Pressing the equality button
January 3, 2015 4:09 PM   Subscribe

"Women and men should have equal prize money". Helen Wyman, UCI pro cyclist and newly-minted UCI commissaire, has been working diligently this year in her new role to ensure, among other things, gender equality in pay and treatment for women in the demanding and rapidly growing sport of cyclocross.

Helen also blogged earlier this season about how the USA has been a leader in gender parity for prize money in UCI cyclocross events. However, traditional European cyclocross bastions, particularly Belgium, have been slow to respond. Since US events are free to spectators and the Belgian Superprestige events, specifically, now charge €10 entry for spectators, based on this image from November, 2014 at the Zonhoven Superprestige, the Belgian promoters can likely afford gender equity in prizes. The Superprestige promoter, however, has mixed feelings about that (scroll down, 2nd interview question).

If you're interested in further intersections between women's pro cycling, activism and general awesomeness, you could do worse than the Unofficial Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog, by Sarah Connolly and Dan Wright. See also Half the Road, a documentary film on the challenges of women's pro bicycle racing. (Previously, previously)
posted by lonefrontranger (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Before reading article my questions were:

How big of a difference is there in prize money?
Why does a difference exist between the sexes in prize money?
Is there a calculation that leads to *prize money figure*?
People who are advocates for a difference in prize money...what is their argument?

Afterwards, my understanding was that people who support the disparity in prize money claim its because women riders have a shorter course (ride for less than the men's hour).

Then I realized that its not about the top dog winning the prize, many of the competitors get paid. And then I found out that being the 11th place woman is like the 50th place man.

SO....now I'm wondering if there are like 5,000 competitors for men, and like 1,000 for women. I highly doubt it.

I'm wondering why they both shouldn't race TOGETHER to try to get that combined purse...
posted by hal_c_on at 4:18 PM on January 3, 2015


I'm wondering why they both shouldn't race TOGETHER to try to get that combined purse...

Because men are anywhere between 10 and 30% faster than a woman on the same course due to genetic potential.
posted by Talez at 4:32 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Because men are anywhere between 10 and 30% faster than a woman on the same course due to genetic potential.

You'd be surprised. My brother's GF ran the Ironman triathlon in Kona this year, and though pro and amateur women start about 30 minutes after each of the same men's categories, a not-insignificant number of women overtook the men to each of the three finish lines. Even with the head start, some men were not able to compete with women in what is probably among the toughest athletic competitions in the world.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


SO....now I'm wondering if there are like 5,000 competitors for men, and like 1,000 for women. I highly doubt it.

based on the entry at most of the UCI events I've looked at over the past few years, and specifically for cyclocross, yes, you would be correct, there's quite a bit of parity in field numbers at the elite level.

actually the 2014 US Elite Nats women's field in Boulder last January set a freaking all-time world record for entry numbers for any UCI race, anywhere, ever, not to mention there were 2 dozen more women's elite starters than men's elite (which was also huge) mainly based on the fact that any man holding a Category 2 or higher license, and any woman holding a Category 3 or higher license could enter with no further qualifications...

...except for the part where the assholes at the USAC promptly enacted "eligibility" rules, very similar to the "Eddie the Eagle" ruling in the Olympics years ago, to ensure that this would never happen again.

because, you know, we just can't go cluttering up "elite" nationals events with mediocre plebs, it wouldn't be fair.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:47 PM on January 3, 2015


I'm kind of glad that I've gotten to help out in this push. In Oregon a few years ago I sponsored one of the first equal prize purse across the top men and women categories and for years we've been racing men and women equal amounts of time (they race in the same time slot). It has slowly spread from the Pacific Northwest, but is now getting to be more common in US races. The last two years the Cross Vegas big early season race has had equal purses when in years past it was literally 90% prize money to men, 10% to women.

For the Europeans, they have some different economics at play, since most of their money comes from spectators paying ticket entrance fees, so they keep claiming that more people show up to the final men's race so they "deserve" more but since the two races usually run back to back, it's kind of a silly argument. I really wish the EU racing circuit pushed for equality.

