Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
The Premier Women’s Stage Race of 2021: with the Giro Rosa relegated from WorldTour level and a ‘Women’s Tour de France’ still one year away, which races might step up to fill the gap?
When the Giro Rosa was demoted from Women’s WorldTour (WWT) status last year many saw it as a backwards step to remove the only women’s ‘Grand Tour’ from the highest level of racing. But to criticise the UCI’s decision – which was taken after the race failed to provide the mandated 45 minutes of live television coverage as well as “various shortcomings on the part of the organiser with regard to the specifications” – is to overlook the opportunity in its wake for other races, which do take the pro women seriously, to step up.
The longevity of the Giro Rosa on the women’s cycling calendar compounds rather than excuses the lack of professionalism. In a sport which is moving forward – however glacially – there is no place for events that do not treat athletes with the respect they deserve in the Women’s World Tour (WWT).
Some might contest that to have put on a race at all in the midst of a pandemic is a feat worth recognising, but whether or not you believe that the Giro Rosa organisers should be afforded some leniency the fact remains that, at the highest level, the women’s peloton deserve races which provide a standard of organisation befitting their capabilities and that those races should be afforded their turn at a ‘Grand Tour’ calendar spot.
In this season in particular – with the promised ‘Women’s Tour de France’ from ASO not due to take place until 2022 and the Giro Rosa demoted (and potentially set to be eclipsed by Olympic quarantine requirements) – there is a gap in the WWT calendar for another race to step up as the leading multi-day event of the season.
And there are options on the WWT calendar – six stage races, in fact – including the newly promoted Vuelta a Burgos Feminas (20th-23rd May). In 2019 – even when it was not required of them as a 2.1 event – Vuelta a Burgos provided a 25-minute daily highlights video, which bodes well for the likelihood of them fulfilling the required 45 minutes of live streaming.
If the number of stages must be a factor then there are both the Boels Ladies’ Tour and The Women’s Tour in the UK which are each contested over six days. While still not quite the 10 of the Giro Rosa (or even the three weeks of a men’s Grand Tour) the number of stages have grown since their inception and they are longer than most other races.
The Ladies’ Tour of Norway and Postnord Vårgårda Westsweden, while in 2021 only four and two (separate) stages long respectively, are already known to be well organised and are set to become part of a 10-day race dubbed the ‘Battle of the North’ in future seasons – an amalgamation of three Scandinavian races across Norway, Denmark and Sweden. So confident in the future of the race is Ladies Tour of Norway organiser Roy Moberg that he plugged it as “the Tour de France for women.”
In a press release to announce the cancellation of the 2020 Ladies Tour of Norway due to Covid-19, the organisers reiterated their commitment to the 10-day event again referring to “The Ladies Tour de France” saying, “The plan was to start in 2021, but because of the Covid -19-pandemic it’s unsure today when it can happen.”
The Scandinavians are not alone in their commitment to bettering future iterations of their races. The director of the Vuelta a España, Javier Guillén, spoke last month of increasing the Ceratizit Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta – currently a three-day event run alongside the final stages of the men’s Grand Tour – “in the mid to long term” to “five to seven days.”
Of course, paying lip service to progress and actually implementing it are very different and time will tell whether these races are true to their words, but for these events to have publicly made a commitment to advancing women’s racing is a step forward in the right direction.
But perhaps the most popular contender of all to take up the ‘Grand Tour’ mantle must surely be the Women’s Tour. Since its inception in 2014 the British race has grown exponentially and cemented its place on the calendar as a paragon of how a multi-day women’s race should be conducted. Both riders and teams cite the well-planned logistics, communication and the quality of hotels among assets that make this race a favourite. In turn, this translates for the fans into well-communicated social media updates and a well-produced highlights package – which from this year (as per UCI rules) is due to be replaced by live coverage.
The Women’s Tour is such an obvious choice for a ‘Grand Tour’ that last year one fan, Harry Eaton, took it upon himself to mock up a 46 page long proposal for a fourteen-day version of the event which he then sent to SweetSpot (the company who organise the race) and various media outlets. While the reality of financial and logistical obstacles might keep Eaton’s proposal in the realm of fiction for now, the fact that it was this particular race that he envisaged for his ideal speaks volumes for its status.
Other stage races may lack the mountain passes, fair weather, and length of the Giro Rosa, but are these attributes that should be valued above effective organisation and communication, crowds of fans and a professional approach to the athletes? Of course the riders deserve both, but if women’s cycling is to advance then it is the races which take the peloton seriously that must be supported and the parcours will follow.
With the pandemic still creating uncertainty around the season it may well be that 2021 becomes another ‘fallow’ year for stage racing (in 2020 the Giro Rosa was the only WWT stage race to take place), but if racing does go ahead as planned it will certainly mark a sea change in the top tier of women’s races and hopefully set a precedent for both future and current events (here’s looking at you, Giro Rosa).
Amy Jones is a freelance writer from Staffordshire, UK now living in Girona, Spain. She specialises in writing about women’s cycling and is the editor of the Women’s Cycling Weekly newsletter – a weekly curation of news and content from the world of women’s cycling. Twitter: @amylaurenjones
Photo: Lizzy Banks (Team Bigla – Katusha) pictured during stage 4 of the Giro Rosa 2020 ©SWpix.com
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.