The inaugural UCI Cycling Gala took place just over a week ago, but now the penguin suits have been packed away and the end of season hangovers have cleared, we still have one unanswered question: where were the women?
The Gala recognised achievements throughout the year, and was held in Abu Dhabi on Sunday 11 October - where the male peloton had just finished racing the Abu Dhabi tour. Most (not all) women would have finished their seasons in Richmond, at the World Championships at the end of September, and would have been enjoying an end of season rest.
There were nineteen awards going, five of which recognised women’s achievements. Of those invited, and those eligible to stand on the stage and receive an award, only one woman made it to the event – hour record holder Molly Shaffer Van Houweling.
On the night, the UCI scrapped the names of the categories for absent women altogether, leaving just Van Houweling. Though Hour Record winner Bradley Wiggins was unable to attend, his achievement was still recognised and he spoke to the audience via a video link.
We won't lie: we were quite confused by all of this. Firstly, that the women didn’t seem to have any inclination to go, and secondly that only the female non-attendees were scrapped, whilst the same treatment did not befall men such as Bradley Wiggins.
The only woman present, Van Houweling told us she was disappointed having made the journey, and also put pay to suggestions that women, on lower wages than men, could not afford to attend – she said:
“I was excited about the prospect of meeting the stars of women's cycling and disappointed that they couldn't make it. I don't have any first hand knowledge about why that was the case. But I can say that the UCI extended the utmost hospitality to me - dealing with all of the expenses and logistics to quickly arrange a trip across the world for both me and my husband Rob."
Lizzie Armitstead, who would have been up for Road Race World Champion and Road World Cup gave her reason for not attending on Twitter, saying: “Just to clarify I was invited to the UCI cycling gala dinner but couldn't make it as I was celebrating my grandparents diamond wedding!"
We expect had Armitstead been racing in Abu Dhabi, as many of the men, she might have been present as the race would have been in her calendar for some time. Asking a pro rider, who has spent countless hours travelling all season, to make a long journey for an event tagged on to the end of a race they're not competing in could understandably deliver a major dose of airport fatigue.
Just to make sure, we checked flights from Manchester Airport to Abu Dhabi - you’d be looking at ten to twelve hours, with a short two hour stop in France.
For some extra insight, we asked Stefan Wyman, DS of Matrix Fitness Pro Cycling and husband to pro rider Helen Wyman – he told us: “Largely I think it comes down to a lack of communication. I run a UCI team, and I never received any notification during the year there would be Gala including women, certainly not that I can recall. Now of course, my team weren’t up for any awards, but I assume a blanket notification to all pro teams during the season to make them aware of such an event wouldn’t of been difficult. Communication is free."
He added: “A second issue is the lack of parity in the number of awards, something that needs to worked on in the future. I guess that leads me to the venue, a men’s race, with no women’s participation. That’s pretty sub-optimal, and perhaps if this can’t be avoided in the future due to the calendars not combining well, a separate women’s event could be considered. Alternatively, a combined event, in a neutral location would perhaps be ideal for all.
“My understanding is the women’s winners were invited, and it was an all expense paid event. That’s great and the UCI certainly get a thumbs up from me on that, although I think of far greater priorities for funding than an awards night. It’s really important, given the rapid progression of the sport, and the calls for more equality, that riders and teams that receive invitations to such events make every possible attempt to go. It’s hard to believe all but one of the award winners really couldn’t go. However, given the lack of the communication we received, perhaps others weren’t aware either, and the opportunity to go came as somewhat of a last minute shock."
“The UCI are trying really hard to get things right. It doesn’t always seem like thats the case, but they are. You need to plan these events well and in advance, so I think it’s a case of must do better in the future."
So there we have it – in this case it does appear that the UCI simply wanted to put on an event that celebrated the achievements of men and women. Unfortunately, they chose to host it at a location that was convenient for many men, and very inconvenient for many women to attend. Next year, though – we’re sure they’ll improve – it takes time to develop, and grow, and to realise that Abu Dhabi isn’t the most accessible of party locations for those not already there.