World time trial champion Emma Pooley has attacked the inequality between men’s and women’s cycling.

“It’s just unfair, it really gets my goat,” she told Cycling Weekly.

Where to begin? The disparity is huge: for starters, the women’s professional sport suffers from a lack of prestige, under-funding, a truncated race calendar and imbalanced media coverage in comparison with men’s pro riding.

Pooley pins the problem on to TV rights. “It’s because our races don’t go on television, but that’s not our fault.”

She continued: “I think the UCI has been extremely backward. There’s been rumours that they might put all the World Cup races on television, but the UCI should be encouraging it by asking every major men’s race to also put on a women’s race.”

Racing-wise, the World Cup series, abolished at the end of the 2004 season in men’s cycling, still exists as the premier competition.

With the loss of the prestigious Tour de l’Aude stage race, which Pooley won last year, the chasm to the ‘mondialising’ men’s scene seems to be growing.

Pooley enjoyed an outstanding 2010 season as Cervélo leader, winning 11 races, including the Flèche Wallonne, GP Plouay and the National Championship. Yet, despite her star status, world champ and Olympic silver medallist Pooley earns peanuts compared with male equals.

She indicated that she is on less than a 10th of the estimated £1 million-a-year contract enjoyed by Sky leader Bradley Wiggins.

Though calling the disparity “extremely galling”, Pooley isn’t motivated by big money.

“Money is only useful if you have got something to spend it on. I’ve got enough that I don’t need to worry. And I’m paid to do what I really love, so I really can’t complain.”

Swiss-based Pooley, who combines professional racing with a PhD in geotechnical engineering, will race for Garmin-Cervélo next year, after the American brand came in to take over control of the women’s team.

“There’s a lot who race for nothing in women’s cycling, a lot who get paid a damn sight less than me,” she said. “I’m on a decent wage; every one of my team-mate’s next year will have a minimum wage, which is good. A million euros would come in handy, but most people can’t buy a house before they’re 35 and working long hours, so why should I?”

The patronising attitude towards women’s cycling by some casual observers also irks Pooley. “People say to me ‘of course you don’t get paid as much because you don’t race as far, and it’s really slow’. These are people that have never watched a women’s race because they couldn’t be bothered to turn the TV on when there was one on. So, what do they know about it?” she said.

“Women’s races are really exciting to watch, they’re shorter, there’s action all the way and there isn’t the same control like there is in men’s racing with teams of nine; you don’t always know who’s going to win.”

Putting it on television would be a step in the right direction, according to Pooley. “There’d be more interest from sponsors, more teams [in existence] and more would get into it – not just racing, but cycling in general.”

Pendleton bucks the trend
Are female cyclists really that hard done by? Look at Victoria Pendleton. She does “very nicely” according to her agent Chris Evans-Pollard.

“Vicky’s potential is enormous and is possibly greater than Chris Hoy’s if she achieves what he has,” he said.

But there’s the catch. While fellow sprinter Hoy gained his household name status through taking three Olympic golds in Beijing; as a woman, Pendleton had the opportunity to pursue just one.

The IOC and UCI have redressed this imbalance for the 2012 Olympics with a controversial restructuring of the Olympic track programme.

Assuming she continues to lead Britain’s team across the sprint disciplines, come the London Games, Pendleton too should be able to go for three golds.

Victoria Pendleton, British national track championships 2010

Having deals with Hovis, EDF, Adidas, Gatorade, Oakley, Land Rover, EA Sports and Sky, Pendleton’s endorsements account for 90 per cent of her income – topped up by a fairly standard lottery-funded salary for actually riding her bike. Evans-Pollard points out they actually “turn down a lot of stuff for Victoria because she’s only got a limited amount of time”.

He also adds that Mark Cavendish, whom his company also represents, conversely makes about 90 per cent of his income from riding a bike and only 10 per cent from endorsements.

With road riders undertaking a higher volume of racing and training, time for fulfilling commercial obligations is limited.

