The women's peloton races the white gravel roads of Strade Bianche, 2023.

Where does the UCI get the audacity?

The UCI's decision to forgo live coverage of the women's Gravel World Championships on Saturday demonstrates a lack of respect for the women's peloton and frankly it's unacceptable.

The women’s peloton races the white gravel roads of Strade Bianche, 2023.

The second edition of the women’s Gravel World Championships is underway as the discipline continues to gain momentum worldwide, but although the men’s race will be broadcast live on Sunday, the UCI will not be providing live coverage of Saturday’s women’s race. The inaugural event in 2022 did have live coverage, as did the European Championships a week ago, but unfortunately, the governing body chose to exclude the elite women’s field from what they have deemed as a necessity to build the sport of cycling.

According to Velo, the organizers of the event asked the UCI to cover live coverage for the women’s race but the governing body refused.

The UCI launched their own series of gravel events in 2022 that would culminate in the World Championships where winners would receive one of the UCI’s coveted rainbow jerseys. Their involvement came after gravel racing started to really gain momentum in the United States, and worldwide. The initial announcement was met with trepidation since the UCI is known for being a bit off the mark at the best of times, and if this weekend doesn’t prove the point, what does?

Most gravel events are known for their inclusivity and equality, where the men and women start together and are awarded equal coverage and prize money. People who frequent these events fall in love with the easygoing atmosphere and the family-like culture – the racing is competitive but nothing like a road race.

So, for the UCI to come in and try to take over the discipline only to disregard the women’s field in the second year is not only disappointing, it’s disrespectful and completely unacceptable.

Current and former riders took to social media to state their anger and disappointment. “One of the great elements about gravel is the parity with men,” Matilda Raynolds said on Twitter. “Same distance, prize money, time and coverage. Unless the UCI are organizing it.”

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It took until an hour into the race for the UCI to make any sort of statement on this most recent controversy, and who is surprised, really?

“As of the next edition of the UCI Gravel World Championships, UCI will make it mandatory for event organisers to provide TV production for both the Men Elite and the Women Elite races.”

UCI statement, 7th Oct ’23

The organization recently stated, “it has a duty to guarantee, above all, equal opportunities for all competitors in cycling competitions”, and this most recent missive says similar, albeit as a footnote to their ‘regret’, and an invitation to “all fans to follow the race live on social media” – nice try, without live coverage, there’s next to nothing online but for the UCI’s own ‘live timing’.

The UCI itself mandates that all races within the top tier of women’s cycling must have at least 90 minutes of live coverage. They themselves demoted the Giro Donne, one of the longest-running stage races for women, after the race failed to provide live coverage in 2020. The UCI said of RideLondon after they failed to provide live coverage that the event had shown an “unacceptable lack of respect for the teams and riders involved in the competition.”

On Saturday the women are tackling 140 km of technical dirt roads in Veneto, Italy with 1,660 meters of climbing. Demi Vollering, Emma Norsgaard, Kasia Niewiadoma, Tiffany Cromwell, Heidi Franz, Sarah Sturm, Lorena Wiebes, Sofia Gomez, Carolin Schiff, Silvia Persico … the list goes on! It’s a stacked field with the best of the gravel and road worlds lining up. But if no one can watch it, what kind of impact does it have on the development of the sport?

We’ve seen massive growth on the women’s side in the past three years, a lot of it can be attributed to live coverage. These women are sponsored by brands who want to see their gear and logo on TV. There is a direct correlation between the amount of money that comes into the sport and the visibility of the sport. And it’s not like there won’t be cameras on the ground. The race will have a “highlights package” available for post-race viewing.

What can you do as a fan? Follow the riders, show them some love on social media, celebrate the champion who is crowned this afternoon – not that we’ll get to see it – and don’t be quiet about your displeasure in this situation. They need to know that this decision is unacceptable.

Hopefully the UCI will follow through on their new mandate and there will be live coverage of the women’s event next year, but the damage is done in 2023.

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