Between here and the third week of July, it’s hard to think of a more interesting and exciting week in the sport of professional cycling, to use a classic Sherwenism.
The Women’s Tour – a new beginning
First and most importantly, the inaugural Women’s Tour. Let’s skip the nonsense about names and rights, to you and me it is and will always be the Women’s Tour of Britain www.womenstour.co.uk
Equal prize money and race organisation are the big selling points. Now while prize money seems the big deal, it’s the race organisation that really matters.
Simple things that men’s races do as a matter of course, like arranging hotels, not school gymnasiums or hostels. That’s something of a novelty for a lot of women’s races.
Likewise, having a daily highlights programme on terrestrial television, free to air. Now the hardcore will say “why not live?” and I’ll say, take a look at your audience figures. In the UK – on ITV – the daily highlights routinely outperforms the live coverage.
Simply put, more people have an hour free in the evening to watch telly than in the middle of the afternoon. It also allows the race to be packaged with video inserts and insights that would get lost in live coverage.
Those three-minute slots are gold to both host towns and to team sponsors as it gives them the sort of undivided audience attention that makes the investment worthwhile.
Then there’s the quality of the field. It’s all killer, no filler. Everyone has brought their strongest squad to the race. Just take a look at the start list.
Throw in the random variable that no one quite knows how the racing is going to pan out, and it should be guaranteed excitement, like the 2012 Olympic Road Race that inspired it. As Ned Boulting has pointed out, it’s quite a piece of legacy.
If you want to keep up with what’s happening during the day, I recommend their official twitter which is @thewomenstour.
But don’t think of this as the end, until women professionals get a minimum wage for top flight teams, we’re still a long way from home. Nicole Cooke is absolutely right to bang that drum.
Some argue it would collapse a whole number of teams. I say, fine, professional teams that can’t or won’t pay their athletes aren’t credible as professional organisations. Without that credibility in the sport, why would you pay money as a sponsor? I’d want to know that my money was supporting the performance of the team and their being a value to my deal rather more substantive than a logo on the jersey.
Alternatively the UCI could – and in my view should – structure a three to five year transitional period during which it could underpin team finances on a reducing scale to allow them to find and build their financial backing. Ambitious? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.
Giro – anything could happen
Then there’s the Giro d’Italia, hashtag #giro. If you don’t know the drill by now, it’s the interesting Grand Tour, with decent food in the press room and a relaxed vibe that makes it so much more bearable that the Tour de France.
In redux, it’s a question of who can come second to Nairo Quintano, with Rigoberto Uran, Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodriguez the most likely. Poor boot-face Michele Scarponi is in there as the token Italian contender.
But the Giro cannot be reduced down to such straightforwardness. This is a race after all where we’ve seen the entire peloton sliding across the finish line like lycra-clad penguins, stage finishes in blizzards and 60-rider escapes in the rain.
Anything can and will happen at the Giro, including starting in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most bizarre crossing of political and sporting paths I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m not even going to try and make a prediction as this is a race which almost always defies them.
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