Friday Group Ride #275

Friday Group Ride #275

I was riding side-by-side with Mike (his real name) and I asked, “Do you follow women’s racing at all?” The Giro Donne was on at the time, and I had been following along casually. “No,” he said. “I have no interest. It’s slow and boring.”

So I said, “You can tell the difference in speed, on television, as a group of cyclists rolls along a narrow road?”

Here I launched into one of my pet theories about sports as entertainment and the red herring that sex represents. To my mind, all entertainment depends on narrative, which is to say that our ability to engage with a bike race depends entirely on our ability to overlay some compelling narrative. Usually, that means recognizing some set of characters and imputing qualities to each of them that describes the interpersonal dynamic and conflict taking place.

What’s the story here? That’s the key question.

mbr_MMRI would call sex (not gender, which exists on a continuum I’m told) a red herring, because to say you find women’s racing boring is like saying I don’t like female characters in my entertainment. At best, it’s saying that I don’t like athletic female characters in my entertainment. I suppose, on some level, that’s a valid opinion/preference to hold, but I don’t really buy it. I think what people (mostly men) mean when they say I’m not interested in women’s racing is, ‘I don’t know who any of the characters are, so I don’t know what the story is.’

Mike more or less conceded this point, because he’s an enlightened guy, and he probably recognized that I would go on and on talking about it if he didn’t find some way to placate me.

The endemic media has done a better job covering women’s racing over the last year. I suspect this is part noble intention, part sense of fairness, part love of the sport as a whole,  and part reaction to the story of men’s pro racing, whose various characters and plots seem to get more convoluted and less compelling year after year.

This week’s Group Ride asks, are you watching the women race? Reading stories about them? If you’re not (no judgement), why not? I think that a big part of the challenge for women’s sports is simply in the pre-existence of men’s sports. Most of us already know what stories we’re following. We’re not really looking for new stories, even though there are good ones, right there, in front of our faces.

Main Image credit: Whit Bazemore /Sub Image credit: Matt Roy

 

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21 comments

  1. Jman's Dad

    I do follow women’s racing. My daughter was on the side of the road with us in France when she was 8, started racing at 14, and currently is getting a scholarship as she races collegiate. As soon as she started racing, I started following the women’s peloton, so she could have role models/goals/etc. I quickly became a full fan. I find women’s racing equally exciting. I do follow the stories, especially due to the fact that through connections from my daughter, I have met some top pros, and it personalizes it. But once you get into it, the racing speaks for itself. Like men’s racing, occasionally boring (due to tactics) but more often than not, especially the spring races I like, the racing is filled with attacking and aggressive tactics. If it was on TV more I’d be all over it. I’m a fan of Professional Road Cycling, why limit myself by not watching women’s racing? I want all the goodies, not just half.

  2. Fearless Kevin

    Yes, I follow women’s racing. Interesting to see the women racing in a downpour/crash fest while the men’s race was neutralized when it wasn’t raining because it was too dangerous, Paris/Champs d’ Élysées. I digress.
    As for narrative, followed Highroad Project because they had a Pro Men’s and Women’s Team. Follow the United Healthcare Blue Train because they sponsor a men’s and women’s team.

  3. Michael (not Mike)

    I do follow women’s racing and like the tactics and the great team spirit. Watching the greatest rider in the women’s peloton lead out a young teammate so she could get the world’s win – how can you not love that? What I would LOVE to see is for some cycling site to decide to cover the Giro Donne in the same kind of detail they do the men’s races – give us stories on each of the main contenders, the arguments in the peloton, the thoughts on tomorrow’s stage, that sort of thing. Do it once and see if you don’t get a similar level of interest in the race as for the Men’s Giro. I can’t say I got very worked up about the women’s race on the Champs d’Elysee – I am not interested in the last stage of the TdF either because the big battles are usually over – mostly because a single-day race that is not a classic or of similar difficulty doesn’t bring up enough drama. So, give me classics and stage races, with riders of either sex, and give me decent reporting on it!

