'I want that spectacular image': Danish rider critical of differences between men's and women's Worlds courses

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig says it's "sad and incomprehensible" to see major difference between the men's and women's Innsbruck-Tirol courses

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since the routes for the World Championships were announced all the talk has been of the climb, nicknamed “hell,” which comes in the final 10 kilometres of the road race. However, this wall is only included in the elite men’s race, causing frustration in the women’s peloton.

Double Danish time trial champion, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, topped the UCI Women’s WorldTour young rider standings in 2017, is an accomplished climber and has spoken out about the course.

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“I think it is sad and incomprehensible that there is a significant difference between the men’s and women’s course both in the individual time trial and the road race,” she told Cycling Weekly.

Taking place on the weekend of Saturday September 29 both elite men’s and women’s road race start in Kufstein, taking in an opening leg of 84.7km before crossing the line in Innsbruck and entering a final circuit.

The women will ride that 23.8km circuit three times and the men six. However, while the women finish after that third loop, the men then embark on a final long loop, including the “Hell Climb” to Gnadenwald.

With sections of this climb apparently approaching 28 per cent, overall the 2.6km ascent averages 10.5 per cent. While anything is possible, it is highly likely to add to the race’s drama, and is certain to create a spectacle, and it is this Ludwig would like to see.

“I don’t want the same distance as the men, but very close to the finish they take on the climb and we’re not," she said.

"I don’t want a hilly course every year, and some people would argue that it is not the parcours that makes the race, but if you put the same climb in the middle [of the race] or the same climb near to the finish it will give a different dynamic to the race, and maybe a different result.

“My big question is the reasoning behind this. Is it because [they think] we are too weak or are we not capable of doing such hard climbs?”

Tom Dumoulin on Mount Fløyen during the 2017 world time trial championship. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

This is not the first time women’s World Championship races have missed out of a key characteristic.

At last year’s Worlds in Bergen the men’s time trial climbed through wildly enthusiastic fans to finish at the top of Mount Fløyen, while the women’s event used a flat finish in the centre of Bergen.

At the Qatar Worlds the women rode only on the pan flat finishing circuit, while the men had the chance to race in the desert crosswinds.

“Last year everybody talked about that climb in the ITT and how many people there were to cheer them on, it was phenomenal and crazy big exposure and it is that we are not allowed," Ludwig added.

“It’s really sad because it is something they repeat, it is every time we have something spectacular. I just want us to have that spectacular image.”

The individual time trial also has issues. The 52.5km men’s race has a 5km climb averaging seven per cent just over half way, while none of the other races, including the elite women, ride that same road.

With the men’s race beginning in a different location to all the other categories, and differing routes for those events, it is hard to see a reason for the climb not being included in the women’s time trial.

UCI rules specify maximum distances for all races including World Championships. Time trials for elite women can be between 20 and 30km. For men the maximum distance is 50km, though this year the race will exceed that, proving the UCI’s own regulations do have a degree of flexibility.

The UCI, who announced a commitment to gender equality in its Agenda 2022 published on Thursday, provided Cycling Weekly with the following statement.

“Despite the desire to include the Hell Climb in the Women Elite and Men Under 23 Road Race, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Innsbruck 2018 Organising Committee have taken into account the concerns of the population and the recommendations of the city’s security services to limit the use of the climb to a single passage on the final Sunday of the 2018 UCI Road World Championships for the Men Elite Road Race.

“We are nevertheless convinced that the route decided on for all other categories, with the demanding 8km-long Igles Climb which has an average gradient of six per cent is a demanding circuit which will reward both excellent national team tactics and strong individual climbers.

"The total elevation gain for all categories will ensure a level of competition and spectacle that will satisfy the athletes, broadcasters, sponsors and the large public expected along the roadside in a beautiful alpine setting of the Innsbruck-Tirol region.”

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