And the part about them not being allowed to park in elite parking is a huge deal. I know one of the US pros pretty well, and at the major events you sometimes get tens of thousands of cars parking for spectators, but only the elite men are allowed to use the closest lots to the race course. I know one world cup race the women were forced to park their vans and support cars 3 miles from the course on the outskirts of the parking. It's totally insane and nuts for a sport that requires a ton of support tools, wheels, extra bikes, and equipment to lug around.
posted by mathowie at 4:55 PM on January 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


You'd be surprised. My brother's GF ran the Ironman triathlon in Kona this year, and though pro and amateur women start about 30 minutes after each of the same men's categories, a not-insignificant number of women overtook the men to each of the three finish lines.

True, but at the pro level, Mirinda Carfrae (the women's winner) was more than 45 minutes slower than Sebastian Kienle (the men's) -- just over 9 hours versus about 8h14m. Carfrae set course records in 2013 (the marathon gave me chills), but her 2014 time would put her back at 30th place in the men's field. Not everyone at Kona gets there by qualification; there's a lottery every year, and also charity slots, so there's a wide range of skill levels across ages and genders even though the baseline is "can finish an Ironman." The general Kona field is really not an apples-to-apples comparison with the situation at the pro level. I suspect the same is true in cyclocross.
posted by dorque at 4:59 PM on January 3, 2015


And then I found out that being the 11th place woman is like the 50th place man.

Except that, if you're a guy, you can get dropped and then lapped and still finish in the prize money, but if you're a woman, not only do you not get access to a race with such generous notions of what counts as worthy of prize money, you could maintain a better pace than that man who was dropped and then lapped and end up with less prize money.

You might want to read more carefully before telling women to stop complaining.
posted by hoyland at 4:59 PM on January 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


mathowie, the bit about the elite parking lot snub is what thoroughly enraged me and spurred me to post this, but I couldn't trust myself to even frame that part appropriately, so...
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:00 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


You'd be surprised. My brother's GF ran the Ironman triathlon in Kona this year, and though pro and amateur women start about 30 minutes after each of the same men's categories, a not-insignificant number of women overtook the men to each of the three finish lines. Even with the head start, some men were not able to compete with women in what is probably among the toughest athletic competitions in the world.

I'm not surprised. Statistically that will happen. But we're talking about the elite where everyone is a knife edge away from their top genetic potential. You wouldn't see a woman on the winner's podium except in extremely, extremely rare circumstances..
posted by Talez at 5:07 PM on January 3, 2015


to hoyland's point, the Jonathan Page tweet referenced in Wyman's first blog post sparked a funny and snarky exchange between Gabby and Jeremy Durrin, a husband/wife elite cyclocross duo, about just that disconnect; she's arguably the better rider, based on her results, but he consistently wins more prize money.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:09 PM on January 3, 2015


You wouldn't see a woman on the winner's podium except in extremely, extremely rare circumstances.

Yeah, this is a derail we should drop, combined fields isn't fair or equitable. We only see women and men finishing on equal levels at the highest end extreme sports (100 mile trail runs) where simple physical differences don't have such an influence.

The thrust of this is like Title IX in US sports: if you're going to spend $x on Men's Football, you should spend equal amounts on Women's sports and give athletes of both sexes equal access to the same kind of support, and equal prizes in the end.
posted by mathowie at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


ut we're talking about the elite where everyone is a knife edge away from their top genetic potential. You wouldn't see a woman on the winner's podium except in extremely, extremely rare circumstances..

This argument is somewhat spurious, though. There are going to be any number of sports where this is the case, and cycling's probably one of them, but it's hardly some universal truth. The classic counterexample is the shooting events in the Olympics, which were co-ed until it was obvious a woman was going to win the riflery and was then mysteriously split. A woman has won the Olympic skeet event and was then prevented from defending her title because it was suddenly a men's event the next time around. Something like the pommel horse that requires a ton of upper body strength is pretty clearly going to favour men, but in an awful lot of sports, women have never had the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. (For example, there are women playing cricket with men, but they've not had access to the same sort of training the top men have had their entire lives, so it's not surprising top female cricketers aren't competitive with top male cricketers.)
posted by hoyland at 5:16 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


But it's not spurious, because he's addressing someone who's talking about mixing the mens and womens races, which would NOT turn out well for the women at the elite level. That would be a disaster.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Totally anecdotal but here in FL cyclocross the Cat 3 men (of which I'm one) and the Pro women race together and we ride away from them easily within the first lap. Now, I'm not saying there's not women out there that aren't fast enough to smoke me in a bike race but it hasn't happened yet and I seriously doubt it ever will. If the pro women raced with the pro men I can say with a great deal of confidence they will get lapped at least once and probably twice.

