La Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta, left many sizzling last Sunday; baking in the mid-day heat wasn’t left to just mad dogs and Englishmen: this was the wrap-up party of the 2016 inaugural UCI Women’s World Tour.
In case you missed it, the proceedings ended with Megan Guarnier in the top spot, with Liv-Plantur's Leah Kirchmann second - and Guarnier's Boels-Dolmans team mate Evelyn Stevens third.
As temperatures neared the mid-thirties in Madrid, Total Women’s Cycling writer Hannah Troop took time out, in the shade of course, to talk with UCI Vice President Tracey Gaudry about the first year of the UCI WWT. Wandering around the warm-up/cool-down area in Madrid, she also had time to ask a few riders for their own opinions on the success of the WWT...
Hannah Troop: How do you feel the inaugural season of the Women’s World Tour (WWT) has gone?
Tracey Gaudry: The women’s world tour was a dream that we created 3 years ago with the new administration of the UCI. The World Cup [which the World Tour replaced] was a strong series, however, its narrative was limited to one day races, which is excellent, but we needed to create a stronger platform for women’s cycling. The first WWT had 17 races, 13 one day races and 4 stage races from March to September, over 9 countries, 3 continents.
Is the amount of media coverage something you have been pleased with this year? Or is it something you expected a bit more of?
We are building something steadily but strongly; you have 9 of the WWT races with live broadcast, 5 more of them with highlights. Next year, it’s about consolidating and raising the level of coverage for all the events in the WWT.
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Have there been any frustrations or challenges you’ve had to overcome this year?
We have some events that are very traditional and have been around for a long time [ahem: like this one - Ed]. We’ve worked very closely with them to raise the level of coverage, and to bring it into the modern era with digital sites and social media. That’s something our team and Morgane Gaultier, who’s come across to the UCI from ASO, are working on with the organisers.
Are there any races this year you think are the benchmark, and others need to follow?
I try not to do that because we are working with all the organisers to bring them all forward. Clearly La Course and La Madrid Challenge are, because it’s on a platform that has a worldwide broadcast. The Women’s Tour of Britain has a great following and fan base attending the race, and fantastic coverage.
The countries where cycling is becoming more popular must help a lot?
It does, but one of the things importantly for the role of the UCI is to create a centralised platform. So the UCI’s, WWT digital hub should be a one stop shop where you can find out what’s going on from anywhere around the world. We’re creating a stronger sense of branding so every event benefits from being recognised as a WWT event, encouraging corporates and sponsors to invest. We also plan to step up our level of post-production features, but importantly it’s about working with the teams to bring their personalities to life, because people follow superstars, like this year’s winner—Megan [Guarnier].
There is criticism of La Course and La Madrid Challenge, about them only being essentially crit races at the end of men's Grand Tours, are you looking to extend next year?
We’ve been very careful about being very ambitious and progressive, creating a WWT for the first time with 17 races and 35 days of racing in the first year is exciting. The great news is there are more applications for next year. The organisers of the Tour de France and La Vuelta are looking at what they can do to take the races to a different level. It’s better the organisers coming to us with ideas, rather than the UCI pushing its views on them.
As far as extensions, are we going to see the Tour of Britain move up to 10 days or a fortnight?
We have a women’s commission and road commission meeting tomorrow, so you can ask in a few weeks’ time.
What about Amstel Gold?
Gorgeous race and we have a meeting tomorrow, and I wouldn’t want to let the cat out of the bag.
What is the biggest thing you’re going to work on for next year’s WWT?
Retaining fantastic events, better co-ordination of the calendar so we’re not clashing with big events. But the important piece is raising the media coverage of all WWT events. We’re going to look at the accommodation between the races and the teams, so the races are providing better provisions. The teams are assets inside the race—we’re using next year to help develop stronger team guidelines to launch in 2018.
There have been comments from riders about a minimum wage. How far off are you from implementation?
I invite that comment as a former professional bike racer myself; for us we needed to build the platform, we are not at all shying away from the commitments we’ve made for women’s cycling. Next year, we will be presenting to teams what we call the ‘cahier des charges’, in other words, the WWT regulations for teams going into 2018. This will create a WWT team layer, that will include everything from the qualification of the team staff, to increased anti-doping requirements, to provisions in a contract for the team riders.
The progress made this year has been phenomenal - but we can't shy away from the fact that there is still a long way to go. We hope to see the UCI put more positive changes in place, and will be following them every step of the way.
Looking for a recap? Check out our UCI Women's World Tour coverage here.