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Australian races lead the way for women's pay parity, with local government help

Jamie Finch-Penninger
30 Jan 2018

Equal prize money & growing prestige should further boost the early season racing on the women's calendar. Photo: Robert Cianflone, Getty

Announcements of equal prize money with the men for the Women's Tour Down Under have thrust the Australian female races into the spotlight. The increased prestige, coverage and chance to make some money looks set to see the Australian season become a fixture in the calendar for a large chunk of the women's peloton.

A few years ago races like the Women's Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race didn’t exist and there was little incentive to for any female riders to go to Australia except for a holiday.

Building off the success of the men’s calendar, the women’s peloton is now receiving deserved recognition with events that are run alongside their male counterparts.

The changes to the Australian summer of cycling has drawn praise from within the peloton. Gracie Elvin, Michelton-Scott rider and founder of the Cyclists' Alliance, the new organisation set up to represent the riders within the women's peloton, was very positive about the level of the events.

'We’re thrilled with the Aussie racing,' said Elvin. 'So far the standard is fantastic and the coverage is better than we normally get in Europe.

'I think the European races really need to look at this block of racing and see what they can do to emulate it.'

There were a number of UCI registered teams on the startline for the big races, American teams like TIBCO-SVB, Twenty20, Cylance; British squads like Wiggle-High5 and Trek-Drops, as well as a number of European-based teams all joined the races, but the potential is there for the racing to become even a bigger focus of the women’s calendar.

Elvin was optimistic about the prospect of the best teams in the world competing in Australia.

'I think next year we’re going to see even more,' said Elvin, 'and good riders being in better form at this time of year. It’s only going to get more exciting.'

Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) has been a strident critic in the past where she’s seen inequality in the sport. Most recently, she protested the reduced Australian women’s team that was planned for the World Championships, winning herself a spot along with Rachel Neylan for Bergen.

'I’m really proud - being an Australian - that we’re doing so much for women’s sport, not just in cycling. That was one of the reasons that I got so up in arms when they selected only five riders in September.

'As a culture and a country, we’re so supportive of pushing women’s sport forward and I’m proud to be a part of that.

'I’ve already predicted that next year we’ll have at least two more big European teams coming over. It’s going to make a big difference.

'They’ll think "it’s a huge amount of prize money and great weather," so why wouldn’t you come over.'

Hosking’s statement may prove to be prescient, few races on the WorldTour calendar offer as much prize money as the combined prize pool from the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Women's Tour Down Under.

Races like RideLondon are the exception and offer a lot of money, but if you win a race like the Tour of Flanders, you’re looking at less than what you’d make from a stage win at the UCI 2.1 rated Tour Down Under.

Money won from races isn’t a massive deal in men’s racing, the top riders earn far more from sponsorship deals and team salary than from winning even a major event.

However, in the women’s peloton, funding from sponsors doesn’t extend to offering riders exorbitant salaries.

In a Cyclists' Alliance survey of the women’s peloton completed last year, over half the respondents earned below €10,000 in salary and half had a second job.

The chance to pick up a few thousand dollars in race winnings, if you or a teammate can take a good result, becomes a significant incentive.

A driving force behind the provision of equal prize money for the women is to a large extent borne by government involvement in the events.

State governments are significant contributors to the running of the events, not just financially but also in dealing with police escorts and road closures.

The optics of running events where men and women were treated differently wasn’t going to make sense to your average voter, so moves from the South Australian Tourism minister Leon Bignell, the government member with a long association with the Tour Down Under, and Visit Victoria, the primary arm of Victorian tourism, were the main drivers behind the pay parity.

Race director of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Scott Sunderland, spoke about why recognising the male and female fields in the same fashion was important.

'It’s just equality and this is what we’re about,' said Sunderalnd. 'We don’t just see women's and men's cyclists… we just see cyclists.

'So why not, the women's teams and riders are putting in an equal effort to the men.

'There are top fields, in the final there we had a two-time World Champion [Giorgia Bronzini], a current time-trial World Champion [Annemiek van Vleuten] and Gracie Elvin, who was second in the Tour of Flanders this year.

'That’s not to mention the winner Chloe Hosking who wins a number of races every season around the world.

'It’s already a world-class field but it’s going to grow and grow. We have plans with Visit Victoria to grow the race to WorldTour already and being an event equal with the men's is what we all want,' Sunderland concluded.

The decision to move the races to a WorldTour level may be crucial to enticing a few more teams out to Australia, even if the events already offer more money than the majority of races that are accredited at to WorldTour level.

WorldTour points aside, the status of the race ensures some level of coverage back home, especially to teams with sponsors that have little interest in seeing Australian participation on the team’s schedule.

It has been a big season of growth for the women’s side of the sport in Australia, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world takes notice.

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