Chantal van den Broek-Blaak on the growth of women’s cycling: female riders shouldn’t be treated like ‘little men’

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You cannot compare apples and oranges.

Women’s cycling has long fought for equality with its male counterparts. From salaries to endorsements to TV coverage, the gap between men’s and women’s racing has gradually narrowed in recent seasons.

We are now able to watch more races live than ever before, the salaries of top racers are rising and a host of organizers and men’s racing teams have added a women’s wing to their operations.

However, equality doesn’t mean everything has to be homogenized and former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak says female riders shouldn’t be treated like “little men”.

“You can’t compare with men’s cycling, I think we have to focus on our sport,” van den Broek-Blaak said. BikeNews. “It’s not that of men because we’re not little men. It’s something I always say, not everything has to be like men. We’re women, and we do it that way and it’s a different sport.

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At 32, van den Broek-Blaak is one of many older riders in the peloton who has seen the huge changes that have taken place over the past decade. Indeed, she recently extended her contract with SD Worx due to a recent advantage in women’s contracts.

Maternity leave now means she won’t have to end her racing career to start a family. She also has the financial backing to stay racing longer, with the added option of working as a sports director when she finally retires.

There is certainly still a long way to go to close the gap with men’s cycling, in terms of comparative opportunities between men and women, but van den Broek-Blaak is impressed with the changes she has seen.

“Sometimes we complain because we need better prices, we improved that, more races, we need better this and that and everything. But if I look back, from when I started until now, there are such big changes,” she said. “Women’s cycling is just more professional. In our team there is no one who works as well, and it seems strange, because when I started there were girls who were in professional teams, who worked and rode and now you don’t see that.

“Also the way to train the way to live nutrition [has changed]. Men’s cycling has always been one step ahead, but now you can see we train the same way. Ok, we do it as a woman, but in the same way. It’s professional. »

Reconciling growth and tradition

With the growth of women’s cycling, a plethora of major new races have been added to the women’s calendar. This year sees the introduction of the Tour de France Women, which follows the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Women last season.

Over the past decade we have seen women’s editions of many long-running men’s events, such as Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gent-Wevelgem and many more. However, there are well-established women’s races that enjoy great prestige on their own, such as the Giro d’Italia Donne, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Thüringen Ladies Tour, Holland Ladies Tour and Swedish Open Vårgårda.

There is a risk that with the influx of duplicate races on the men’s calendar, these women’s events will be squeezed out by bigger organisers. Teams are also feeling the pressure of an under-construction race schedule.

“I’m a bit scared for that, to be honest,” van den Broek-Blaak said. “There are so many races to come which is good, but I think we also have to make sure we don’t grow too fast. The peloton is not that big and you saw at the end of the year last how many riders were starting from Ronde van Drenthe. I don’t think any team was complete, apart from us I think. It was the end of the season and there were so many races, and it was a difficult year .

“I really hope they stay there [the women’s only races]. Women’s cycling is growing and every race wants a women’s race, but we don’t have enough riders.

Structural changes, such as the introduction of a Women’s WorldTour, are needed to help move the sport forward. However, van den Broek-Blaak says that growing the calendar will only work to a certain extent and that aspects such as increased television coverage to promote the sport are extremely important not only to make it more financially lucrative, but also to attract more runners.

“I think the goal has to be that we get more media attention and a lot of racing on TV. Then the young riders are like ‘ah, it’s a beautiful sport’ and the peloton gets bigger. When the peloton is growing, we are also able to race more,” she said. “Also, when you see races on TV, then more money comes in. I think it’s still the same as in the beginning, media attention is more important than keeping the calendar growing and growing and growing and the prices going up. In the end, that must be the goal, but slowly.

Is women’s cycling ready to add a third level?

The 2022 season marks the third year for the Women’s WorldTeam Ranking following its introduction for the 2020 season. For many years, women’s racing operated on a single tier basis, with the overall standings deciding who received an automatic race invite.

With a WorldTeam license, each team has a number of benefits and obligations that they must meet. There’s the prestige of it and automatic entry to all WorldTour events, but there’s also the requirement to pay minimum wage and provide benefits such as health insurance, maternity leave and a pension plan – a requirement that was only added for the 2022 season.

Unlike the men’s races, there is no intermediate ProTeam level and teams that are not part of the 14 that currently make up the WorldTour do not have to meet these minimum requirements. With almost all WorldTeam licenses – only one spot left – there may soon come a time when an intermediate level is needed, but van den Broek-Blaak thinks more top level riders are needed before that this does not happen.

“I think we are only ready when we have more riders. Because if you see now, in the whole peloton, it’s not that big and you can’t do a doubleheader,” she said. “We also need double staff and then cars and everything, but also double drivers and they’re not there. It’s hard to find riders.

“If you also focus on development and show how interesting the sport is for young riders, then the peloton also continues to grow and we are also ready for these kinds of stages. But for now, I think that the group is not so big, we always see the same girls.

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