I'm going to go read the links now.
posted by photoslob at 6:53 PM on January 3, 2015


This is nothing but good, and while I'd agree that having everyone race together may be a bad idea now due to what's already been mentioned, it may not be in the future. We simply don't know yet what women are capable of in competitive sports. Take marathons, for example. Considering that this happened in 1967, the way women have been closing the competitive gap is truly astonishing. In marathons, the world record now is 2:02:57 for men and for women is 2:15:25, only ~13 minutes behind. (And oh yay, the IAAF decided in 2011 that women's records could only be set in all-women's races, thus making the women's world record 2 minutes slower.) Since the start of record keeping for women in 1965, they've shaved off over an hour in time; in the same amount of time men shaved off a little over 10 minutes, and less than an hour since the late 1800s. Of course that trend has to slow down, but it's astounding what women have been capable of doing with just a little encouragement and by increasing the talent pool. (Or say, in swimming - just this last summer we saw a woman capable of finishing in the top 20 in men's swimming at an Olympic level.

One of the more interesting ideas about marathon records is the thought that times improve with bigger prizes, which intuitively sounds correct (i.e. this article, among others), and is probably related to the talent pool, better training and nutrition, sponsorship, and general competitiveness that bigger money would entice. So it's quite possible you'd see a similar leap in cyclocross if women had a chance to compete for more prize money.

Yes, cyclocross is not equivalent to long distance running. But it's a good example of what happens in a sport when you increase women's participation, and encouraging women through promotion of equality helps to increase the size of the pool from which to draw that talent. It's quite possible a woman is out there right now with the genetic capability of finishing in the top 5 or 10 of men's, but due to factors like the aforementioned parking snub, prize money, support at home (i.e. she doesn't have "a wife" to take care of the kids/dinner/house while she's out training because society bears down so much on gender roles), or discouragements that have all added up over time, she isn't competing.

Talking about genetic material is similar to people who say women can't play X professional sport because of their bodies while outright ignoring that 99% of men have bodies that aren't capable of playing professionally either. (But those sports have a large pool in which men are encouraged to participate and have those physical capabilities developed and picked out, but women don't, so it's kind of a Catch-22. I'm not outright saying that a woman could play defense in the NFL, but there's no reason that with similar encouragement and equality women could emerge with the ability to play a lot of positions in professional sports.)

And talking about genetic material just sounds like another version of saying women can't run because their uteruses will fall out. It's putting up a boundary. Stop trying to put up boundaries and instead let women go as far as they can with equal encouragement, training, and what have you, and see how far they take themselves - it's quite possible they'll surprise you. (I.e. You want to talk about upper body strength? In 1994 a woman - Lynn Hill - was the first person to free ascend (climb without ropes) the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite.) We have no idea yet how far women's abilities can go in sports and won't until the playing field is equal.
posted by barchan at 6:59 PM on January 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


there's no reason that with similar encouragement and equality women could emerge with the ability to play a lot of positions in professional sports

No reason except that it's not actually possible. All the training and encouragement in the world won't let women compete in the NFL or NBA or NHL or MLB or pro soccer or the like, save possibly at a niche position like goalkeeper in the NHL.

You want to talk about upper body strength? In 1994 a woman - Lynn Hill - was the first person to free ascend (climb without ropes) the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite

That's a factor of strength-to-weight ratio not brute upper body strength. That's why that awesome woman gymnast... uhhh... I forget her name... from the FPP about American Ninja Warrior did so well in the obstacle course. Because the course was mostly about strength-to-weight ratio at which she excelled but not pure upper body strength at which she would have been at a massive disadvantage compared to the guys.

Doesn't this come up like all the time? I wish we could concentrate on making sure women have fair access to sports and prizes rather than tying it to the futile idea that someday they might compete in the NFL and that's why they should have equal access.

Women deserve better access and support in sports because its the right thing to do and a good in and of itself, not because we're ever going to see a woman playing center for the Bulls.
posted by Justinian at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Whether or not men and women have the same athletic ability or potential is a red herring and a distraction. Fields are split by sex. Nobody is given prize money based on how *fast* they finish a cyclocross race - they're given prize money based on their finishing order. There is a great disparity between the pay that is offered to men, and the pay that is offered to women. There's no sense trying to understand or rationalize that disparity by talking about performance or hypothesizing what would happen were men and women to race together.

