Women’s professional cycling is on the verge of becoming one of the fastest growing and most commercially-lucrative professional women’s sports. Men’s professional cycling developed slowly over nearly 100 years of traditions which have been reinforced by political rivalries and poor economic decision-making. Women’s professional cycling can, and must be, a sport which does not follow the template of men’s professional cycling. The women’s sport can accomplish this by uniting the interests of its labor force – namely, the women athletes who are the lifeblood of every competition, and the image that the sport portrays to the greater public. An association of women’s professional cyclists will be an important catalyst to push the women’s teams, the UCI, and the race organizers, to unify under the umbrella objectives of building a stronger sport, with greater economic and career opportunities. Without an association, the economics of the sport will remain small, in control of the hands of just a few key people, and limit the future opportunities of women racing today and in the future.
The Cyclistes Professionel Associes, or CPA, is the current ‘association’ which represents most of men’s professional cyclists to the UCI. It was created in 1999 to unite several other nationally-based riders associations, such as France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, and Spain, which had already existed for many years, but were focused on their own national issues. The CPA provides an “umbrella” organization to help coordinate these other national associations, especially for issues which extended beyond national borders. The CPA tries to protect the rights and interests of riders. The CPA is led by a steering committee of the current eight member-nation associations, which meets a few times each year.The CPA is mostly funded from a share of the total prize money offered by various race organizers for WorldTour and Pro Continental events. It often has difficulty collecting this money, because it does not have a separate agreement in place with the International Association of Cycling Race Organizers, or AIOCC, which represents the major companies like ASO, RCS, and Flanders Classics. This annual share covers the organization’s operating costs, and also provides men’s riders with a “Solidarity Fund” which provides men’s riders with a one-time retirement payment, if they have been a professional for a minimum number of years and are over 30 years old.The CPA maintains a Joint Agreement with the AIGCP teams organization, which defines minimum salaries, the definition of a neo-pro, maximum required days of racing, and other men’s professional cycling team/athlete issues. The CPA was a great idea in 1999, but its limited impact is predictable given its organizational structure: it is trying to incorporate the interests of too many individual member-nations, and has a “decision by committee” structure which affects its overall mission to improve the careers of its members. In nearly 20 years, it has yet to take any official action with the teams or UCI to improve the careers and well-being of women professional cyclists.
The CPA was created as an ‘association of associations,’ in which it is the umbrella organization to represent many other national associations to the UCI and other bodies like the AIGCP teams organization. By its very composition, the CPA is a mirror image of the traditions in men’s professional cycling: each nation has its own specific interests and definition of its importance in the future of the sport, and so instead of unifying the riders, they are still separated by issues of political power and rivalry. The CPA does provide an important voice for the riders when everyone is in agreement about larger issues, such as race safety. However, the issues which affect women’s professional cycling are more deeply rooted in the fight for gender equality, fair treatment, and representation to treat women professionals with respect in a traditionally sexist work environment.The CPA is structured in its by-laws to accept new member nations and women, but only if these organizations form independently of the CPA and then apply for CPA membership. The CPA cannot represent women until an independent women’s association is incorporated, and then applies for membership. The Cyclists’ Alliance may have a relationship with the CPA in future years. Before that, it must be an organization for women pro cyclists, by women pro cyclists. The Cyclists’s Alliance mission recognizes that we are all among the best cyclists in the world. And we believe that our collective strength and unity over the issues which affect our career opportunities is fundamentally different than the mission of the CPA. We will fight for you, because we are just like you, and together we can change the sport of women’s professional cycling.
The CPA has a charter and by-laws and membership which was written in the traditions established in men’s professional cycling. This charter was created in 1999, and ratified by the men’s professional peloton (it was never debated or voted on by women cyclists). The CPA has no defined roadmap for developing the rights of women professional cyclists or improving the economic conditions for women’s professional cycling. In reality, it does not have a roadmap to improve the economic conditions of men’s professional cycling either, despite the CPA being an organization in this sport for nearly 20 years. The Cyclists' Alliance has a platform, and is building a comprehensive strategy with the help of women’s sports business and legal advisers from around the world, which focuses on the complete picture of women’s professional cycling.
