Some people are driven by fancy things, some by fame and others by fortune. What is the driving force behind the women in cycling at the highest level?
There is hardly anything fancy about life on the road as a female cyclist. Most of the time while racing we stay in hostels where you are considered fortunate to have a full complement which includes a pillow, sheets and a towel (usually at least one of these is missing in action). Internet connection, usually only strong enough to use Whatsapp or BBM, is the ultimate bonus. The dining hall is a whole other story. Apart from having to drink your coffee from a bowl, which would give my Mom a heart attack if she ever had to witness me doing that, we get yelled at daily by the food staff for taking a yogurt and a fruit or a piece of cheese and a salad. This usually turns into a funny game of who can get away with taking more than what we are allowed without getting caught.
After the race we do not retreat to a five star bus but we are lucky if there is a shower within a 5km radius designated for us to use. Warm water is a luxury I am yet to experience after a race.
What is it about this group of women that I race with week in and week out that turn all this into something to laugh about rather than to constantly complain about it?
In other team sports like soccer or hockey it is not only the person/(s) scoring the goal/(s) that get a medal or a podium position. The entire team gets to celebrate together on the podium with medals around their necks or by holding some championship trophy. As far as I know cycling is the only sport in the Olympic Games that is considered a “team” sport with multiple people working together to accomplish something but where only one teammate gets a medal.
In cycling only the teammate crossing the line first gets celebrated on the podium and only one teammate gets to wear the leader’s jersey. Most of the time an average domestique on a cycling team go about working for the team leader or sprinter on the day without much recognition from the outside. This is a normal day in the office for the majority of the women in the professional bunch.
Stark contrast between the podium celebrations for two team sports (field hockey and cycling)
Apart from the recognition and fame mainly being reserved for the top riders on a team, the lack of coverage for the sport of women’s cycling does not do us any favours either. I have been a bit amazed by the surprised reactions of people after witnessing the level of racing seen on TV during the Olympic Road Race for women. There are a lot of reasons why women’s racing is interesting and sometimes more entertaining than that of the men (perhaps a topic for another blog post). This level of racing is not just reserved for the televised events like the Olympics and World Championships. I just never realized before that we were probably the only ones who know just how exciting our racing really is.
What is it about this group of women that keep them driven and motivated to contribute to the success of the team through the vast periods of no individual glory and little recognition?
I did a bit of research last night on the minimum prize money requirements for races as well as the minimum rider salary requirements for both men and women at the top level of the sport. These are being set forth by the UCI which is the international cycling governing body.
For one day racing I looked at La Fleche Wallonne, a World Tour race for men and World Cup race for women held on the same day in Belgium. I used the 9 day Giro Donne (most prestigious women’s stage race) and compared it to the Giro d’Italia for men and also looked at HC level tours for men. Here is a summary of the differences in prize money between the women and the men:
Full document found here:
Here is a summary of the minimum rider salary requirements:
From this it should be pretty obvious that most women are definitely not in the sport for the money. I can only imagine that it must be a lot easier to sacrifice yourself in a race if you are well compensated for your efforts and when you know that there will be some kind of a reward in it for you personally. The level we race at is shockingly high for a sport where there is no real financial incentive (prize money, bonus, etc) to perform.
If it is not to pay the bills to a million dollar mansion like some of our male counterparts what is it that keeps women racing at the highest level?
With the lack of common motivators for success such as fancy things, fame and fortune what is it that keeps women on bikes racing at the highest level? What keeps women motivated to give a 100% effort for a teammate or the greater goal of the team? Why do women pursue a dream of achieving something great?
I have not been racing at the highest level for very long so I am no expert but during the few months racing in Europe I have come to some conclusions. Some teams outperform expectations while others just do not work well together. What gets results is a tightly knit team with camaraderie that is a direct result only of the utmost respect for one another. I am surrounded daily by a special group of women that ride purely out of love and passion for the sport.