So with track racing striving for parity at Olympic level, is the gender divide strictly a road thing? Evans-Pollard argues not. “Earning potential is as much to do with image as sporting success,” he says. “Vicky’s got a good image, she’s very eloquent and very likeable, so she’s maybe more attractive to brands.”

But does that make it all OK? Pendleton recently told the Evening Standard: “I work in a very male-oriented environment and it’s hard sometimes… I get frustrated that my voice isn’t as well heard as others.”

And while Hoy has gained exposure largely off the back of his racing achievements, Pendleton has had to play up her femininity to increase hers. Scantily clad photo-shoots may be her decision, but they shouldn’t be a prerequisite for women racers striving for equal recognition.

Martin’s modern take
Lucy Martin is part of the new wave of British women’s talent doing well in Europe.

Only starting cycling in 2005, at the age of 15, after being spotted by the Talent Team, she has progressed through the ranks with British Cycling and will race for Garmin-Cervélo in 2011, where she joins compatriots Pooley, Lizzie Armitstead and Sharon Laws.

Lucy Martin

Though Martin appreciates there’s “still a long way to go”, she has seen an improvement over time. “I’ve noticed that it’s getting better already. The whole lifestyle is different; a lot of cyclists have jobs, which is ridiculous; sponsors aren’t going to take it so seriously if they can’t fend for themselves.”

As part of the BC Academy programme, Martin and her female colleagues enjoyed equal status to male peers in recent years. Based in Belgium, they earned approximately £7,000 a year plus any expenses.

Martin has just returned from a warm weather training camp with Armitstead, while her first race will be in Qatar.

This article originally appeared in the December 16 2010 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine

Related links

Emma Pooley: CW’s top British rider of 2010

Pendleton fronts new Hovis campaign

  • ed w

    anyone like to wonders as to why products aimed at women prefer to pay vast sums of money to hollywood stars or models rather than sponsor cycling teams or events maybe pooley should try getting new sponsors into the sport (look at womens magazines on the news stands for the answer)

  • Yorkie28

    Really brilliant article and good to hear some honesty on the subject. We need to see some female coaches in British cycling or female managers, it is very male dominated! We need real role models not just Kelly Brook on a bike! Those who look at this as a purely economic issue are being naive to the sexism at play here! We need real opportunities for women. If we are always driven by economics we will never improve the situation, sport has real power to improve equality and make social change more than any other vehicle! Government bodies should at least lead the way….. why only two women going to Beijing this weekend?

    Emma is certainly not saying she is getting a rough deal, but it would be irresponsible for her not to point out some of the struggles in women’s cycling as she is in a position to speak out, and good for her!

    Come on girls!

  • dontazeme

    Here does she think these dollars come from? Sponsors. Where do sponsors dollars come from? The public. Let’s face it, there is a very small pond to fish from when we talk cycling in the US (although, granted, it’s much bigger in Europe). One other post touched on it, she needs create a whole new market, or pond, if you will. There an old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad press”. Let’s see how creative she can be!

  • Angharad

    Women’s sport is under represented in the media, despite the odd article in CW and quality papers like the Guardian. It’s a problem all the way through: not enough grass roots, not enough sponsorship, and a bunch of morons like the UCI running it all.

    Pooley, Cooke, Armitstead are fine riders and I’ve had the privilege of seeing them ride in the flesh, and there were thousands with me, so why can’t the media take it on board – maybe because it’s run by men who expect women to be good little girls and stay by the kitchen sink until called for.

    When was the last time we had a male world champion in road racing? Doping Dave and he got disqualified. Cavendish might have a chance in Denmark if they can actually qualify enough riders to make up a team, whereas the women have at least three riders who are capable of winning it – assuming Cooke actually gets some racing in this year. An Olympic champion and without a team for most of last year – couldn’t see that happening to a man. It’s pure sexism.

    So come on CW let’s see more women’s racing in your pages and maybe the tely will catch up one day.

  • PeterLB

    Getting more women in to sport is the starting point to improving women’s racing. Although there have been some excellent races over the years, there have been many more dull ones. The thing is the pool of talent is so small there aren’t enough top class women. Get more women at the top of the sport, and you’ll get better races.