A Joint Agreement, in sports or in business, is an accord between the athletes (the ‘labor’ of the business) and the teams or the league which pays the athletes (the employers of the labor force). Joint Agreements are not dependent on the actions or opinions of regulatory bodies, such as the UCI or national federations, because they do not pay the athletes salaries. The Joint Agreement which was negotiated by the CPA is only valid with the teams who are members of the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels, or AIGCP. The AIGCP is comprised only of teams in men’s professional cycling, and the Joint Agreement which it and the CPA created was written specifically to support the needs of men’s professional cyclists, including a minimum wage. There are no provisions in the Joint Agreement which can be applied to women’s cycling, because there is no association of women’s teams in existence today. The first step towards building a Joint Agreement in women’s professional cycling will be to work with the women’s UCI team owners to help them form their own teams association, and then work with that teams association to build an economically stronger sport with the race organizers association and the UCI.
Our first goal is to provide a voice for every woman in professional cycling today, and into the future. We want to improve your career opportunities not just as individual athletes in a physically demanding sport. We will also increase the power which all of our athletes should share with the other stakeholders in women’s professional cycling.
We will represent all the women in professional cycling today, and in the future. There is no women’s race which can happen without us, and it does not matter if we are Italian, Namibian, French, Dutch, Canadian, Colombian, Chinese, or Australian. We are women professional cyclists. The Cyclists' Alliance will work tirelessly on behalf of all women in professional cycling to influence the cooperation and decision-making of the sport’s stakeholders, at every level, to improve our future together.
Any woman cyclist racing for a UCI women’s team today may join. We will also be reaching out to retired women cyclists to join as advisers and mentors for our membership, and to help women racing today to see the different career opportunities they might pursue when they retire. And we encourage young women cyclists, who are eligible in the Elite category, to also join and learn about how they can plan their own independent path to achieve their lifetime goals in our sport.
The Cyclists' Alliance is asking for voluntary donations from its membership to help cover some of our initial set-up costs. We will also use these funds to help cover our communications costs, such as our website and secure messaging with our members. We are also actively soliciting grants from women’s sports advocacy and development organizations, and building relationships with potential commercial partners. These relationships with commercial partners are not sponsorships, or conflicts of interest; these are partnerships with patrons who have an interest in improving gender equality in their corporate responsibility missions. Where applicable, these partnerships could lead to exclusive offers to members of the Cyclists Alliance in the future, such as for financial planning, health insurance continuity during and after your professional racing career, and internships and education opportunities to help riders realize their lifetime goals inside and outside of the peloton.
The interest of the media is dependent on the amount of time and investment race organizers put into live broadcasts of our races. Our races receive only a fraction of the broadcast time which the men receive today, and because of the limited distribution of news about women’s races as well, only fans within the sport are seeing our hard work. Only a few of our Women’s WorldTour races are broadcast live on global channels today, and this is not nearly enough exposure.The Cyclists' Alliance has a platform and strategy to bring the teams and race organizers to the negotiating table. Our teams are only successful if our sponsors’ brands are seen by a wider public than just cycling’s die-hard fans. A Joint Agreement can help us to pressure the race organizers to change their strategies and investments in women’s racing, to broadcast a better product out to a wider audience, and share our story through global news networks and digital media outlets. The relationship between the sport and its media is critical for our success, to connect with new fans for our teams, riders, and cycling as an activity for women everywhere.
Companies which market primarily to women better understand how to inspire them with messages of personal change, health, wellness, status, design and value. Women, more than men, tend to make purchasing decisions based upon their impression of the athletes as individuals and how well they relate to those athletes, rather than their victories or record-breaking exploits. Women’s cycling can capitalize on many new and different sponsorship opportunities, rather than relying on sponsor categories which traditionally support the men’s sport.For example, in tennis, parity between men’s and women’s tournaments has evolved over the forty years since the famous battle of the sexes between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Men’s tennis marketing has polarized around proven winners, but women’s tennis highlights the relatability of its stars to women everywhere. While not every boy can aspire to win Wimbledon, every girl can aspire to be a strong woman; and this is the exact message being conveyed by all-time great tennis stars like Serena Williams, and competitive players like Anna Kournikova who never won a Grand Slam. The Cyclists' Alliance recognizes our ability of women athletes to transcend sports – whether we are big winners, or to connect in a meaningful way with other women who just enjoy the sport – and is something which we will help to change.Most importantly, greater visibility of the women’s sport by the media, with more focus on the individual athletes and their personal stories, and increased investment in women’s specific products and services could attract many new participants, and foster long term growth in cycling overall. Women’s professional cycling has the potential to outshine men’s pro cycling and change the sport’s business model in the process.