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The Cyclists' Alliance: Improving pay and conditions in the women's peloton

Jamie Finch-Penninger
18 Jan 2019

Last year was busy and successful for women's advocacy group The Cyclists' Alliance, but 2019 looks to be a year of further progress

The Cyclists' Alliance (left to right): Iris Slappendel, Carmen Small and Gracie Elvin at the 2018 Boels Ladies Tour. Photo: Hubert Giddelo

It has been a busy first year for The Cyclists’ Alliance, with the women’s cycling advocacy organisation counting a new minimum salary for WorldTour teams, maternity leave and improved ethics regulations as its major public successes for its first year of operation.

Current Mitchelton-Scott professional Gracie Elvin is one of the founders of The Cyclists’ Alliance, along with former riders Iris Slappendel and Carmen Small.

A labour of love, run on volunteer time and effort towards the overall goal of giving female cyclists a voice with the larger organisations that run cycling.

Cyclist caught up with Elvin at the Tour Down Under to find out how the organisation has fared in its first full year of operation.

'We’ve just gone over a year since we launched The Cyclists’ Alliance,' Elvin explained. 'I guess we had high expectations of what we wanted it to be and how many riders we wanted to sign up.

'In general, we are happy with the response we’ve had from the peloton and the backing of some really high-profile riders.'

Marianne Vos and Ellen van Dijk are the biggest names in support of the quasi-union, with numbers of other riders adding their voice to the push for more rights, safe working conditions and equity with their male counterparts.

The most important advances for Elvin have been the establishment of rules within the UCI framework which more stringently enforces and monitors contract conditions and working conditions within teams, as well as introducing a minimum wage for Women’s WorldTour teams and maternity leave.

'The biggest things for us were rider safety, ethics within teams – we have made a big difference in that in our first year and there are now regulations from the UCI that we’ve pushed,' said Elvin.

'Mandatory ethical rules for how teams and staff operate, have licences and treat riders. It’s not just minimum salary - that was a goal we were able to help the UCI tick off – but rider welfare is really important.'

The difficulty of setting up an organisation like this is establishing credibility with riders and being representative of the opinion within the peloton, a tough proposition made evident by the discussion of how to best promote equality with the men’s side of the sport on social media.

A process of surveying riders within the peloton was key to setting up The Cyclists’ Alliance back in late 2017 and a further survey was conducted at the end of the 2018 season.

'One of the bigger things that came out of those surveys was that riders were concerned about their health insurance,' Elvin added.

'Some of the riders didn’t know what level of cover they had from teams, others didn’t have enough, other teams hardly any.

'That was definitely an issue, how do we get riders better protected within teams and offer them services where, if they wanted to take out their own cover it was affordable.

'We partnered with SVL Insurance, a major sporting insurance agency to provide discounted offers for members.'

The Cyclists’ Alliance isn’t yet recognised as a union body by the UCI, with representations made largely through the UCI’s Women’s WorldTour and Road commissions.

'Iris [Slappendel] is really our face for that,' said Elvin. 'She’s been involved in the riders’ commission and the UCI Womens’ WorldTour commission and represents all the riders, not just The Cyclists’ Alliance.

'She’s still really invested in the sport in a lot of ways and we really value her time. It’s all unpaid time, her part in being part of those committees and a representative for us.

'She and Carmen [Small] have done the bulk of the work for us, being our face in team meetings and at the races. It’s their job to be there and be brave in pushing our agenda and the agenda for the riders.'

There are also many individual problems that need to be solved beyond the big issues which gain the headlines, with The Cyclist’s Alliance playing a role in representing and supporting riders with private legal processes.

Pro forma contracts riders can use to negotiate with teams and the establishment of a mentoring programme within the women’s peloton are other initiatives that have been positively received.

'We’ve gained some momentum with that and the opportunity to help the riders with legal matters last year. Those stories are starting to filter through the peloton now, that we are doing important and useful things for riders,' Elvin explained.

'We do have to keep that confidentiality when it comes to legal matters. It’s more after the fact that we can say things, once the cases have been settled. We haven’t been able to talk about a lot yet, but in the coming year we’ll be able to talk about some of the things we have accomplished.

'Also setting up other programmes like the mentor programme, which is something that has been bit more of a side project - something that we thought was valuable.

'We have 10 pairs and they’re across different teams so it’s interesting to see that cross-sharing of information and support within the peloton.'

The growth of the women’s racing scene has been progressing markedly over the last few years, more races are now shown live on television than ever before and the average cycling fan is more familiar with the smaller names of the women’s peloton, rather than just being able to name Marianne Vos.

'It’s still growing, the process of engaging more fans in women’s cycling has been accelerating in the last few years through social media and better coverage,' said Elvin. 'We want to keep pushing that, it’s another big agenda for us, to have better coverage whether it be through TV or online.'

This season shapes as a year of continued development for The Cyclists’ Alliance, but Elvin sees the continued growth of women’s racing and the engagement of riders to be the key outcomes for the organization moving forward.

'We really wanted the support of the riders because that’s who we’re here for,' said Elvin. 'To keep building the membership base for us is important, to show riders that it’s their interests not our own – we’re not making money out of this.

'To have that recognition from other associations like the UCI is very important as well as it validates what we are doing. We want to be collaborative with them, we can all unite - not just riders – to make things better for cycling.'