Words by Amy Jones | Photo by Anton Vos/CorVos/SWpix.com
The existence of the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey has proven divisive in the last few years. While awarding the most consistent elite and U23 rider across a series of 30-40 races throughout the year makes some sense, the fact that there are now 71 WWT race days in 2022 brings the relevance of such a competition into question.
After winning the first round of the Women’s WorldTour (WWT) at Strade Bianche, Lotte Kopecky (pictured) turned up to Ronde van Drenthe wearing the purple-pink UCI Women’sWorldTour leader’s jersey. Usually easily recognisable in her Belgian national champion colours, the SD Worx rider instead blended into a peloton full of similarly-hued kit.
Earlier this year, The UCI denied the kit designs of Continental teams Bizkaia Durango and Andy Schleck – CP NVST – Immo Losch on the grounds of their similarities to both other team’s pink kit and the WWT leader’s jersey. In the case of Bizkaia Durango, who have worn dark pink jerseys for years, their design was rejected twice.
For any team, a complete kit overhaul does not come cheap, but it would have been especially detrimental to the purse strings of Continental women’s squads who run a shoestring budget. “It smacks of the UCI looking after itself rather than concerning itself with the betterment of the sport.” Tweeted Sadhbh O’Shea at the time.
Underneath a Tweet from Bizkaia Durango detailing the situation, Annemiek van Vleuten, who won the WWT overall in 2021 weighed in, saying: “When you win the world tour you get 0 euro for it but you need to wear that jersey. 🙃”
The problem lies with the fact that neither the fans nor the riders are interested in the jersey, and the fact that the competition no longer exists on the men’s side means that casual fans have no idea what it is, often causing confusion when spotting riders in the bunch. In addition, as pointed out by CyclingNews’ women’s editor, Kirsten Frattini, the jersey gives almost no visibility to the sponsors that would usually adorn the rider’s jersey. (link)
So anonymous is the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey to the causal viewer or men’s cycling fan that last year, a handful of news outlets reported that the Jumbo Visma women’s team would be wearing a ‘special edition’ jersey for the Tour of Flanders last year. The jersey in question was, in fact, the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey which at the time belonged to Marianne Vos after the Dutch rider’s win at Gent-Wevelgem the previous week.
Aesthetics aside, however, with so many different types of racing from sprinter’s classics like Drenthe to Ardennes classics and hilly stage races the competition is less about rewarding the most consistent rider, and more about rewarding whoever has the most jam-packed calendar.
Although Annemiek van Vleuten is still the dominant figure in women’s racing, the days of just one or two riders winning every single race by virtue of being exponentially stronger than the rest of the peloton are over. Women are getting closer to specialising instead of becoming all-rounder riders by necessity and are choosing their calendar’s accordingly. The competition has been won by the top riders by virtue of their consistency but few have ever stated the overall as a goal.
The winner of the WWT overall has reflected the strongest rider overall but while the series might not be entirely pointless in racing terms, the real issue lies with the jersey itself rather than the overall competition. Both the men’s and women’s peloton have an overall ranking that carries a certain level of prestige, but covering up sponsors and making riders become billboards for the sport’s governing body rather than the sponsors who pay their bills seems counterintuitive – especially in the women’s peloton where funds are still relatively scarce.