The bottom line is that race organizers can and do undervalue women. They claim that there are no sponsors; there are no sponsors because there's no media coverage; there's no media coverage because there's no interest; there's no interest because there's no knowledge; there's no knowledge because there's no media coverage. The irony is that races that have offered equal exposure and equal prize lists for women tend to get a shitload of attention, praise, and interest.

Cycling is a hard sport. It's hard to describe how brutal and physically demanding it is. In cyclocross, all but maybe a few dozen pros at the very top cobble together precarious support networks that let them race. Most have second jobs while they train 30+ hours a week. A buddy of mine just signed a pro contract for $3,000/year (No, I didn't accidentally leave out a zero. Three thousand american dollars per year). What Wyman points out - the comparisons she highlights - is a slap to the face of some hardworking and amazing athletes. They money is there. It's just given to men.

Women's cycling gets a bad rap and it is entirely undeserved. If anybody saw the amazing duel between Sanne Cant and Katie Compton at the Milton Keynes World Cup, the three-up battle at the Huesden-Zolder World Cup between Marianne Vos (the greatest cyclist who has ever lived), Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, and Katernia Nash - then any argument for undervaluing the entertainment potential of women's racing gets flushed pretty quickly.
posted by entropone at 7:57 PM on January 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


barchan: " In 1994 a woman - Lynn Hill - was the first person to free ascend (climb without ropes) the Nose on El Capitan"

Nope. Lynn Hill was the first person to climb the Nose without relying on her equipment to support her weight during. That's the definition of free climbing. Prior to her ascent, every single climber on the route relied on their equipment to make the ascent. Hill's accomplishment was completing the route supporting her weight only using her hands and feet while still protect by a rope and gear in the event of a fall. It's a very different accomplishment than free soloing the route, which is what you describe.

At the time, I had no trouble describing Lynn Hill as the greatest climber in the world.
posted by stet at 8:04 PM on January 3, 2015


Stet, thanks, you're right, I was in a hurry.
posted by barchan at 8:21 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great post, lonefrontranger. I was reading Helen's post earlier today.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:11 PM on January 3, 2015


thank you, entropone, I wish I could favorite your comment a thousand times.

for the curious, here's a nice highlight reel of the Diegem Superprestige that entropone referred to. Note especially the wicked faceplant into the barricades that Katerina Nash just brushes off on her way to a hotly contested podium spot... I'm not sure how anyone can say these women aren't fierce competitors worth watching. One of the many challenges faced in the battle for gender parity is that there's vanishingly little media coverage done of women's World Cup cycling events, and practically zero English language coverage. This is something that the outstanding CXhairs video blogger has been quite vocal about. The reality is as entropone points out: media coverage = sponsorship = spectators = interest = media coverage. It's a complicated cycle that never gains momentum unless promoters are willing to take initiative. Helen's very realistic solution isn't to put additional burden on sponsors and promoters to come up with more funding to cover the gap, it's to take existing elite class funds and divide by 2. Since similar numbers of entries at WC events have become commonplace in the mens' and women's elite fields, with similar quality of racing in the past few years, this would help eliminate issues such as paying out fifty places and rewarding dudes that finish up to 4 or 5 laps in arrears, while simultaneously stiffing women who are strong enough in their field to finish on the same lap as the leaders.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:47 PM on January 3, 2015


It's 2015, for crap's sake. Can't we get it right yet?
E Q U A L I T Y
It's only got 8 letters, and it's not that hard to spell. The definition appears to elude people.


And talking about genetic material just sounds like another version of saying women can't run because their uteruses will fall out

Still snickering here.

Just a few years ago someone told me how harmful it was for women to ride horses.
It didn't seem to affect my uterus, since I was fertile enough to have to worry about pants flapping on the clothesline.

In 1837, Donald Walker's book, Exercise for Ladies, warned women against horseback riding, because it deforms the lower part of the body.

