While our female athletes struggle for equality in cycling, do sexy images of professional female cyclists in skimpy outfits represent a backwards step, or are they a harmless way to promote women in cycling, or a celebration of athletes' trained bodies?
Words by: Laura Laker
Every year the Cyclepassion calendar encourages lively debate. Now in its tenth year, Cyclepassion 2015 features women from mountain and road disciplines posing in hot pants, crop tops and bras, opposite images of the women riding their bikes.
Pro downhill MTB rider Manon Carpenter, of Madison Saracen, features in
this year's calendar. Carpenter won gold at the UCI Mountain Biking World Championships in Norway in September as well as the 2014 World Cup. She tells TWC an invitation was forwarded by her team manager.
"I was told the theme was 'train hard, race harder' and I looked at the photos from the year before and thought: 'why not?'"
"There's all sorts of ways to look at it and you could talk yourself round in circles. I haven't got where I am in cycling because I've posed for a cycling calendar. It was one day out of 365 other days in a year of racing and being a professional cyclist, it hardly defines my career.
Carpenter says the calendar was something different for her, though she would have liked the images to show more of the physical strength she trained for, and that helps her win.
She adds: "I promote myself in all sorts of ways, on the bike and off the bike. The more people who know who I am and follow me online, the more people will see that girls, like myself, enjoy riding bikes too!"
Carpenter says women are making progress in the sport but she would like to see more women involved to give female riders a bigger voice.
"There does also need to be more support and opportunities for female racers and younger athletes coming through, hopefully soon companies will realise what a good investment we can be. I know Madison Saracen, for example, are more than happy that they got me on board!"
One cause for criticism is that the women aren't paid to feature in the calendar, only travel costs are covered. Photographer Laura Fletcher, who produced the 2014 Pro Tour Pinups calendar showing male pro riders including Alex Dowsett and Jens Voigt, used the profits as prizes during this year's Women's Tour. Fletcher feels there are better ways to celebrate pro cycling women.
"I like the shots of the girls in action/on bike. Those pictures show the talent, and real underlying beauty. I'd happily look at any of the badass images of mountain biking every day, it would for sure encourage me to ride more.
"The truth is, being a woman in sport, as an athlete, or just working in sport is hard. I know and understand that women in cycling need to do everything they can to raise their profiles, so there is absolutely no criticism on the riders/models - they are and should be proud of their bodies.
However, she says their strength can be celebrated in different ways.
"I think there are many beautiful images of the women in this sport that sit between the contrasting images in this year's calendar.
"I would love to see a calendar of these gorgeous girls shot by a female eye, that identifies with strength and leadership over sexuality, and also shows camaraderie and friendship."
Meanwhile Paul Gregory, owner of Velotastic, felt so strongly about the calendar he considered stopping advertising in Cycling Weekly after seeing Cyclepassion in its online Cycling Shop.
— Cycling Weekly (@cyclingweekly) November 10, 2014
He says: "As an older bloke I can remember seeing this type of thing in the '70s. They are trying to encourage women to cycle. A lot of my customers - around 30% - are women ... to me it was bordering on sexist. It is from a past age when blokes use to leer over these girly calendars in workshops."
However, Anke Wilken, the calendar's creator, defends the images as a matter of personal choice. She says: "The trained body of a professional athlete is worth being shown. We never crossed a secret line in our photography and we think the photos are sexy, but not at all pornographic and offending.
"Over the last years Cyclepassion has become a good platform for female athletes to raise their international profile. It is a fact that it is very hard to make a living from riding a bike. As a consequence it gets more and more important for each athlete to build a brand and invest in self marketing activities."
Women featured in the calendar are: Naima Diesner (DE, Kenda DMC Factory Team), Manon Carpenter (UK, Madison Saracen Downhill Team), Anneke Beerten (ND, Specialized Factory Team), Marion Rousse (FR, Lotto Belisol ladies), Tahnee Seagrave (UK, FMD Racing, MTB), Myriam Nicole (FR, Commercial Riding Addiction Team), Sofia Wiedenroth (DE, AMG Rotwild MTB Racing Team) and Rebekka Markert (DE, Fizik Team).
Cyclepassion created a behind the scenes video, which you can watch here:
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