Words by Sadhbh O’Shea | Photo by CorVos/SWpix.com
A little over four and a half years ago, I was stood on a Paris side street grilling UCI president Brian Cookson on his plans for women’s cycling. It was shortly after third edition of La Course and the concerted drive to gain equal treatment for women’s cycling was gaining momentum.
One of the key sticking points in our conversation on the pavement outside the British Embassy was the topic of a minimum wage for female cyclists. A minimum wage had been one of Cookson’s key manifesto issues in his campaign for election three years previously but, with little over a year remaining in what would be his sole term as UCI president, it had not yet been established.
As I tried to push him into a timescale for the implementation of a minimum wage, Cookson said he was reticent to bring one in too early lest it force teams out of the sport. While Cookson did bring in some positive change for women’s cycling, such as the creation of the women’s WorldTour, the idea of a minimum wage, let alone a fair or equal one, for women in cycling felt so far away.
Though there is still a long way to go, the way that women’s cycling is treated has come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years. A minimum wage was finally introduced in 2020, and the world did not end. The amount, which is set at €20,000 for the 2021 season, is still pretty small but it was a major step in the right direction.
The progression of women’s cycling has been all about baby steps, so the move by the Trek-Segafredo team to begin paying its female riders at least as much as their male counterparts was a hugely positive one. The current development plan for women’s minimum pay has them achieving parity with Pro Continental (now known as Pro Team) riders in 2023.
It helps to be part of a factory set-up and not all teams will have the funds to make a decision such as this, but it is a demonstration of the confidence the company has in the women’s side of the sport. Along with the growing number of men’s teams and sponsors looking to expand into women’s racing, it also shows the increasing marketability of the sport.
Trek-Segafredo has been one of the teams at the forefront of rectifying the gender imbalance in cycling. The team set its stall out early when it was launched with its star rider Lizzie Deignan (pictured) not riding during their debut year as she took time out for the birth of her first child. They did the same again when they paid Abi Van Twisk her full contract after she became pregnant midway through the 2020 season.
Paying a decent wage and proper maternity leave is more than the symbolic gesture or the money in the rider’s bank account. It allows female riders not to have to chose between a family and a career and gives them the opportunity to focus on training rather than having to worry about how they’re going to make their rent at the end of the month or how they’re going to afford to feed themselves what they need to be at their peak.
Deignan explained the impact it has during an interview for the inaugural women’s edition of the Rouleur magazine. “You have seen a massive difference in the last two years, the depth in the sport has changed massively, because until that we were doing two jobs,” she explained. “Now they are able to compete at a decent level. We are capable of doing a three-week Tour de France, but only just have we got enough women who are earning a decent amount of money that allows them to train properly for that.”
Those at the top of their game in cycling are those that have the freedom to dedicate their time to it. It is next to impossible to compete at a high level in modern sport if you aren’t given the time and the tools to work on it. Could you imagine Serena Williams being able to win what she has if she had to spend part of her week working in a marketing job?
Standing on that Paris side street only a short few years ago I could not have imagined just where the sport would be now but there’s still so much more to achieve. I hope that other sponsors will see what Trek-Segafredo have done and grasp the opportunity to invest in women’s cycling and we can see the depth of the peloton grow further. The riders deserve it, and the more that can receive fair recompense for their work the better the sport will be.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not take a look at our review of the 2020 season,
Racing in the Time of Covid, available to buy here.