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Bridging the inequality gap? UNIO is the new union for the women's peloton

Joe Robinson
6 Apr 2020

A group designed to represent the teams of the women's peloton in their battle for equality and fairness

No women’s toilets at the start or finish of a race. Overdue payments for start and prize money. Key one-day races with not a single minute of live television coverage.

While the women racing become increasingly more professional, it seems as if the sport lags behind and the components in place to ensure a proper platform for their talents remain in flux.

Even for Ronny Lauke, the team manager of Canyon-Sram, arguably one of the most financially secure and well-run teams in the women’s peloton, the rooted problems with women’s cycling are clear.

‘The sport is growing, riders are becoming more professional but then race organisers will provide accommodation for six riders and three members of staff and this isn’t good enough for a pro sport,’ explains Lauke.

‘No team can get through a 10-day stage race with six riders and three staff. Three people cannot look after a team’s recovery, preparation and logistics for a week with that few staff members.

‘As a director, I want to talk to riders and plan. I need masseurs to help riders at the end of the stage, I need soigneurs preparing bottles for the next day, I need expert mechanics repairing bikes so a rider does not suffer a mechanical riding 80kmh on a descent on the next stage.

'I cannot do that with three members of staff. The sport is professional, riders have demands, and some teams can afford it and others cannot and it’s not working.'

Lauke then explains that these same race organisers will promise riders and teams start fees and lucrative prize money but when it comes to paying up, hold out making the payments, and adds that these issues tend to pass the UCI by.

‘I’ve never been in a situation working for a team that struggles for money, I’m lucky, but there are other teams that struggle financially on a daily basis,' Lauke continues.

‘We had a conversation with the UCI about these things and realised they are not aware of a lot of problems being faced by the women’s peloton, especially stuff like delayed prize money payment.’

These continuing issues are just the tip of an iceberg that the women’s peloton is currently battling and it is why Lauke and his colleagues have decided to create UNIO, the first union to represent women’s professional cycling team.

‘UNIO will be an association uniting the interests of professional women’s teams. Currently, there are many associations representing men’s teams and riders, associations for race organisers and female riders have the CPA and Cyclists' Alliance to rely on but nothing for women’s teams,’ explains Lauke.

‘There have always been talks for representation of women’s teams and this is the first proper step forward to establish this.’

With conversations having started in 2018, UNIO is now in a position where 15 of 55 professional teams have signed up - 10 short of Lauke’s target - and the UCI has officially recognised its presence.

Speaking with one voice

To begin with, the process includes getting all the involved teams up to speed with what the union plans to do and to unite behind one voice.

It is also a process of explaining that the goals of the teams involved must be realistic. As Lauke points out, ‘We deserve more as a sport but we have to understand the size of the interest in the sport. It’s an interesting sport but we need to identify goals that we can work towards together to achieve them.’

Once on the same page, Lauke believes UNIO can begin its battle with the biggest problems facing the women’s peloton and the future of the teams involved, chief among those problems being the issue of television coverage.

Last year, women’s one-day Classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege was not streamed live and when rules were put in place that all women’s WorldTour races had to provide live television, race organiser ASO threatened to pull the event entirely.

Continued television coverage is one of the best-proven ways of building a sport’s exposure and size, and while Lauke admits realism is necessary when it comes to the sport’s demands, he believes the lack of a marquee event like the Tour de France could make.

‘Television coverage is a massive issue currently but I see this as a massive opportunity because the sport is a green field waiting to be made into a garden,’ explains Lauke.

‘TV rights are not as expensive, we do not have one event that dominates the entire season like the Tour de France does for the men, so we have a change to build everything to have equal value and following’.

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