“Derek Jeter doesn’t have to pose in Playgirl to increase his visibility."
There is an American in pink, but nobody cares. Not that that's anything new.
The Giro d’Italia Femminile is the biggest race you’ve never heard of. Covering 961.4 kilometers of Italian countryside over nine days, 127 athletes compete for one of the sport’s biggest prizes—the pink jersey. And in 2010, an American won it all. But as is usual for women’s cycling, the coverage was muted.
Again in 2012, American cyclists should be in the news: Evelyn Stevens became only the second American—after Lance Armstrong—to win the spring classic Fleche Wallone. She also recently won a stage at the Giro d’Italia Femminile. And Kristin Armstrong is a favorite to defend her gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics. There’s even a new race on the map: The Exergy Tour, a women’s only stage race with $100,000 on the line. But for some reason, nobody seems to notice.
Throughout history, women have been deterred from competing in sports. The first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry made headlines worldwide after her boyfriend shoved aside a race official who was berating her. And that was in 1967. Only in 1981—14 years later—did the International Olympic Committee welcome its first female member (today, 16 of 107 are women).
But things have improved. Women’s tennis has strong ratings and is often more riveting than men’s tennis. Fans tune in across the globe to watch women’s soccer at the Olympics. And the WNCAA championship reaches over three million U.S. households. On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, there is hope.
When it comes to cycling, though, hope isn’t the first thing to pop into mind. Lance Armstrong, the sport’s icon, has fallen in recent years due to allegations of doping. Sponsors come and go at a frightening pace, and sustainability is tough. The Tour may be broadcast in 180 countries, but teams—despite their multi-million dollar budgets—don’t get a chunk of that money. They rely solely on the companies plastered across their jerseys (hence the frantic zipping-up at the finish line). In a single season, the sport’s most successful team can fold if a sponsor backs out. It happens often.
Meanwhile, women’s teams operate on the fringe—out of the limelight as the secondary counterpart to men. So when a sponsor disappears, the women are usually first to be cut (it doesn’t matter that for the salary of two high-level male pros you can sponsor an entire female team).
And the inequality doesn’t end there. As a rule, women’s races have smaller prize-lists, less media coverage and fewer fans than comparable men’s races do. To make matters worse, female cyclists aren’t often really considered racers by fans. “It’s as though we’re not taken so seriously,” says Nicola Cranmer, the founder and General Manager of Exergy Twenty12, a professional women’s team.