  4. Girl

    I watch what I can find. That is, what broadcasters choose to air. I pay extra to see channels such as BeIn Sports, so that I can see cycling, in the first place. Sometimes they offer women’s racing, but not enough. Velo and Bicycling make a good effort to cover what women are doing. I agree that becoming familiar with the “characters” in the “story” of the race is what keeps my attention. Otherwise, races tend to look alike: breakaway gets caught; stage for the sprinters; stage for the climbers, etc…

    My husband says that women’s bicycling isn’t “sexy” enough to capture men’s attention. What I think he means (besides the obvious chauvinistic sentiments he expresses) is that you can’t SEE the riders. They wear helmets and sunglasses, which makes people look a lot alike. Even when you know the team kits, it’s difficult to tell riders apart. (Think about how many people you ride with that you identify by their bicycle, but fail to recognize when off the bike.) The women’s World Cup soccer final was one of the most-watched events, this summer. (And soccer, despite worldwide popularity, lags far behind in American viewership.) I think one of the reasons it had such high ratings is that the audience could identify the players and see them as women, first, and athletes, second.

    Viewing female athletes in this way is irksome, I agree. I wish to be recognized for my intellect and athletic prowess, rather than for my looks. But evolutionarily speaking, it should come as no surprise that what catches men’s attention is what is “sexy”, first. I am not saying that we should change women’s cycling to be more “sexy”. (Good lord, we ride in spandex underwear. It’s difficult to wear much less!) So what we must do is create a better STORY. Just as when men get to know the women whom they encounter, they demonstrate respect for them as people (rather than as sex objects), so can viewers get to know the women of cycling as amazing athletes with compelling backstories, capable of athletic feats that few (men or women) can achieve.

    Here’s hoping.

  5. Ben

    Women pro cycling is on the up!!! I follow on social media because it is hard to find it broadcasted on tv. The more i watch the more interesting it gets, as you well said, it is all about getting to know the characters. I like women cycling because it still has that raw feel to it that the men racing doesn’t have anymore, men pro cycling has become very technical and strategical, which is also nice to see but different.

  6. Andrew

    I seldom get to watch races. But I have found the women’s footage in the sufferfest videos to be as compelling as the men’s. Maybe that’s good editing, but it seems exciting. And the effort and passion are obviously there.

  7. Jan

    I’d love to. But I haven’t been able to find women’s cycling on TV or livestreaming on the internet.

    You’d exactly right that it takes some time to get familiar with the riders so that you have some narrative, but even just being able to watch the racing just as racing would be great.

    I’ve found several places that really help me understand and see men’s cycling (Inner Ring, Steephill). If I could find similar sites for women’s racing, I’d start to follow pretty avidly! (Remember how good the women’s worlds were last year!)

  8. Pat O'Brien

    When were neutral support volunteers for a local stage race, we worked the women’s race the first year and volunteered to work the women’s race the next two years. The women were more competitive and had better attitudes towards each other and the support people and officials. But in these last five years or so, we have lost interest in all pro racing, men’s and women’s events. The only exception will be an “Epic Rides” event where men and women race together, but have separate classes, and have equal purses.

  9. Rod

    I follow almost 100% of the women’s CX. There are several quality, accessible feeds (UCI), but mostly through niche sits like Petites Reines and CXhairs. Probably easier to package a one-hour circuit race, and the storylines build weekly. I am lucky to know (and ride) with a few elite women.

    Road – what I can find. Definitely the Olympics and such. The other stuff is harder – heck, I’m lucky we get the 3 GTs here, but we don’t get any of the one day races.

  10. dropoutdave

    This years Tour de France appears to be regarded as one of the most interesting in a long time, largely due to the amount of attacking from the main contenders. Well in my viewing experience womens racing is nearly always like that and is very entertaining as a result.

  11. John Kopp

    I occasionally watch women’s race when it is available. Based on what I have seen, the women are more exciting and aggressive than the men. The Olympics and the TDF in Paris as examples. Really wish I could see more. Thanks for asking!

