softball has more hitting which leads to more action. I have seen kristan Armstrong race against the pro men and win. Although they weren’t world tour riders still were pro.

  14. Pingback: Rogue Valley Local: Pro Racer, Jade Wilcoxson | Southern Oregon Bike Blog

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