Yup, must be true, my butt got bigger.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2015


It's not just cycling where this happens, of course - it's the case in pretty much all sports. Tennis and golf are probably those where prize money is closest to equal (which doesn't mean males and females have equal opportunity to get to the point in those sports where prize money matters, of course). Professional surfing is a sport where a lot of work is being done to equalise prize money, although none of the sports administrators come up with legitimate reasons why there should be any disparity at all. Sure, there are reasons why the disparity exists (less interest from sponsors for female events, primarily), but this is all part of the cycle of how professional sport becomes popular (therefore attractive to sponsors) - better prize money attracts more competitors, which attracts more interest, which attracts more sponsors. Making competition equally attractive would boost the sport overall and attract more sponsorship overall, where many seem to believe that making prize pools equal necessarily means taking money away from males.
posted by dg at 6:15 PM on January 4, 2015


Sadly, even as she was accomplishing things no male climber had ever done, Lynn Hill had to deal with various levels of sexist BS as well. For example: Climbs are given a difficulty rating by the community of climbers. When male climbers found out she had climbed something they had rated, they would retroactively lower the rating.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 8:00 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Crossfit already figured this out, the Games pays equal prize money to both sexes, and has since its inception I believe. And they seem to get more popular every year
posted by mrbigmuscles at 8:04 PM on January 4, 2015


Crossfit is a new sport, which is most likely the reason for that - it didn't have the baggage of 'tradition' to overcome.

This article has some alarming statistics. The one that jumped out at me was the disparity in team salary caps between NBA and WNBA - $46 million vs $673 thousand. There's no acceptable justification for one being over 68 times the other. Yet sporting bodies the world over scratch their heads and wonder how to improve participation of females in sport ...
posted by dg at 10:59 PM on January 4, 2015


so, it turns out in cyclocross, specifically, there are some biological limiting factors, most specifically peak power and VO2 (a measure of oxygen uptake). Both of these are directly affected by things like muscle mass and muscle mass is affected by testosterone, which unless you're someone like Paola Pezzo who was notoriously winking at the doping controls, will never happen naturally.

'Cross is all about high output for an hour, it is not analogous in any way to distance running, which is done in a much lower "zone". Speaking in jargon, 'cross is done at high Z4, low Z5 crossing back and forth over the lactate threshold. It's painful and intense, more so because you have to keep your wits about you and handle your bike skillfully on slick, sideways, technical corners at the same time, which is harder than I can even describe. The speed and power thing is something that is, unfortunately, a biological factor of limit. This is known. Even Katarina Nash, who races locally and is one of the top 3 'cross racers currently in the world, cannot win a Men's Cat 3 race (so, mediocre amateurs) here in Colorado. I know this because she's tried many times. She finishes in the top 10 to top 5, and usually beats my husband.

dg is right on the mark though, and this is precisely what Helen's getting at in her most recent blog post. CrossVegas, to cite a world level example, saw the quality and numbers of their women's entry dramatically increase as soon as they started providing gender parity in prize lists. The minute the competition got intense, the interest level from sponsors and media sparked, and we started seeing things like VeloNews and product sponsors backing things like live internet feeds of the women's race (because TV is still too expensive but turns out internet coverage winds up catching more of the interested market anyhow in today's connected world). It's a direct correlation as far as I can tell.

Cycling, also specifically, is a very hidebound traditionalist Old World sport. The Belgian promoters are simply following the pattern that was set decades ago by the founders of the sport, which is to say they bring all the baggage of their working-class roots along with. The Euros are being reluctantly dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern era by the new UCI overseer Brian Cookson, who by his appointment of Helen, seems to be explicitly stating his willingness to move forward.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:09 AM on January 5, 2015


It's painful and intense, more so because you have to keep your wits about you and handle your bike skillfully on slick, sideways, technical corners at the same time, which is harder than I can even describe.

Here's one way to describe it.
Here's another.
posted by entropone at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2015


entropone that still of the sand dune descent is missing some key data, like video coverage of Taramarcaz going ass-over-teakettle in consecutive laps that I think CXhairs covered earlier this season.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2015


ok here, hot off the presses - this is an excellent demonstration of cyclocross at the elite level - POV footage from 3 different competitors at Eschenbach. Of course it's men's elite footage...
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2015


Wow, lfr, that is intense stuff!

One way to at least partly deal with the issue of disparity in prize money and the impact that smaller fields of competitors has on the ability for sports to attract sponsors would be to apply a sliding scale to the prize money pool (and the number of finishing positions it applies to) based on the number of competitors. It doesn't seem too unfair that, if a field is smaller, the prize money pool should be smaller and that it doesn't extend down to as many placings. It could still be that the top finishers get the same regardless, but that the prize pool is applied to a smaller number of finishers.
posted by dg at 2:29 PM on January 5, 2015


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