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Sarah Storey: 'I'm happy for 1,000 hours of live men's race coverage, just make sure women get some coverage too'

Joe Robinson
20 Mar 2018

While equal pay is welcomed, Dame Sarah Storey believes the true issue lies within television coverage

The decision of Ovo Energy to match the prize money at the Women's Tour to that of the Men's Tour of Britain was heralded by many as a great leap forward for parity in women's cycling. Finally, race organisers were beginning to understand they could not pay one person different to another based on gender.

The same cheer was let out when the Tour Down Under led this charge in January, also announcing that prize money between men and women would be equal.

It seemed as if we were making process, stepping towards a sport in which women and men are treated equally in every sense. 

However for Dame Sarah Storey, one of Britain's most decorated female cyclists and a strong voice in women's and para-cycling, parity through pay was just a very small necessary step on what will be a long road.

After half an hour's worth of conversation with Cyclist, it was clear to see what Storey viewed as the biggest obstacle standing in the way of equality between male and female professional cyclists: television coverage. 

'That's the biggest gender disparity we are tackling in women's cycling today,' said Storey.

'That's the biggest gap. We need to get on television to be a genuine advertising tool and attract money to our sport.'

She continued, 'Turn on the television any day of the week during the season and you will see a men's race. You won't know a single rider yet it will still get two hours worth of coverage for the race and sponsors involved. 

'Women's racing simply doesn't get television coverage if they cannot guarantee the 10 biggest names in the sport's attendance. Yet if the men's top riders are not present they do not struggle to run the race. Why is that?' asked Storey.

'Anna van der Breggen cannot be at every race.'

The Ovo Women's Tour will be one of the few races to provide extensive television coverage

Television coverage

Storey's point is one well made. Last week Eurosport showed live coverage of the Nokere Koerse and Handzame Classic men's races. Important races to the diehard fan maybe but largely unimportant in the grand scheme of bike racing.

Despite fairly interesting courses that tackled short climbs and cobbled streets, neither race attracted the star names of the Cobbled Classics. Comprehensive victories for two Quick-Step Floors neo-pros, while impressive, gives you an understanding of the calibre of rider present.

Yet take some of the biggest women's races to have taken place so far this season. Strade Bianche was restricted to the final hour of racing live on television while there was zero race coverage of the women's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. 

Storey is not calling for these small Belgian and French races to no longer be aired live, far from it. She admits that these young neo-pros and domestic Continental riders deserve their moment in the limelight but she cannot understand why this is not shared with the women's side of the sport. 

'In recent years we have lost really good races in the Tour de Limousin and Tour of Brittany from the calendar due to insufficient sponsorship funds,' Storey said.

'That's not a worry for the men. Look at the amount of ProContinental and Continental races on television which get good prize money, infrastructure, safety and yet none of the sport's biggest riders.

'I'm happy for there to be 1,000 hours of live men's race coverage but just make sure we see some of that.'

Advertisers want exposure

With a lack of television coverage, races find it increasingly difficult to attract lucrative sponsorship deals to help fund their events. If people cannot see your branding, what's the point of being there? 

A lack of sponsorship funds means less money for the organisers and with expectations for the organisers growing in terms of funding competitive prize money and smaller but vital aspects such as accommodation and food.

'One of the biggest trends is that organisers need to fund the top 10 teams in the world and also provide a budget for television,' Storey states.

'They have no bigger budget than before and then the money also spreads thinner with increased prize money.

'This then means that teams then get less in terms of travel covered, accommodation paid for or even food which is ok for the likes of Boels-Dolmans but hard for us smaller teams.'

Partner teams

This lack of money within women's racing also plays havoc with the much floated theory that all men's WorldTour teams should operate a women's WorldTour team, according to Storey.

Despite it working for the likes of Team Sunweb and Mitchelton-Scott who run successful teams on both sides of the coin, she firmly believes that certain sides of the women's sport would be 'frustrating' from a men's perspective.

For her, women's racing is too different and its nuances would cause such frustration to a men's team that simply forcing their hand would not work. 

'Teams are used to everything getting laid on would be provided with a shock. You cannot just turn up with your megabus, we don't have the infrastructure,' said Storey continuing that she understands why teams are adverse to the idea and would never like to see the issue forced. 

For Storey, the better approach would be partner teams. Not necessarily mirror-images of one another but sharing a few sponsors and other smaller yet essential components to a team such as a service course. 

Storey runs her own competitve team with husband Barney despite a demanding budget

Willing sponsors

Take Storey's own team, Storey Racing, run by her and her husband Barney. A small, UK based outfit, one of their sponsors for the 2018 is Eisberg, a alcohol free wine company that has invested in Storey Racing and the Canyon-Eisberg men's Continental team.

This company's willingness to look beyond male cycling makes running Storey's team of talented yet not full-time bike racers a reality.

It also helps this small outfit of 12 riders punch above their weight at race's such as the Women's Tour and potentially the RideLondon Classique. 

Yet small companies like Eisberg cannot do this alone and Storey realises this finishing our conversation by saying, 'the UCI needs to make an investment in the women's side of the sport to make it more lucrative.

'If they do not then we are facing the serious risk of losing more and more from women's cycling.'

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