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Lizzie Deignan: Equal prize money is 'more than a gesture'

Laura Laker
9 Mar 2018

Lizzie Deignan talks about the importance of the prize money and coverage parity of the Women's Tour

'Hello, I got a missed call from this number.'

'Yes, it’s Lizzie Deignan,' says the voice of the 2015 World Road Race Champion. I don’t know why I’m surprised; I was told by her people she’d try to call.

The Boels Dolmans star is talking to Cyclist from a train after the announcement this year’s Ovo Energy Women’s Tour will finally offer the same prize money - €90,000 in total – as the men’s event.

Lizzie was swamped with interviews at the launch in Parliament, so she’s squeezing in a phoner before her flight back to her home in Monaco. I’m hoping to get my questions in before the signal goes.

'I think it’s more than a gesture,' says Deignan, of the prize money. 'Sometimes with equal prize pots it can be that the big money is the story; it’s more than that.

'The fact they have done that means they have equalled the field for the men’s and women’s winners.'

Deignan sees this parity as a turning point for the sport. 'I think we are at a point now where there’s no room for excuses any more - people just don’t believe them anymore.

'The sport is moving forward and it can’t go back now.'

Ovo Energy’s CEO, Chris Houghton, said at the launch he couldn’t with good conscience explain to his two daughters why professional women bike racers earned less than their male counterparts. The extra €55,000 from Ovo more than doubled the women’s prize pot from €35,000.

Many see the Women’s Tour as a world leader in women’s pro racing, but in January it was pipped to the post in pay parity when the Tour Down Under announced equal prize money. Perhaps more will follow their lead.

Deignan believes Ovo’s investment has helped boost TV coverage, which she describes as 'massive, because the platform for fans is crucial.

'For me the point is that we need to put across how exciting it is as a sport, and personally, riding for Boels Dolmans, we’re an aggressive, tactical team, and to be able to actually showcase that on television is massively important,' she says.

This year Eurosport and ITV will run hour long highlights the evening of each day’s racing, with repeats the following day. In previous years highlights have either been shown very late in the evening, at variable times, or on fewer channels, making it harder for fans to follow.

Like Emma Pooley, Deignan was inspired watching British Olympic Heptathlete, Denise Lewis, on TV, long before women’s cycling was televised.

'I think it’s really important as a young girl that you see professional sport for women. Growing up I didn’t really see it.

'I’d never seen Nicole Cooke. You can be what you see and that’s the whole point.'

It’s encouraging that a young female athlete starting out in cycling today has far more options than Lizzie did.

'The amount of teams that are running a professional programme has improved, particularly domestically, providing a pathway for talented British riders who can get access to WorldTour races. When I started, that wasn’t possible,' she says.

Like many pro women riders, she hopes these changes will send the message to young girls that women don’t need to be second to men in sport.

'My niece is six years old, and she used to say when she was at men’s cycling events, "where’s Lizzie?"

'She couldn’t understand the concept of there not being a race for me, and now she’s at the Women’s Tour, saying "where are the men?" and that’s great.'

Race organisers still need to up their game, though, sometimes on the most basic of details. Deignan was critical of La Course last year, after organisers failed to provide adequate facilities for the women’s Time Trial in Marseilles including, incredibly, toilets.

'I think La Course is a great event but the stage in Marseilles was very much an experiment and from an athlete’s point of view it just didn’t work; there were no facilities, there were no toilets for women, the only toilets we found were locked.

'When you’re preparing for a time trial in 30 degrees heat you need to hydrate and you need to go to the toilet. I got that they were pushing the boundaries and testing what works but there has to be a certain [standard].'

Though she’s racing this year’s Women’s Tour, Lizzie doesn’t yet know which Classics she will tackle – that’s decided by the team based on form nearer the time.

Both the World Road Race Championships course and the Women’s Tour course feature the most climbing the events have seen in years – great for a rider like Deignan.