Comment: Is there any point to dreaming big?

Between now and the end of 2012 will be inviting people to write their thoughts on the issues facing the women’s cycle racing scene. Our first piece is by former junior national champion Louise Mahe.

After an amazing women’s Olympic road race, hailed by many as aggressive and entertaining, everyone thought the interest and sponsorship around women’s racing could only improve. But it’s almost done the opposite and gone back to the same post Olympic lull that happened after Athens and then Beijing.

Recent news of AA Drink dropping their sponsorship of the women’s team that backs many Olympians, including Britain’s silver medalist Lizzie Armitstead, has shocked many involved in women’s cycling.

Such news not only affects the best riders in the world, it filters down to national, and even local level. The up and coming riders, inspired after watching the success in the Olympics, begin to question the feasibility of chasing that dream.

In 2005 when I was 16, I became Junior Road Race National Champion and a year later went on to podium at the under-23 Nationals Road Race Championships. I dropped out of cycling the next year.

I hadn’t made it firmly on to the British Olympic Development Programme, despite my consistent results, and was left somewhat disillusioned.  

This season I have begun finding my legs in national level races again. Although my success has been limited, knowing I’ve achieved results despite missing my winter base training has inspired me.

It’s also got me thinking that maybe I can fulfill my childhood dreams of racing at World and Olympic level.

But what hope do I have as an amateur cyclist dreaming of success and wanting to go pro when the current Olympic medal winners are struggling to find sponsorship? With many of the top pro riders in the women’s peloton going public about the inequality and frustration they feel occurs in cycling it looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle.

I am currently riding for Mule Bar Girls and race locally and nationally with my team. We get kit, helmets, national race entry fees paid and are self sufficient in our approach to organising our racing. The next step up in my racing would be to dominate the British road scene and then go and race abroad as much as possible next year.

To take this step would be harder financially too, as I would have the same backing from my team but will be traveling and racing even more than this year.  To be honest this is the same for most riders, male and female. They do this in the hope of performing well and getting noticed by a bigger team.

But for women, a bigger team often doesn’t mean a bigger budget so this self-sufficiency often doesn’t end. So is it even worth it?

Current women’s world road race champion Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) was famously quoted saying how she would not advise women to start cycling seriously as it is so hard to pursue a career at the top. That really brings home the enormity of the problems female cyclists face.  

But why is it so hard at the top? Many riders and team managers are calling for the UCI to do something about the lack of support and sponsorship. After a call for the UCI to guarantee a minimum wage for riders of pro Women’s teams, similar to that of their male counterparts, Pat McQuaid said that the sport was not developed enough.

This is an extremely negative attitude from the UCI President, but in a way I can understand this view: there’s no point forcing sponsors to pay riders more, what we need is sponsor actually wanting to pay riders at all.

So what will I do? At the moment I’m fresh out of university, on the search for a ‘proper’ job. I do feel I need to give cycling a real go, so hopefully I can find a job that allows me to get a solid winter base so I can build on this seasons’ results.

Then I’ll just have to see how it all goes. I know it’s going to be a struggle, but hopefully by the time I get to that top level things will have changed. And if not I’ll perhaps be one of the riders that can help make a change, ready for the next generation.

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