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

Tom Palmer Columnist

By Tom Palmer, 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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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • September 18th 2014 @ 6:29am
      Michelle said | September 18th 2014 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      As a woman cyclist I thought the Colombian team’s kit was unacceptable because it made the team look like something off page 3, ie: totally demeaning. Their kit should support their awesome cycling skills, not reinforce nasty stereotypes and make it all about their bodies!

      • September 18th 2014 @ 9:06am
        Dan said | September 18th 2014 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        Hi Michelle,

        I’d understand your point if that’s what the kit actually looked like. The thing is that the photo that circulated was just a particularly poor one. The kit itself was designed by one of the team’s riders and the panel people are upset about is actually a shade of gold that matches the flag from the part of Colombia they hail from. This story explains it all in more detail. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ben-atkins/colombian-womens-cycling-_b_5830518.html

        • September 23rd 2014 @ 10:13am
          Dave said | September 23rd 2014 @ 10:13am | ! Report

          Ensuring that a kit photographs well in poor natural light (and making the required alterations to colours if it does not, maybe swapping it for a brighter yellow) is a part of the design process which should have been done as soon as the first test print of the kit was done, before approving production and use in real races.

          That this wasn’t done exposes the team as severely unprofessional – and that is a proper problem for women’s cycling.

          • February 19th 2016 @ 2:13am
            Andy said | February 19th 2016 @ 2:13am | ! Report

            No one designs a piece of clothing wondering how its going to photograph because there are too many colour processes involved. Even a top Photoshop designer will tell you that whatever he produces on screen doesn’t always match up in print.

            So to suggest that the designer of the clothing should have thought about how it would reproduce in a photo, that could be different a millions times across the colour chart is, quite honestly, bollocks.

    • September 18th 2014 @ 11:24am
      Kate said | September 18th 2014 @ 11:24am | ! Report

      Michelle, I completely understand your point. It doesn’t matter that the kit looks different in different light, or that a woman designed it. One stunningly bad photo with a hugely compromising optical illusion has done untold damage to the representation of women’s cycling. I was equally offended, and moreso by the disgusting comments made by many on social media that thought it was a hilarious opportunity to make some truly vile comments about female genitalia. Why are commentators not speaking out against that? For some strange reason, many commentators are spending a lot of time defending against anyone who expresses an opinion that *that* photograph is bad for cycling, and the opinion that they wish that women’s cycling was never put in this position. Is it that hard to understand why many women are offended?

    • Roar Guru

      September 18th 2014 @ 11:27am
      HardcorePrawn said | September 18th 2014 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all” That’s a double negative. Thumper was clearly advising to say something!

      I wonder if the UCI ever had a problem with this kit: http://cdn1.coresites.mpora.com/mpora_new/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Footon-Servetto-Tour-2010-748×333.jpg

    • September 18th 2014 @ 1:28pm
      fletch said | September 18th 2014 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

      The La Course race this year was absolutely cracking!
      I hope they run it every year.

    • September 18th 2014 @ 4:34pm
      rgmerk said | September 18th 2014 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

      Some extra bonus points for bluffers for the women’s Worlds:

      * races are shorter, so omits a couple of hours of watching the leader/favourite’s teammates ride tempo on the front while everybody else cruises and chats. Not so good if you’re a fan of French chateaux, a relief to the rest of us.
      * Smaller teams, so it makes it harder for a strong squad to neutralize the race…however…
      * Rabobank-Liv are super-strong at the moment (think Sky in Tour 2012) so it’s making life very hard for everyone else.
      * The Dutch will be the strongest national team at the Worlds.
      * Among the Aussies, Tiffany Cromwell is the likely team leader and best chance at a result in the Worlds – a punchy climber with a good turn of speed.

    • September 19th 2014 @ 5:42pm
      Tony M said | September 19th 2014 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

      The Colombian “uniform” was a very poor decision which had nothing to do with women’s cycling or cycling in general. Whoever authorised the use of this clothing should be excluded from the management of any cycling team under the jurisdiction of the UCI.

      On Women’s Cycling I would like to share four thoughts;
      1) I’ve heard many cycling authorities express their opinion that the best racer in the world regardless of sex is
      Marianne Vos.
      2) On the track Victoria Pendleton was just as inspiring to watch as was Chris Hoy.
      3)The most honest ,revealing and profound thing I’ve heard to date on the issue of doping in cycling came from
      Nicole Cooke
      4)Cycling, including racing, is about participation and the pleasure it gives and not just the interest of cycling
      fans, and that includes the female of the specie which after all represents 50% of us.

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