If you don’t like women’s cycling, make like Thumper and shut up

Tom Palmer Columnist

By , Tom Palmer is a Roar Expert


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    Action from the 2014 Road Nationals Elite Women's Criterium (Image: Sean Lee)

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    There’s a photo of a women’s cycling team in which the colour of their clothing and the lighting gave the appearance that the cyclists were semi nude. It went viral on the Internet.

    That part was fair enough, but then everybody completely lost their minds.

    The whole women’s pro racing thing is pretty new to the cycling world and we’re all processing the shift. So here’s a crash course on how to talk about cycling without being a tool.

    First talk about: Men’s cycling
    Thumper, the animated rabbit from ‘Bambi’ and one of my childhood role models, once said “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all”. This is the basic morality for any fan of men’s cycling.

    If you’re just not into watching the women’s racing? That’s fine, whatever dude, just zip it when you feel like saying something disparaging or demeaning about women in the sport. Talk about someone throwing a firecracker at Chris Froome in a Vuelta stage. Talk about Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews playing paper scissors rock for who gets to win worlds next week.

    Talk about how badly you want Cadel to sign up with a media outlet so he can continue conducting awkward race interviews professionally. I know I so very much wish to advocate for this.

    Then talk about: Women’s cycling
    The trick here is, it’s the same as cycling, but the riders are women. Aside from getting your mouth around the awkward aesthetic of the term ‘leadout-woman’, if you enjoy watching, following or talking about men’s cycling you’ll be totally fine here.

    The women don’t have a WorldTour, they have The Sufferfest Women’s World Cup and they have two categories of teams: UCI Continental and everyone else. The Giro Donne (Women’s Giro d’Italia) is held around the first week of The Tour de France and is the traditional pinnacle of the women’s sport along with the World Champsionships and Olympics.

    This year, two more big deal races were added to the program. The Women’s Tour of Britain and the Champs Elysee feature event La Course by Le Tour de France.

    To get you started, note a few of the female hitters racing right now. Marianne Vos is the current world champ who has been called the “Eddy Merckx of women’s cycling”. Elizabeth Armistead is a punchy rider and leading the World Cup standings. Emma Johansson is a consistent all rounder sitting in second. Kirsten Wild and Giorgia Bronzini are both powerful sprinters that win a lot, and are worth a mention here too.

    If you want to be current then note too that Annemiek van Vleuten just took out the Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour. Recent talking points include up and coming Aussie sprinter Chloe Hosking and American legend Shelley Olds who both claimed big wins this week.

    This is obviously a massive over-simplification of an entire sport but at least you’re now ready to watch and discuss the women’s road world champs, which is going to be a cracker, for the reasons described above.

    And then talk about: Absolutely anything that doesn’t involve telling women what they should and should not be allowed to wear
    The photographic optical illusion that made the gold area of a kit look a little bit like skin went viral on social media. This was unsurprising. The same photograph then caused a moral outrage. This was weird, in a bad way. It’s a good lesson for this guide.

    Angry letters were penned. Brian Cookson, the boss of the UCI, had a good crack at the alleged perpetrators of this fashion crime on Twitter, where he vowed to take action against an offence that he believed was “unacceptable by any standard of decency”.

    Well Brian, bro, I present to you another standard of decency: mine. For mine, women who want to go race bikes can do so, and without being harassed by powerful men who get offended by their appearance.

    I don’t want to get all feminist and say something like “this is what patriarchy looks like Brian”. But if I did it would be a valid point here. If Brian’s concern was that the women had been forced to wear a degrading garment, and therefore humiliated, then I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the evidence shows that’s not the case.

    The reality is that this is a story as old as casual sexism itself: “Women do something in public, public complains about their clothes”. Let’s avoid that story from now on.

    This is a hiccup in a good process, in a sport that is learning to accept women. We – and I’m speaking predominantly to my fellow lads here – just need to take moments like this to check ourselves and think whether the way we treat women in our sport is ok.

    In terms of viral online content this isn’t even in the same league as the cult classic and personal favourite hit video “Cat in a shark suit chases duck on a vacuum cleaner”.

    Dumb stuff gets reposted online all the time, it’s great. Dumb statements from important public figures aren’t nearly as cute.

    So, being decent is easy and it has nothing to do with the goldness of your shorts.

    If you talk about women’s cycling try to talk about the cycling or the women, and not their appearance or clothing. If you’re actually not interested in women’s cycling at all, that’s fine too, just make like Thumper and shut up.

    Tom Palmer is a former professional road cyclist riding for Drapac Professional Cycling from 2007 to 2014 before hanging up the cleats to pursue a tertiary education and non-sporting career.

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