Hello and thank you for opening the first Escape Collective newsletter dedicated solely to women’s cycling, or women’s racing I should say. My name is Abby Mickey and I am happy to be your guide.
From now on I will be coming to your inboxes weekly (if you feel so inclined to subscribe) with something female-related, be that my favourite moments from the season, racing analysis, news, whatever I feel like you should know, really. There are no rules here (at least that’s what the bosses told me).
You may be familiar with Jonny Long’s Spin Cycle or perhaps you’ve subbed to Matt de Neef’s Down Under Digest (smashing title). Well, this is my take but a bit less organized; if you’ve listened to my podcast Wheel Talk you will be familiar with a bit of chaos, so expect that but in writing. Buckle up!
I wanted to start out by saying how great was the European Championship road race this weekend?! Dang! Even in a Dutch stranglehold the race still delivered some excellent talking points, all of which we chatted about on the Wheel Talk Podcast. I was joined by two retired professionals, Gracie Elvin and Loren Rowney, to break it all down so if you want some quality debates about whether or not Mischa Bredewold’s move was “kosher” give us a listen.
My favourite moment from the race, besides Bredewold’s weird attack, was when Marlen Reusser attacked for the umpteenth time as Demi Vollering was grabbing her bottle to take a drink. Vollering had to abandon her hydration altogether to react to the move, and it was a hilarious moment for two teammates turned rivals for one day.
💬 Let’s discuss 💬
Now, in other non-race news, The Cyclists’ Alliance released the results of the annual riders survey last week. Although none of it would qualify as news (because we have talked extensively on the podcast about most of it), it didn’t take away from some alarming findings by the best union in cycling.
TCA has been doing this survey for a few years now, and although the UCI has addressed some concerns related to women’s cycling in recent years like minimum wage and maternity leave, there are some areas that have been, shall we say, overlooked. Mainly developing the sport. The top end continues to skyrocket, leaving the rest behind. The survey highlighted some of the issues, so let’s get into them.
The most glaring issue: a widening pay gap
The wage gap between the top-tier WorldTeams and everyone else continues to grow. 25% of the riders polled in the survey received no salary or income. 70% of the riders outside the Women’s WorldTour, many of whom race against the WWT teams, received less than €10,000 a year. If you take WWT riders out of the percentage (they are required to earn a minimum wage) the percentage of riders receiving nothing rises to 41%.
This means that only 46% of the peloton can rely on cycling for their income while 78% of the non-WWT riders need a second job, however, a lot of them are still racing in the same peloton as women able to dedicate their lives to the sport.
The 15 WorldTeams increased their minimum wages this year, per UCI rules, but there is no minimum wage for non-WorldTour teams. If you take the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift as an example, the peloton there is made of the 15 WorldTeams with a minimum wage and seven Continental teams with no rules about paying their riders. In theory, that is the peak of women’s cycling, it’s undoubtedly the most-talked-about race in the sport at the moment, with all the hype around the men’s event carrying over.
Simply put, some women are forced to treat cycling as a hobby alongside their jobs, but they are racing women who make a living wage.
Take into account that the survey skewed towards Continental teams. Any woman with a racing license is able to fill out the survey, but a good portion of the WorldTeams opted out. According to the TCA, 41% of those who participated were from WorldTeams while 53% race for Continental teams. Sixteen more people answered the survey compared to 2022.
The number of riders racing who aren’t paid at all increased from 23% in 2022 to 25% in 2023. So while the WorldTeams minimum wage is increasing, Continental teams are going unchecked.
“Despite some signs that women’s professional cycling is progressing, this survey also reveals that many women continue to face tough challenges in the pursuit of a professional cycling career. The disparities between riders in the WorldTour and riders outside the WorldTour continue to grow wider,” The Cyclists’ Alliance said of the survey.
Safety is a major concern for riders with most voting it the second major issue facing the peloton. It has risen two places in the list of concerns for riders since last year. Remember, this year the peloton voted to shut down a race before the final stage due to safety concerns.
Women’s cycling is growing, but only in the top tier. Everyone below the Women’s WorldTour is being left behind as the racing on the WWT level gets faster and faster. Races are either folding or trying to get into the WorldTour calendar, leaving few opportunities for growth and development. Meanwhile, a lot of the .Pro-level races attract multiple WorldTeams, making it challenging for non-WWT riders to get results or learn how to win.
