Emma Pooley takes aim at the UCI over its treatment of women’s cycling
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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Emma Pooley takes aim at the UCI over its treatment of women’s cycling

by Ben Atkins at 9:26 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Governing body has “turned it into a Mickey Mouse sport” claims former World champion

emma pooleyNot generally known for pulling her punches, British rider Emma Pooley (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) has hit out at the International Cycling Union (UCI) and its treatment of the women’s sport. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the former World time trial champion, and silver medallist from the Beijing Olympics, criticised the sport’s governing body over its failure to help women’s cycling develop, accusing it of turning it into “a Mickey Mouse sport.”

For the second year in a row Pooley is facing uncertainty over her career as her team is to fold at the end of the season; AA Drink is ending another two-year association with the team, while its longstanding management team is walking away after many years in the sport.

"It wasn't that a sponsor has pulled out it's just that the sponsorship contracts were all timed into the Olympics cycle,” Pooley explained. “AA Drink has been a sponsor in women's cycling for a long time and Leontien van Moorsel and her husband Michael Zijlaard have been huge supporters of women's cycling – I think they've had a women's team for 17 years so it is pretty sad.

"I don't know about other teams and what will happen to them at the end of the season, but it now seems to be the same story every year,” she added. “I know the men's teams also have issues and they complain about a lack of money but they have no idea what it's like to have a total lack of teams.”

Pooley was a member of the four-woman Great Britain team that delivered the host nations first medal of London 2012, as AA Drink-Leontien.nl teammate Lizzie Armitstead was narrowly beaten by the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos in the women’s road race. Despite the hugely entertaining race however, the women’s sport is still facing the same problems as before, while the men’s side continues to grow.

“Let's face it, racing is entertainment and the spectators in London found it entertaining so that's really good,” Pooley said. “That's exactly what there needs to be. People just need to be able to watch the racing and see that it's exciting.

“I don't think it's a case of men's cycling versus women's cycling, or 'oh more people watched this or that race', but it's just that there's such a disparity it cycling, it really gets my goat. It's really frustrating.”

Much of this lies squarely at the feet of the UCI, she feels, which largely ignores what could be an exciting branch of cycling.

“It's the same sport but gets treated totally differently,” she said. “To start with, not many of our races ore on television and the UCI doesn't seem to have any interest in furthering our side of the sport and I don't see why not.

"We may go a few kilometres an hour slower, but that doesn't make it less exciting to watch and that's what people realised when they watched the Olympics,” she explained. “In fact, I think our race was probably more exciting than the men's race because there was action all the way in the lashing rain which added to the drama.

“It really annoys me that nobody seems to realise that, especially when you have put a lot of time, effort and passion into doing something and then it's made to feel worthless is really frustrating. I can't think of any other sport – ok, maybe football – where there's that much disparity and there are all these slurs with people saying 'women's football is rubbish'. Well you know what? It's not and it can be exciting to watch.The top level of women's cycling is very good.

“Cycling is so behind,” Pooley added. “I mean, they have limits on the length of our races and the number of days a stage race can be, they've basically turned it into a Mickey Mouse sport and it doesn't have to be.”

Women are not feeling the benefit of the current cycling boom

emma pooleyCycling is currently booming in the UK, with Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, and Team Sky towering over the rest in the UCI WorldTour ranking. The sponsor - Britain’s biggest satellite broadcaster - puts money into other areas of cycling too, including the creation of city centre ‘Sky-Rides’, but has yet to do anything in the women’s sport.

“If Sky really wanted to make an impact on cycling they'd put together a women's team,” said Pooley. “And they could put women's cycling on television. That would make a huge difference, not just for their team but also in terms of sponsorship for all the teams.

“I've been on two women's teams that have been attached to men's teams; Cervélo [TestTeam] and then Garmin-Cervélo,” she explained. “With Cervelo it was fantastic; they put our results on their website, they cared about us and were interested in us, they wanted to develop the sport and that's because we had a main sponsor who were interested in women's cycling because, guess what, women also buy bikes. It's not rocket science.

“Then with Garmin I don't think they really had much interest in us and it showed,” she added. “But I agree that the UCI should encourage women's teams.”

Garmin-Cervélo (now Garmin-Sharp) dropped its women’s team in November last year, with most of its riders being picked up by AA Drink-Leontien.nl; although, since the riders were still contracted to Garmin-Cervélo’s parent company Slipstream sports, it was continued to pay their salaries through a partnership with the team.

The problem is not just that teams are having problems finding sponsors though, Pooley says, but the shrinking women’s calendar - and the lack of publicity it gets - means that there is little return for a prospective sponsor to expect.

“Unfortunately, though, there's no point in having teams if there aren't any races,” she explained. “There real problem in the past few years has been races getting cancelled. And that's, also, because the UCI doesn't encourage them.”

Publicity, or a lack of it, is the big problem that any race or team faces, she thinks, and this is another area where the UCI is not doing enough.

“I think they need to be getting races on the television so that sponsors want to sponsor the races,” she said. “Let's face it, who, when there's a financial crisis going on wants to put money into a bike race that doesn't even get them any coverage anywhere?

“I think, quite frankly, that the UCI has quite a lot to answer for. They seem to just spend all their time regulating saddle angles and so on when they could be helping to further developing the sport."


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