The UCI has relegated the RideLondon Classique from a WorldTour race to the ProSeries class, after organisers failed to provide the live TV coverage required of each stage.
The UCI said that the race, which was made up of three stages from May 26 to 29, had showed an "unacceptable lack of respect for the teams and riders involved in the competition." A final decision on the status of the race will be made in September at the UCI's Management Committee Meeting.
Highlights packages were available on BBC iPlayer, for the first and second stages, with 70 minutes of live coverage from stage three on BBC Two.
However, the UCI rules state that "women's WorldTour events must provide live TV coverage of at least the last 45 minutes of each stage/race", causing the UCI to relegate the race, noting that the lack of coverage "constitutes a breach of the UCI Regulations and of the specifications that every organiser of the UCI Women's WorldTour is required to respect."
It also added that events registering to be included in the UCI Women's WorldTour calendar for 2023 would need to present "firm commitments concerning the live TV broadcasting of all the stages."
Daily live TV coverage, it said, "is fundamental to ensure [women's cycling's] continued international development."
Announcing the extension of the race from a one day to a three day event last year, RideLondon Classique race director Hugh Brasher noted that, between the years 2016 and 2019, the Classique was the "richest one day race in the women's calendar", paying the same prize money to both the male and female winners. He said that the extension to three days "reinforces our commitment to promote women's cycling."
However, high profile riders such as Olympic time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten maintain the position that live TV coverage is more important than prize money in the pursuit of equality in cycling.
After public outcry erupted around the discrepancy in prize money at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Vleuten told Nrc.nl: "I am very happy that fans apparently can't believe we are getting unequal prize money. But the change has to be in a different order. Most importantly, women need to be seen on TV in races."
In 2021, the UK's Women'sTour almost fell foul of the UCI's rules around live coverage, with organisers SweetSpot stating that live coverage would not be possible due to "commercial realities."
Race director Mick Bennett told Cycling Weekly at the time, “the simple answer is that we were contracted [to show coverage via] ITV4. But it’s just commercial reality that they don’t get the return that they would like from the Women’s Tour, and there’s no way around that.”
This year, the Women's Tour race was broadcast live, on Eurosport and GCN Player.
More Women'sTour race days added
Despite the relegation of the RideLondon Classique, the Women's WorldTour
calendar will expand in 2023 - with four new events being added: the Women’s Santos Tour Down Under, the UAE Tour, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour de Suisse.
This would increase the calendar to the region of 86 days of WorldTour racing. In 2022, the number of WorldTour races for women increased to 71, up from 52 in 2018 - leading to questions over whether expansion was sustainable for teams, who have smaller budgets and fewer riders than men's WorldTour teams.
At the dawn of the 2022 season, Canyon-SRAM's team principal Ronny Lauke told Cycling Weekly: "We are not men’s WorldTour teams with 30 riders, we have a maximum of 16. It’s good to see that there’s growth in the sport, but July and August is quite demanding, so you are forced to have a big roster with some 14-16 riders to fulfil the demands of racing and share out the riders. You need a big team.”
Stephen Delcourt, manager at FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope pointed to the financial burden of an increase in race days, noting: "It’s really good because we have development, but next season I have 31 employees on my team. And when we travel the organisation pay only €3000, but the cost of going to one race the minimum is €8-9000. It’s really hard for the budget, if you have no more than €2,000,000 it’s not possible.”
The UCI says that it will press ahead with "the establishment of an in-depth reform of men's and women's professional cycling", adding "the UCI welcomes the fact that the three main organisers and the owners of men's and women's teams share its conviction that the organisation of road cycling must evolve.
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