That big bike race in Europe this week….no, the other one

The biggest international bike race of the year is happening right now.

No, I don’t mean the Tour de France. I mean the Giro Donne.

Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

My friend Heidi Guenin, who follows these things, is mad as hell. At same time as the major international men’s race of the year, the Tour de France, is playing on every microbrewery television in Portland, the analogous race for women has been getting, once again, almost zero coverage.

She sent me a long email about it. Here’s a lightly edited version for your indignant pleasure:

All of the places in town that are showing the Tour de France are paying extra to have access to Versus [the only TV network that carries it]. In chatting with some folks, they said they’d love to be showing the Giro Donne, too (even if they hadn’t heard about it before I mentioned it). But to do that at this point, they’d have to be showing internet clips.

The Giro Donne is filmed and there’s footage available, but it’s pretty damned expensive to get the rights to show it.

Early on in thinking about this, I wondered what could be done about the unavailability of tv coverage from the grassroots level. Now that I realize that NBC owns Versus, I’m not so sure that the sweet letter-writing campaign that I imagined would actually be valuable. They need to get pressure from their affiliates and their advertisers. [Here's a useful article on that topic (with good comments).]

I became incensed this morning reading through my big RSS feeds. Yes, there were some injuries in the TdF yesterday, and we should talk about them. But also, Carly Hibberd, a 26 year old professional Italian rider, was struck by a car and killed during a training ride. Fucking killed! The big boys got bruised and battered, but a young woman lost her life. Why isn’t that being given at least the same amount of attention in the cycling-oriented media?

For you sports fans out there who don’t need to enjoy your cycling stage races in a bar at 4am, Heidi suggests seeking your Giro Donne coverage here and here and by searching your favorite internet video mega-site.

And for those of you who, like me, are more interested in epic battles and stunning scandals of a more social and economic variety, here’s some background on the gender gap in professional bicycle racing earnings.

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27 Responses to “That big bike race in Europe this week….no, the other one”

  1. Dan Kaufman July 8, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    Is this an argument that women bicycle racers should receive equal pay and coverage?

  2. Elly July 8, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    Nope, but only because it didn’t occur to me that argument would need to be made. If anyone wants to make it here, I’d love to host it.

    • Dan July 8, 2011 at 5:49 am #

      Yeah, that’d be a pretty convoluted argument – but that notion seems the basis for the letter writer’s indignation.

  3. Elly July 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Hmm, sounds like there’s room for debate on this. I see why there’s a discrepancy historically, but I can’t think of a single reason why it shouldn’t be amended. Can you?

  4. Dan July 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    This isn’t something you can amend like the constitution or change TV schedules. To change interest you’d have to rewire human psyche and eliminate sexual dimorphism.

    • KJ July 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      Or maybe we could culturally value women’s sports as much as we do mens, this is not about biology. This is about what our cultures value in terms of importance. That’s changeable. We consume sports entertainment…WE are the consumers, we can change what is seen as valuable to us.

    • Dan July 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      If you think that competition, sports in particular, is merely a cultural construct that has nothing to do with sexuality, biology, and hormones I would have to disagree wholeheartedly.

      Just so I am clear, I am not arguing that there is not any value to women’s sports, especially amateur sports. But I think it’s futile to expect interest and participation in top-tier sports to equal. It’s not a cultural bias it’s a sociobiological bias. Maybe that will change when/if men and women become homogenized.

    • KJ July 9, 2011 at 2:08 am #

      If women and men competed against each other perhaps you argument would hold water. They general do not,m so there is no reason why women;s sports teams and events should not carry the same importance. THAT is what is cultural.

      Top female athletes and top male athletes may not be equal physically (in general, there are always going to be individuals who are outliers)..but that does not mean women’s sports and men’s sports can not have equal cultural weight.

      What you are saying is that because men and women are different their sports performances are NOT of equal cultural because men are.. better. Which is a value judgement. That male is default and superior in sports and we should just suck it up.

      Umm. yeah no. Sorry dude. Biology is not the problem here at all. it was we value. We value maleness and male skill over femaleness and female skill.

      Also quality of women athletes, this has come up before.. if the prizes and recognition for women in sports doesn’t pay off, you won’t see as many women who will be willing to give up and go for the glory in the same numbers as men do, the field is then smaller and the quality of athlete within that field in a narrower range because, it;’s not worth most female athlete’s time to work away for pennies and a highfive.

  5. Jim July 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    I’ve been following women’s cycling off and on for decades and am following the Giro Donne. Off when the talent is thin, on when it’s on. Right now Marianne Vos is making a mockery of the race – thrilling and boring.
    Ultimately the level of dynamism just isn’t there compared to men’s pro cycling, so no matter how much production, marketing, money is thrown at the sport its appeal as a fan is limited.

  6. BikinginLA July 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Dan, may I politely say bull pucky. I had the privilege of watching the best men and women racers in the world compete in the late, great Coors Classic, and can honestly say the women more than held their own against the men. Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, Maria Canins, and Jeannie Longo, et all, were every bit as competitive as the men, if not more so, resulting in some of the most exciting racing I’ve ever seen.

