By Owen Rogers
Current UCI president Brian Cookson has told Cycling Weekly that it wouldn't work if the governing body forced men's teams to have equivalent women's teams, or WorldTour events to have equivalent events.
Cookson said it would not be a 'sustainable' plan for women's cycling, and that the sport needs to "encourage, support and promote women’s cycling" even further.
He also praised leading British events like Prudential RideLondon Classique and the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, stating they were raising standards for women's cycling, especially in terms of prize money.
He did, however, acknowledge other events were not fully embracing the expansion enabled last year with the introduction of the Women’s WorldTour.
“More and more organisers are wanting to do a good job, wanting to give decent prize money, we’ve seen that certainly in Great Britain,” an upbeat Cookson said. “I think that is something the British should be proud of, though I would say that wouldn’t I?
“You look at organisers who are reluctant to do a women’s race, reluctant to organise it properly, reluctant to give it decent prize money and then you look at the events over here, RideLondon, the Women’s Tour and the Tour de Yorkshire are doing a great job. There are others around the world, those are just examples.”
Cookson did not name any organisers he felt were not doing enough, though his comments came hot on the heels of criticism of La Course, run by Tour de France organisers, ASO. There riders complained about the format of the second stage and of organisational problems.
Lancastrian Cookson is standing for re-election as president later this year after originally being appointed four years ago promising advances for women professionals. One of his pledges which is yet to materialise is a minimum wage, though he cites sustainability as the reason for that.
“It’s one thing to pass rules, I could pass a rule that every men’s WorldTour event has to have a women’s event over the same distance, I could pass a rule that all of the men’s WorldTour teams have to have a Women’s WorldTour team, but the reality is that will not work. It would not be sustainable.
“It might happen for a year or two but what we are doing is to encourage, support and promote women’s cycling and make it an attractive proposition to event organisers, to cities, to host towns and to sponsors.
“But the reason they want to organise a sporting event is because of public interest, so the media has got a part to play in this.
“When I buy L’Equipe, let’s use that as an example, and I see that on the day after La Course on the the Izoard and there were eight to 10 pages on the Tour and it barely mentioned the [La Course] winner.”
Despite criticism suggesting a lack or progress for women’s cycling, Cookson believes the UCI has made steps in the right direction under his presidency.
“I am very proud of what has been achieved, but it’s not perfect yet and it’s not equal yet. It is certainly moving in the right direction, women’s voices are being heard at the UCI now.
"We have a women’s commission have at least one woman on every of the other commissions, and we have a good group of women and teams working on the Women’s WorldTour advising and helping us.
“There is some way to go. There are some sports where women are much better remunerated, but then men are better remunerated in some sports and you can’t really have that discussion without getting into the economics of professional sport.
"It’s challenging but women’s cycling is 100 years behind in terms of the commercial development as a pro sport.”
The election for the new president of the UCI will take place next month at the Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway.
Cookson’s rival for the role is Frenchman David Lappartient, currently a vice president at the governing body and president of the French federation until declaring his candidacy.
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