Three Canyon-SRAM riders hug each other after La Flèche Wallonne in 2021.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: Gravel Worlds might not be the only race we can’t watch in 2024

Calendar reform talk and the impact of GCN+ going dark.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 21.11.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
More from Abby +

Hello and thank you for opening this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter! We are in the depths of the off-season, but there was some fairly big news in cycling that dropped last week that I will get into because unfortunately, it does have a pretty overwhelming impact on the women’s side of the sport.

We’re almost to December which means we’re almost to January which means we’re basically in the countdown to the Tour Down Under, and like Matt de Neef, I can hardly wait. Next year is going to be a huge year for the women’s peloton, what with the continued growth of the sport, the impact the Olympics always has on the season, and the trickle-down effect of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

Matt and I aren’t the only ones looking forward to the TDU. Lidl-Trek’s Amanda Spratt announced she would be racing in Adelaide, and after she narrowly lost the overall last year to fellow Australian Grace Brown of FDJ-Suez, Spratt’s presence promises some great action … especially because Brown will also be in attendance.

Already the race announced two more WorldTour teams will be Down Under compared to 2023. This year only six teams made the trek down to sunnier climates (well, Jayco-AlUla was pretty much already there …). But in addition to the 2023 returnees Lidl-Trek, FDJ-Suez, Human Powered Health, and Jayco-AIUla, the 2024 start list will include Canyon-SRAM, Jumbo-Visma, DSM firmenich-PostNL, and UAE Team ADQ. That’s already over half the teams in the Women’s WorldTour, and the race has already promised more team announcements to come. It’s a fitting start to what promises to be a big year for women’s racing.

But before I continue to fill the space with thoughts, did you know this newsletter can be sent straight to your inbox?

Apparently, the UCI is in talks to shift the calendar in 2026, and I for one am very excited to see how that shakes out. While the COVID-19 re-shuffle of the 2020 season was a bit chaotic, it did deliver one of the best Paris-Roubaixs in years (mud), and one of the ideas being thrown around is moving Flanders and Paris-Roubaix to autumn. It would help to re-distribute the season’s excitement and lend some of the spring height-of-the-season feels to later in the year.

Earlier this season, Andy McGrath and I each wrote about how the men’s and women’s WorldTour have some … issues. Andy wrote that the men’s calendar is bloated, which is one of the things that might change in the future. According to the news, the UCI is aiming to do away with overlapping races and concentrate blocks of racing to reduce environmental impact (I will believe that when I see it). If true, great. The sport is in desperate need of a restructuring.

In addition to Andy’s piece, I also proposed a new women’s calendar, in case anyone at the UCI is subscribed to the Wheel Talk Newsletter.

I wrote about four major changes that were needed to help steer women’s cycling in a better direction. One of those, a three-tier system of team licenses, will come into play in 2025. Yay. Another was annual relegation to cut the WWT down to 10 teams. The current total of 15 is a lot, and the women’s peloton simply doesn’t have the depth yet to support that many WT teams. The third point was that non-WT races need incentive to stay that way because we need non-WT races as much as we need WT races. And the final thing was the calendar itself.

True, the women’s calendar is a lot cleaner than the men’s, and looking ahead to 2024 the UCI hasn’t added any additional races to the WT calendar, unlike in 2022 when the number of WT race days jumped from 37 to 71. This year we had 86, and next year we’ll see 82 days of competition (the Tour de France Femmes and Giro Donne will both be shorter than in years past).

A few races, Thüringen Ladies Tour being one of them, expressed interest in joining the elite calendar, but no dice. So I guess we just sit around and wait to see how the governing body will change the men’s calendar and how that will impact the women’s. Something to look forward to.

? Wheel Talk Podcast ?

Last week we dropped the first of our members-only Wheel Talk Podcasts! Even though the regular weekly show with Loren, Gracie, and I is on hiatus for the off-season, I am still making episodes for the members of Escape Collective. Most of these will be interviews, but my favourite co-podcasters will be back for some fun chats this December as well.

If you’re already a member, congratulations! You already have access. If you’re not, sign up for only one dollar, Euro, or Pound during the month of November.

The first episode was a super fun one. I left my comfort zone of road and ventured into mountain biking to chat with Ronja Blöchlinger, an up-and-coming Swiss rider with a lot of promise, and a great outlook on life.

? Let’s discuss ?

How GCN+’s demise will impact women’s cycling.

The cycling world is still reeling from the news last week that GCN+ and the GCN app will shut down before the 2024 season kicks off. This is a topic that has already been discussed – in fact, some of my colleagues already made an emergency podcast about it – but I can’t overstate how big of an impact this will have on women’s cycling specifically. The streaming platform has become the most-reliable source of live coverage almost worldwide in the last three years, and while this news is a major bummer for men’s cycling it is a massive, massive blow for women’s. Let me explain:

Four years ago it was hard to find live coverage of even the biggest women’s races. In 2017 Loren Rowney was covering La Flèche Wallonne for Voxwomen. There was no live coverage, none, so to show people the finish she was live streaming from the top of the Mur de Huy on her phone. The UCI only recently made 45 minutes of live coverage of WorldTour races mandatory, and in just three years that requirement has completely changed women’s cycling. Fans of women’s cycling were able to watch the races, learn more of the riders’ names, and fall in love with certain teams and how they race. Imagine, in 2023, seeing Canyon-SRAM’s results on a list but not knowing they were the most active team in a race time and time again.