Not all bad
The report by TCA also contained good news. The number of riders working with agents has increased to 41% since 2022. This is a massive step in professionalism, with riders receiving support negotiating contracts and navigating the system of joining teams.
The UCI will institute a third tier, ProTeam, in the 2025 season, between Continental and WorldTeam, that will in theory have a minimum wage, but details of what that will look like remain unclear. They have not addressed the lack of races for non-WWT riders or that the WorldTeams are allowed to compete in those races, limiting options for other riders.
Take the Thüringen Ladies Tour, for example. Normally an amazing stage race for international teams to fly over for, and where developing riders learn to cut their teeth with maybe one or two of the lower-level WorldTeams, this year SD Worx showed up and wiped the floor with everyone. It would be like if Jumbo-Visma went to Tour of the Gila, which isn’t allowed in the men’s peloton (that hasn’t stopped some from trying).
There is so much good happening in women’s cycling right now. The depth of the peloton is rising every season, allowing for more exciting racing and more characters on the podium. Races are being broadcast live, sometimes from start to finish like the European Championships last weekend. That simply wasn’t a thing in 2019; we were lucky if we got a full recap of even the WorldTour races. It’s important to acknowledge, and be happy about, the growth we’ve seen and the prospect of where we are going, but in order to continue to watch the sport flourish the women need a strong base, and that base is getting farther and farther away from what we are seeing at the Tour de France Femmes.
The full survey results can be found here.
🐣 The joys of social media 🐣
As a mom myself, I am blown away by the rise in women taking a year off to have a baby. This year a few stepped back, the most notable being the ITT world champion Ellen van Dijk. The Dutch superwoman posted some side-by-side photos to her social media that are just…wow.
This one is top quality also:
🖼️ A picture worth a couple words 🖼️
I have a folder on my computer where I store photos I’ve found when searching around Gruber Images, Cor Vos, or Kristof Ramon. There’s no reason I have to save them except for future use. Sometimes that use never comes and I’m left with a bunch of photos I thought were cool for some reason.
Well, what better use for them than to share them with you? Every week I’m going to throw in one of my saved photos and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
For our first photo, this gem is from the Giro Donne, the stage Lorena Wiebes left the race early to focus on the Tour de France Femmes. I love it. Her nails are always on point, and Wiebes looks natural in the European jersey. She won’t be wearing it anymore, but she represented it well.
Wiebes left the race after winning the stage three sprint and finishing second behind a solo Annemiek van Vleuten in the sixth stage. It was a great race for the Dutchwoman, but the season only got better. She would go on to win a stage of the Tour de France Femmes, two stages of the Tour of Scandinavia and a stage of the Simac Ladies Tour.
So, adios to Wiebes in the Euros jersey. You’ve done good.
💖 Your weekly dose of Taylor Swift 💖
Yep. You read that! This wouldn’t be my newsletter if there wasn’t some kind of Taylor something. I thought at first about slipping in some lyrics and references that you would really only get if you got it, but what’s the fun in that if only a handful of you lovely readers pick up on it?
So, to the chagrin of my colleagues, here’s your weekly dose of Taylor Swift.
We are nearly at the end of the Summer (technically the first day of autumn was September 23rd) (unless you’re in Australia) and the song of the summer has been a Taylor bop from her Lover album. Cruel Summer became a true hit when Swift launched the Eras Tour on March 17th in Arizona, but original fans have loved it since Swift dropped Lover in 2019. Some might say it’s her weakest album but I would argue it grows on you. The key is to not take it too seriously. I would urge you to take this newsletter the same way.
It’s cool, that’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven
But ooh, whoa oh
It’s a cruel summer
This summer has been cruel. It’s been hot. It’s been long. But we’re nearly at the end, and I am happy to be here with you all, my readers.
Thanks so much for reading my rant, if you got this far. I will be coming to your inboxes weekly with thoughts on women’s cycling, analysis of races, interviews, or maybe a look back at some of my favourite moments. If you’re keen to read all of that and more, perhaps think about subscribing. And if you hate reading (how did you get this far down?!?) I recommend the Wheel Talk podcast. It’s basically three or four friends sitting down to chat cycling and other random things we enjoy like gardening, babies, and books.
What did you think of this story?