  12. Maremma Mark

    Women’s racing is fantastic. Even here in cycling mad Italy the coverage for women’s racing is scant but it does exist. The real issue is the dearth of good races for women, there just aren’t enough. But there is daily stage coverage of the women’s Giro, usually over an hour each stage. All the Classics (the few that have a women’s race anyway) receive TV coverage as well, though nothing like the men’s races. The World’s races are the best, those are covered almost as well as the men’s races, especially cycle-cross.
    The thing about women’s events that really grabbed me years ago was the no holds barred racing, they really go at it. Far less controlled than men’s racing, with fewer tactics and waiting around, the attacks are flying left and right. I’ve fallen asleep more than once watching the men race, that’s never happened watching the women.
    I wish I knew what it would take to move to the next step, full parity of races on the calendar, economic parity of winnings and most of all more women on the road riding their bikes.

    1. Hans M. Ruppenthal

      Agreed, the women’s road race at the last Olympics was awesome. They kept constantly attacking each other every circuit and climb up Box Hill in the pouring rain. Tough as nails!

  13. Resty

    I find myself following women’s racing more than the men’s now. Knowing the risks involved, I have high respect for the women who go into road racing.

  14. DaSy

    I think I am looking at it all wrong now!

    Having read the above comments about the more uncontrolled and aggressive nature of women’s road racing, I can see it may be a good thing. I have always found it much less interesting exactly because of this in the past. I love the intricacies of men’s racing; there are so many tactics and sub-plots that it is like a Shakespearean play, which really draws me in.

    In CX racing I am as happy to watch the men or women, as it is far more about power and grit.

    I have mech’d for and ridden with some National and World class women cyclists, and know for sure that as athletes they leave nothing to be desired, it is just slightly chaotic feel to women’s road racing that stops me being quite so attracted to it.

  15. kurti_sc

    I”v pondered this point myself over the last 18mo or so. I have made an attempt to follow more of women’s racing. It’s okay, but I don’t see much of it.

  16. PedalRon

    I don’t follow women’s cycling at all. I follow men’s, but less and less these days. Time and I go back and forth on caring they dope/not caring. Men’s is tough enough to watch for someone like me who doesn’t have a t.v. Putting up with pirated feeds is bad enough for 1 peloton, don’t want to do it for both.

    At this point I follow cycling, some ice hockey, and some international soccer.

    I rarely watch women’s sports at all. I’ll use basketball as an example. It is just too slow, too below-the-rim, and MOST importantly, too lopsided. You have a handful of teams (UConn women) who are so far superior that nearly every game is a forgone conclusion.

    I’ll read about women’s cycling, but I almost never watch it. Though…I did see Vos race in Louisville and she was awesome. But again, so lopsided.

  17. Tom in Albany

    I read about women’s racing. It’s never on TV here that I’m aware of so…

    I’ve always enjoyed watching women’s basketball and volleyball. I like women’s gymnastics more than men’s.

    If it’s a good game/sport, I’ll watch it. Gender is irrelevent.

  18. The Rizz

    As an XC racer and cyclocross fan, I follow women’s racing just as intently if not moreso than the men. Last year’s CX worlds made for highly compelling racing between Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Sanne Cant, and seeing the women race at the Windham World Cup XCT this past weekend was just as inspiring as the men. When you also consider that American women are generally more competitive at a higher level than American men (whom I always support as well), its not too difficult for me to get excited.

  19. Hans M. Ruppenthal

    Yes I follow women’s racing when and where I can. Glad current UCI President Brian Cookeson seems to be adding more women’s races. I am on a racing team that has an emerging presence of women in the Baltimore area. Big fan of Helen Wyman (cross) and Marianne Vos.
    The Women’s Olympic Road Race in London was a fantastic race. In my opinion, far better than the men’s race. I have a hard time watching many other women’s sports but most definitely will watch and/or follow women’s cycling.

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