Bike racing is about so much more than just who wins. There is so much that happens before a victory, and it’s only in the last three years we could watch (almost) all the women’s WorldTour races.

Because of live coverage, the sport has grown. Brands know their products will be seen, riders know their efforts will be recognized, and the sport has progressed more in the last three years than anyone thought possible, in large part thanks to live coverage. But it was only the beginning, and now, as we say goodbye to a phenomenal home to the sport we all love, there is a lingering sense of panic.

GCN+ being gone doesn’t automatically mean we won’t have as much live coverage. In theory, all the same races will be available on Discovery+ or Eurosport in most of Europe, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the world. For people only recently getting into women’s cycling, of which there are A LOT, the barrier to finding race feeds will deter them. It’s still unclear where most of the races will be shown in North America, for example. GCN+ made the coverage so easily accessible and reliable, and it’s hard to believe the company that gobbled them up will do the same.

Women’s cycling had been around for years before live coverage was available, but it was the live coverage that helped the sport become more professional, that encouraged more teams to pay their riders so they could get faster, in turn making the racing more exciting. Women’s cycling fans are left now wondering what the future will hold because the sport simply isn’t as profitable as the men’s. There is far less incentive for a streaming platform to put in the amount of effort GCN+ did to allow fans to access so. many. good. women’s. races.

Maybe I am being dramatic, maybe everything will be fine, but it wasn’t that long ago I was watching Anna van der Breggen win La Flèche Wallonne on Loren Rowney’s Facebook Live because the ASO hadn’t provided a single minute of live coverage for the women, and that is not a time I want to return to.

? The joys of social media ?

Off-season always offers us an opportunity to get to know the riders a little more away from the bike. If we’re lucky they post some fun stuff on Instagram. For example; Demi Vollering is looking into buying a house in Switzerland (where she lives with her soon-to-be husband and adorable dog).

Lotte Kopecky soaked up some sun to the tune Girlz Wanna Have Fun (a Girls Just Wanna Have Fun remix) before she gets down in the mud back home in Belgium.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lotte Kopecky (@lottekopecky)

If you just see the intro, as I did upon the first scroll, you think “Oh, how nice is that Lotte having fun on a boat,” but then things take a turn. Kopecky is seen descaling, gutting, and cooking a fish caught by her vacation partner Valerie Jenaer.

What can’t our World Champion do?!

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Now she’s had that vitamin D hit, Kopecky can turn her focus to the Spring Classics (too soon?) because the cobbles are waiting for her.

The Grubers have an incredible portfolio of photographs, not all of them racing, and this one from Jered Gruber is stunning. The 1 km-long Muur van Geraardsbergen (aka the Kapelmuur) averages 9.3% with a section of 19.8%. It’s been included in a number of the popular Flanders races, including the Tour of Flanders/Ronde van Vlaanderen. Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad have also included it, and whenever it’s used drama ensues.

In this image, covered in ice and fallen leaves, you can’t tell that this climb has been the launching pad for race-winning moves year after year. There’s a beauty in it, a peace the brutal climb doesn’t afford a cyclist come Springtime.

? Taylor Swift trivia ?

Taylor Swift has a few collaborators she returns to regularly, none more frequently than multi-time Grammy-winning Producer of the Year Jack Antonoff.

Antonoff’s been a producer and co-writer on a ton of Swift’s albums including Midnights, 1989 (both versions), and some of folklore and Evermore but he’s also worked with The 1975, Lana Del Rey, and more.

Aside from his work with several well-known artists, Antonoff has also featured in his own bands. He won Song of the Year for the song We Are Young while with Fun. but his current project is Bleachers. If you go and search out some of their songs you might recognize them from the incredible film Love, Simon (if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing and go watch it).

Last week Antonoff and Bleachers announced a new album, to drop in March 2024, but he’s already released two songs. The first Modern Girl is an absolute BOP, the second is a lot more sultry with some Lana Del Rey thrown in for good measure.

Good luck not listening to this on repeat until next week’s newsletter:

This isn’t me bending to people who come here only to comment that they don’t like Taylor Swift. There is indeed a scroll function on the internet and you can skip these few paragraphs whenever you want.

? Until next time! ?

Thank you, always, for reading the Wheel Talk Newsletter! I love curating this round-up of stuff for you all every week, and if you have anything you want me to talk about specifically or you have any questions for me don’t hesitate to leave a comment or find me on the Escape Collective Discord (I hover around the Wheel Talk podcast channel).

In case you missed it, Matt de Neef had a great chat with Jayco-AlUla’s Ruby Roseman-Gannon last week. You can read the feature here.

I’ll be back next week! Thanks again!

What did you think of this story?