Women racing in Cambridgeshire this weekend have expressed outrage after race organisers announced they will start after hundreds of general sportive participants because women in last year’s race were slower than some sportive riders.
Organisers of the Tour of Cambridgeshire UCI Gran Fondo race and sportive, on Sunday 3 June, announced the sportive riders expecting to ride faster than 21mph will start 16 minutes before women in the 19-44 race category, and the over-60 men, to avoid women racers who are dropped from the main group gaining an unfair advantage by drafting faster sportive riders. The men’s race starts before the general sportive, which is set to attract 8,000 riders in five self-selected speed categories.
Female participants say contending with hundreds of general sportive riders, many of whom may ride at less than their stated 21mph speed, will unfairly impact women in the race by blocking the road, impacting their potential to race each other, and potentially increasing the risk of crashes.
In a blog post setting out final event, information organisers explained changes are because “the winner of the 19-34 Female age group averaged 22mph, whereas the front of the 21+mph [sportive] group averaged 27mph.” This, it says, gave dropped riders an unfair advantage because they could draft faster riders in the sportive group.
“Not all of the riders within the 21+mph pen will be averaging 27mph, but enough to distort outcomes,” read the blog post.
Following a Facebook post announcing final details, but not alluding specifically to changes to women’s start times, participants soon began expressing concerns. Charlie Wrigley said on Facebook she had “massive concerns” about racing with the new format.
“This means that we will potentially be having to overtake and ride around THOUSANDS of riders who 1) aren’t racing with the same intent and 2) may not be doing 21mph+ as there is no way to verify this as they go into the start pen.”
This, she said, “could not only hinder my time but also has the potential to cause crashes. Anyone that has ridden mass sportive events like Ride London will know this.”
“The whole point of the race category is that we go first with fewer ‘obstacles’ to stop us from racing.”
The event is part of the UCI Gran Fondo Series top in which the top 25 percent of finishers qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, formerly the UWCT Final and UCI Masters Road World Championships) with a rainbow jersey for age group winners in that race. Qualifier events are open to riders of all levels.
Though Charlie, who has raced the event for two years already, said though she understood some women were caught in previous races by sportive riders or older male riders, the “majority” of women in her race pen qualified with speeds faster than 21mph. She added, “When looking at the times for all women who qualified, my age cat was one of the slowest on average.”
The ultra-endurance cyclist, Laura Scott, said on Twitter: “Anyone else see something wrong with start times??? Would have expected more! Why should all women start with men 60yrs+? #Everydaysexism”
Some believe the estimated average speed of 27mph seems fast for general sportive riders.
Fiona Inskip added: “Much as I appreciate the complexities in arranging an event of this scale which is fair to all racers and riders, it would seem your arrangements this year give a huge disadvantage to all women riders in race pens who are seeking qualification.”
Sally Goble said she bought a race licence for this event, and will not use it again. “Something isn’t right here. It is so wrong on so many levels!!!!”
However, not all women participants agreed; one, at least, supports the changes. Jennifer Doyle said: “My reaction to hearing the news was “Fantastic!”. I want to race fairly against women in my pen, not be looking anxiously over my shoulder for the arrival of the pelotons from behind in the hope of jumping on the right one to take me to the finish.”
Organisers have been contacted for comment, so while we wait, what do you think of the news?