Guest Piece, Written by: Jason
“Women’s sports are so boring!” I have heard this many times throughout my life, mostly stated by men. This is simply idiotic. But, before I begin to explain why, let me first explain what inspired me to write this post.
Lance Armstrong and the Whole Doping Thing
As everyone knows, there has been a lot of question about the future of professional cycling due in large part to the recent Lance Armstrong affair. After the initial USADA report was released, a slew of other problems have presented themselves to the men’s pro ranks. Rabobank, a longtime sponsor of cycling, has decided to withdraw their support of all cycling beginning with the coming season. Some of Rabobank’s pro cyclocross and amateur sponsorship will remain in place, but men’s and women’s pro road and mountain bike teams will cease to exist in the coming seasons. If that weren’t bad enough, Sky Pro Cycling has initiated a hasty and idiotic program of forcing all staff and riders to sign an anti-doping pledge or be fired, in order to please the general public and appear to be anti-doping. I guess Sky management want us to somehow believe they never had knowledge of some of the now-departed staff’s doping pasts, but few people who follow the sport are that naïve.
But I digress. The point of this information is that it shows the uncertainty and trouble that pro cycling is in, thanks largely to a widespread culture of doping.
We Need More Ovaries!
Thinking about such a fact made me wonder how cycling could regain some credibility and begin to build up it’s fan base. So my initial thought was why not give a more substantial push to women’s cycling? While I am not making the claim that women pro cyclists never dope, or that there’s something particularly unique to women that makes them morally superior, it seems like at the moment the women’s peloton is cleaner than the men’s peloton, and they don’t have a bad reputation and doping past to the extent that the men’s peloton will have to deal with.
Pushing women’s cycling would also give cycling manufacturers the chance to (finally) make more gains in women’s equipment and give them a bigger stage to draw more women to the sport while showcasing their goods. Seems like a winning situation to me, and in a market that is already saturated with equipment for men, being able to build a strong women’s product line and gain more women customers seems like a great way to grow an equipment manufacturing business.
But Women Are Boring! …Right? Who’s with me?
But then I think of the mentality that many people seem to have, sponsors included: Women’s sports are just not as entertaining and would not be able to draw as much attention and exposure for the sponsors as men’s cycling. People then try to support this claim by citing how many more people show up for men’s races and how many more men race than women. They claim it just doesn’t make sense to put as much money into women’s cycling. Given the shortsighted nature of most businesses in general it doesn’t surprise me that sponsors think in such a way, but it seems to me like it would be more risky to try to contend with the negative image of men’s sponsorship. The initial sponsorship in women’s cycling would also be relatively cheap compared to sponsoring a men’s team. However, sponsors will be unlikely to want to invest heavily in women’s cycling if they feel the general public doesn’t think it is exciting.
So, the idea that women’s sports, and particularly women’s cycling, are boring is potentially hurting cycling as a whole, and I feel it is up to the cycling community to show a greater interest in women’s cycling in order to maintain monetary investment in cycling and bike racing in general.
In order to do that, the thought that women’s cycling is somehow more boring than men’s racing has to be dispelled.
So…Women Actually Kick Ass?
Anyone who managed to watch the Olympic road races this summer would be hard pressed to find the men’s or women’s racing more boring than the other. The men’s race was certainly exciting, at least toward the end. After a race long dominance of the pace of the race by Team Great Britain the race fell apart for the Brits and a breakaway made it to the end, with multiple attacks coming at the end. Eventually Alexander Vinokourov won with a late race push in the final kilometer or so. The problem here is that “Vino” is a former doper. So that left a sour taste in some fan’s mouths, and once again brought up the topic of doping in the sport.
Then there was the women’s race. With about 25k to go in the race a breakaway managed to escape in rainy and horrible conditions. Four riders were initially part of the move, but American Shelley Olds flatted and was quickly taken out of the action. The rest of the break, The Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia and Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead then managed to make it all the way to the end without the peloton managing to pull them back. Within the last half kilometer Vos put in one more attack, sprinting to the finish and a gold medal. Many people who saw the race claimed it was as exciting a race as they have seen, and unlike the winner of the men’s race Marianne Vos didn’t come with the baggage of previous doping or even a mention of doping.
If the Olympic road race is any indication, a women’s race can be just as exciting as a men’s race. But there will be some that still think that a men’s race is just more exciting. The men are faster riders, so of course they must be more exciting. Right? Well, I would have to say that is wrong and just makes no sense. The argument might hold water if the men were racing the women, and the men just simply raced away every time. If every Formula One car went 10mph slower, would the racing suddenly become more boring, or would the viewer not really notice since the actual racing takes place among individuals racing against each other, no matter what the actual speed is. Cycling is the same way. As long as there are riders of a similar stature racing against each other, and the tactics and action are still basically the same, the sport can be just as exciting.
Women’s cycling consists of women racing other women, and they are all high caliber riders, so relative to each other they are still pushing the pace hard, and they still have to attack at the right time. Women’s races still have sprints, long breakaways, and riders that viewers can take an interest in. Women can also race through picturesque mountain roads or through French roads that show off the impressive architecture, just like men can. If you like watching road racing when men do it, the only things keeping you from liking women’s racing is 1) the fact that you are repeating in your head that they are traveling at a slower speed so you can convince yourself it isn’t as good and 2) you’re a sexist.
Also, women’s cycling has its own version of what people thought Lance Armstrong was. Marianne Vos, or Vos the Boss, as some call her, can be just as dominant and amazing as Lance Armstrong, except she doesn’t need E.P.O., blood transfusions, or coercion of teammates in order to do it. So for any companies looking to push women’s cycling and supply a star for viewers to take an interest in, Vos is the perfect candidate.
So, all of that was basically my longwinded assertion that with all of the problems with men’s cycling that don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, women’s cycling is a viable option to make pro cycling attractive to sponsors and fans again without making them worry about the incessant doping problems. So if you truly like watching bike racing support women’s racing, as well as any companies that support the women’s side of the sport. You will be doing yourself a service as a fan and be supporting a more sustainable side of the sport.