How La Course 2017 shone a spotlight on gender disparity

When Orica Scott’s Van Vleuten was powering up the Col D’Izoard in Stage 1 of La Course, I was glued to the television in total awe of the power she and, equally, Boels Dolmans’ Deignan, were demonstrating and the pressure they were exerting on the rest of the peloton. For me, an amateur road cyclist, it was truly inspirational.

Not only was I witnessing athletes operating at the top of their game, but I was also catching a rare glimpse of female cyclists being able to showcase their talent on a truly international stage, against the iconic backdrop of one of the most beautiful and grueling stages on Le Tour de France and with full television coverage.

Upon discovering that Van Vleuten had the third fastest time on Strava up the Col D’Izoard, only after Barguil and Bardet, I was even more impressed; surely this was evidence that women were as capable as men of not just tackling the big category – or even hors catégorie – climbs but out and out attacking them.

And then a family friend quickly extinguished any spark of hope I held that the status of women’s cycling might be elevated post Van Vleuten’s spectacular win. When presented with the Strava evidence, he replied: ‘well, that’s only because she didn’t do the 112 kms beforehand’.

It was his response and then the disappointing spectacle of the second stage that cemented my anger at the blatant gender disparity that still exists across this sport (and, of course, many others).

Diegnan needn’t have been so diplomatic in her soft critique of the organization of La Course; it was obvious to all who were watching.

First of all, the experimental pursuit style format of Stage 2 quenched any potential for excitement, as Van Vleuten’s substantial 43 second lead and Deignan’s decision to wait for her teammate meant that the race was decided in the first 90 seconds.

Second, for those cyclists hoping to gain more exposure, as they might expect from a fully televised event, they will have been bitterly disappointed. It was only a select few – the leader and the chasing group – who attracted the camera’s attention.

Third, the awards ‘ceremony’ looked more like a primary school prize-giving with nobody knowing exactly where to stand or what to do, including the presenters themselves.

Simply put, these professional athletes deserved better on all three fronts –race format, media exposure and recognition of achievement. What La Course managed to do was shine a big spotlight on the inequality that still exists in the world of professional cycling.

… the rest of this post can be found on Cycling Torque.

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