Women’s team time trial was great, but coverage wasn’t

Tim Renowden Columnist

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    50 kilometres per hour. That’s the average speed ridden by Specialized-Lululemon to win the women’s elite team time trial, on a fast 42.8km course finishing in Florence’s elegant centre.

    That is seriously moving, and it was a commanding performance from a team that has dominated this event for the last two years, thumping their nearest rivals Rabobank – boasting no less of a leader than Marianne Vos – by 1:11.

    Australia’s Orica-AIS finished a commendable third, 1:33 behind the winners.

    This was the kind of performance that really showcases the ability of the top women professionals, on the same stage as the men.

    A large crowd was gathered along the streets to watch the race, and they were treated to a clinic.

    So it was a massive shame nobody could watch it live on TV.

    Orica-AIS’ Emma Johansson, Amanda Spratt, Nettie Edmondson, Melissa Hoskins, Shara Gillow and Loes Gunnewijk put in a great performance to claim the bronze medal, after a fast start which saw them leading Rabobank by nearly 10 seconds at the first intermediate time check.

    But only minutes later, the well-oiled machine from Specialized-Lululemon claimed the lead, by a narrow 1.87 seconds.

    By the second check, Orica-AIS were losing ground to Rabobank, and the strength and depth of the Specialized-Lululemon squad was telling, as they stretched their lead to a comfortable 50 seconds.

    By the time they finished, with all six riders together, an average speed of 50.2km/h, and a lead of 71 seconds, the demolition was complete.

    Great racing. Sure, it wasn’t as close as the thrilling men’s race but hey, we cycling fans can appreciate superbly dominant performances, too!

    I just wish I’d been able to watch it live, seeing as it was on just before the live telecast of the men’s event. For we Australian fans, it would have been in a perfect timeslot.

    The Roar’s (and Orica-AIS rider) Tiffany Cromwell was absolutely spot on when she tweeted, “Shame that on the 25 sports channels that I have at home, not one was screening the race.”

    Quite.

    In a year where the UCI and its opposed presidential candidates have made plenty of well-meaning noises about the importance of developing women’s cycling, the organisation’s inability to get a live feed shown of one of its premier women’s events is yet another disappointment.

    The fact is, there are dozens of sports channels who should have been showing this event ahead of repeats of ‘Big blokes lifting logs 2013’, random animal racing, or whatever regional tiddlywinks contest is on this week.

    That’s even before we get to the modern marvel known in some circles as ‘the Internet’.

    Surely there is a streaming provider, somewhere in the world, who can find a live audience for a women’s world championship event?

    There are millions of cycling fans flocking to their browsers, desperate to follow their sport! This internet video thing isn’t that new.

    Broadcasters, cautious by nature and with faced with a scarce resource (spectrum, cable carriage, or satellite time) are not generally in the business of speculating on where there may or may not be an audience.

    Internet providers are far less constrained by geography, have operating costs that scale downwards better, and can be more flexible about where they find an audience.

    Sure, producing a live broadcast costs money, but not that much more than producing an edited highlights package. You’re already paying for equipment and people to operate it.

    If the UCI wants to get an audience hooked on women’s cycling, it might need to create one itself.

    This means being proactive: spending a bit more of the money earned from TV rights for men’s races – the UCI’s own money – to get more women’s racing shown live.

    Yes, I know, I used ‘proactive’ in the same sentence as ‘UCI’, but stay with me.

    Pay the host broadcaster to produce the live coverage of every world championships event, and then sell the rights to whoever wants to show it.

    Bundle it for free with the men’s rights, if that helps. Make it a condition of the overall TV rights deals. Get it on TV, online, just get it out there. Do the same for other major races on the women’s calendar.

    It can’t be that hard if athletics and swimming have managed it.

    This is arguably the biggest week of the year for women’s road cycling. The team time trial was the one opportunity for the women’s trade teams to get their logos on TV.

    The sponsors deserve more than to be edited into tiny chunks, or out of the race altogether in the case of the smaller teams.

    If the UCI is serious about sorting out the yawning inequality (in salaries, sponsorship, race conditions, and opportunity) between men and women on the road, it needs to take equal coverage of its own events much more seriously.

    It frustrates me I can’t write more about women’s cycling.

    There is so little of it televised, it’s difficult to form the kind of strong understanding that you need to write authoritatively.

    It’s near impossible to write a race analysis based on tweets from riders and press releases from teams.

    This is a massive shame, and it’s one the UCI could do so much more to fix.

    The good news is the women’s time trial (streaming) and road race (streaming and broadcast) will be available live.

    Get into it, and let’s show there’s an audience.

    (Australians can watch highlights of the women’s team time trial via SBS)

    Tim Renowden
    Tim Renowden

    Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. An ex-runner, now a club grade bike racer, Tim tweets about sport at @megabicicleta.