    In fact, Jeannie Longo is easily one of the greatest racers of all time, and even at age 52, could still beat most men half her age. I wouldn’t walk across the street to spit on Floyd Landis, but I’d go to hell and back just to see Jeannie race one more time.

    Rewire the human psyche? It’s more a question of anatomy. The people standing in the way of women’s racing just need to get their collective heads out of their collective asses and let the girls compete on their own merits.

    • Dan July 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm #


      If, as you say, “women racers can hold there own”, should we just eliminate the sex based categories in bicycle racing?

      I’ve never believed there was such a thing as “mens” sports. If there was a woman who could compete and win do you think a team would refuse her? Eg, motorsports.

  7. Jim July 8, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Hey wait, I missed this: “The biggest international bike race of the year is happening right now.

    No, I don’t mean the Tour de France. I mean the Giro Donne.”

    Genitalia aside, how did you come up with this?

    • Elly July 8, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

      It’s the biggest stage race that isn’t a men’s race. Maybe I should have tagged this post for the “Language” section.

    • Jim July 8, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

      Fair is fair.

  8. Gary Kavanagh July 8, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    There is a huge discrepancy in status of mens and women’s bike racing that trickles from the top on down to the local level. I don’t know how best to address fixing it, but I’d love to the see the status of women’s racing raised. It blew me away in the Olympics that a figure like Jeannie Longo, who was 49 at the time, came seconds away from a medal in the time trial. She is still winning championships against racers that weren’t even born when she won her first. I can’t think of anyone competing at that level at that age in any sport.

    One thing that really sucks, is in road racing at the amateur level, it can be very discouraging for women to get involved, at least from what I have scene in SoCal racing scene. Women get the worst starting times on the schedule, and almost always have to race with widely disparate levels on the same course simultaneously, making for lopsided outcomes discouraging to those in the Cat 4 beginning level. This is exacerbated by chauvinistic race organizers and announcers that seem to can’t help but give the women a harder time and make sexist comments.

    The women are stuck into this Catch 22 of , where organizers say well we would do more for woman racers if more showed up, but because the organizers don’t make any effort to encourage women racing, not enough women show up to support more fields.

    About coverage of the big pro level events, I think that lack of strong grass roots support for women racers contributes in part to suppressed interest in the races, and also the people in charge never want to give women’s events a chance. It has been very disappointing with the Tour of California that more hasn’t been done to showcase women racers. Instead of offering a real stage race for the women’s event, it has been limited to single day races with no effort put into promoting it, and they use the poor viewership of the women’s event to justify keeping it limited. I’m not sure how we break down such barriers.

    • Elly July 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

      Thanks for this perspective, Gary. I was never interested in racing until I covered a few races as a reporter and got a glimpse of what you’re talking about here — around the same time I also started to notice a growing crossover in Portland between racers and everyday riders. The bike industry, though it’s starting to edge into transportation bicycling, is still largely an outgrowth of sports biking, and what’s available is definitely skewed to who spends the money. I’m convinced that opening up racing, and not just by gender, will have an impact on the accessibility of bike transportation.

    • BikingInLA July 9, 2011 at 4:46 am #

      I’ve been disappointed that the Tour of California doesn’t offer a full women’s stage race, like the Coors Classic did, ever since it started. It seems very short sighted on their part; their space on the calendar at the same time as the Giro D’Italia means it will never be more than a second tier pro race. But they could easily become the world’s leading women’s stage race just by letting the women ride the same course as the men. With time, it might even make sense to move it back to the summer and let the women take over.

    • Jim July 9, 2011 at 5:18 am #

      Biking in LA, logistical problems. You can’t run a long stage concurrently with large speed variations btwn the two groups. This is a problem with amateur Cali races that have to be neutralized due to a lethargic front cat pace.

    • BikinginLA July 10, 2011 at 6:51 am #

      Jim, that’s just not true. The Coors Classic — and the Red Zinger before that — did it very successfully for year. In fact, there are significant economies of scale when men and women compete on the same course on the day. Everything else is just logistics.

    • Jim July 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      BikingLA, not arguing economies of scale; of course it’s advantageous. Logistics are monstrously hard and not worth the effort if there isn’t the political will. I don’t see folks coming out of the woodwork to support women’s cycling; most just complain about lack of parity. For instance, who is Marianne Vos and why has she Vos done so well this year at the Giro Donne? The person who knows is a women’s cycling fan.

  9. Jim July 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    There is a large discrepancy but sometimes it’s earned. There’s also a degree of negative racing in some women’s races that doesn’t exist in the men’s. Call it testosterone or whatever.

    Watching the Giro Donne go through some towns there is no_one there watching on the streets. It’s not the big show. Racing is by no means closed; it’s opened to you and me and it’s damn hard and requires dedication and a training schedule. All you need is a license and balls (not literal). The factors Gary cites are valid, but ultimately those that do it are internally driven.

  10. KJ July 9, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    There was a long form article on women’s surfing that this all makes me think of but I can’t find it. This article has the gist of some of it.


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