Sunday was Eastbourne Cycling Festival. It was brilliant – the sun (mostly) shone, and there were plenty of people who came down to the seafront to enjoy the weather, ride their bikes, and watch the racing.
There was a sportive event in the morning – I’ve had a look at the route and have one word for you: hilly. There were also a charity mountain bike ride, some running events (*raises eyebrows*), and a duathlon.
Then there was the racing. There were some junior races, the South East Regional Youth Champs, 4th category, 3rd category and E12 races. A quick glance at the sign-ups for the E12 race shows you that there were some big names racing – it was a fast paced race that took no prisoners! Cornering on this circuit looked…fun. I’m genuinely surprised there weren’t more crashes. I forget these people actually know what they’re doing.
The results of the racing will soon be posted here, if you’re interested.
As well as the crit racing there was some fun stuff going on for families – including a children’s Go Sky Ride course which looked like it was at about my level. You could make a smoothie by pedal-power, race your friends on a WattBike, watch some amazing BMX stunts – or just eat far too much ice cream. I had a brilliant day watching friends race their bikes, talking too much, and chasing balloons that were blowing away from the Team ASL360 tent.
Now that’s all very nice, but I’m afraid there is a moany bit. And it involves two words which often strike up debate: podium girl.
It was hardly the Giro D’Italia, so whilst there weren’t rows of podium girls in tight dresses, bouquets of flowers and bottles of champagne, we had our own South Coast spin on the idea: an attractive young woman in denim hotpants to present the prize money – and a kiss. I have no idea if this woman was being paid, or whether she was part of the Harley Davidson sponsorship deal. She looked pleased enough to be involved, if a little out of place and awkward. So what’s my problem with her being there? I’ll try to sum it up, briefly…
Let’s discuss how many women were involved in the racing on Sunday. There was one girl in the youth race. There was one woman in the 4th cat race. And there was one podium girl. Without going into the reasons why there weren’t more women and girls racing (I’ll do that in a minute) – just think for a second about what message that is sending out, especially to the crowds of children who attended Sunday’s event. Women’s place clearly isn’t in racing – why else would they be so under-represented? But if 33% of the women involved with the racing were there to be an ornament and to kiss the men who won a race…well, maybe that’s a more fitting role for a girl.
There was no women’s race organised on Sunday. Had there been, I believe we would have seen a decent number of women on the start line. It would have been a smaller race than the men’s – but until the races are there, they cannot be filled. It is a viscous circle that needs to start with event organisers giving female racers an opportunity.
We are seeing an amazing rise in the popularity of women’s cycling in this country. The line up for the women’s races at events such as the Johnson Health Tech GP and London Nocturne serve to prove that. I know of more and more women locally who are taking up racing, or thinking about it. There’s lots going on – but the fact remains that there is still a huge inequality in women’s cycle racing. At a professional level, the difference in pay and prize money is often appalling, and at a more local level, many women’s races are still E1234 – first timers racing against the top level athletes. Things are improving, and I’m really hopeful about the future of women’s racing – but we still have a long way to go.
I don’t have anything against people wearing hotpants. In fact, I encourage it. But for as long as women’s racing is very much second place to men’s, I will continue to be insulted by the use of podium girls at races.