    How do you get more women at the top of the sport? By increasing participation at the bottom. how do you do this? God knows. Many women aren’t interested in sport, and many that are are scared off by competitive sport (especially ones with the threat of danger involved). It’s not an easy problem to solve, and isn’t as simple as media giving more coverage.


    Well said Ms. Pooley.
    I would love to see more womans racing on T.V. and I hope Eurosport will do so.
    The World Championships and the Olympics showed just how good the ladies are.

  • John Palin

    FACT – some of the greatest races at recent Olympics and World Championships have been the womens races. I for one would like to see more of these ultra competative races aired. Its time to get rid of this sexism and accept that cycling is not a genfer specific sport.

  • Simon E

    Good article. Coverage of women’s racing (in the comic and every other publication as well as on TV) is improving but very slowly.

    I agree that it appears the UCI is not helping and reading comments by people involved in and passionate about the sport backs this up. Establishing some kind of baselines for women’s teams, for ensuring there is a women’s race at big events (well done to this year’s Tour Series round in Stoke) but above all the racing and personalities need to be seen.

    We need viewers, fans and sponsors but those will come until the specialist titles give the sport some space. So come on CW, Cycle Sport etc, this is where YOU play a part.

  • David Squires

    There is a nice blog on this subject by Ben Greenwood, over on velonation:

    What Ben essentially says is that male sport dominates because it is mainly men interested in sport. If women want their sport to be treated equally they need to find a way to engage women and get them watching. I have to admit that I can’t disagree with this. While I think it would be good to see more female events getting television exposure I do think that sports (not just cycling) need to find ways to better engage women. Look at female cricket on Sky Sports. They have put quite a few games, yet I’d put my mortgate on it having a mainly male audience.

  • Robert

    A good example of the ‘Big fish, small pond’ syndrome at work methinks. 😉

  • Paul

    I would love to see the women ride the same distances as the men. Not going to happen though is it?

  • Will Hirst

    I can understand Emmas fustration. AlI would say to her is to just keep riding, keep competing and keep fighting. Its a really crap situation.But look at it this way, in sports like tennis and athletics, women are on a near equal footing with the men. Someday, that will happen in cycling,but it will take time and alot of effort. . I say this to you Emma, Cycling Weekly put you down to be the best british cyclist of 2010,ahead of Cavendish and way ahead of Wiggins (by the way, £100,000 a year is not to be sneezed at) and his overblown premiership footballers salary. It is a step in the right direction and I look forward to seeing what you are going to do next.

  • Steev

    Andrew, it’s very difficult to be a viewer of women’s cycling if there is no available coverage to view. Both magazines and television almost entirely ignore it, which is a real shame in the UK as IMHO our ladies have far greater strength in depth than their male counterparts.

  • Andrew Fenn

    Although i do love lucy and my relationship with her, i feel that this article does not put forward a very good arguement. sponsorship is attracted by viewers and to put it simply womens cycling does not get any viewers. its really not that hard to understand is it?

  • Tim

    Emma, you’re dead right. The sport is riddled with male domination. It’s appalling, really appalling. All the magazines continually have guys on the front and throughout time and time again. It’s tedious. No balance whatsoever, although CW, and others, do have female reporters and it’s good to see CW recognising the shortfall by publishing this article. Bravo! We need more for the women.

    Even during these boom times very few professional opportunities have been created to raise the profile of women’s cycling despite many, many more women taking up the sport.

    I’d really like to know why women don’t get the publicity, exposure and profile that the men do. It baffles me. Gosh, if I had the money I would put on a women’s Giro, Tour, Vuelta and classics too and see that they got the exposure and publicity they deserved – the same as the men. On the track too.

    The World Tour for women. The time is right.

  • Nick Rearden

    A good start in respecting women riders would be to stop referring to them as ‘the girls’. Not a trap that Andy has fallen into here, thankfully, but all too prevalent in all aspects of sport in general and cycling in particular.