Every year around now there's a piece about the fact that the Tour De France is a male only event. The BBC have just published this which is actually more illuminating than last year's article that I read.
What's most depressing about the article is the comments section at the bottom of the page. Whilst the article suggests that the issue lies mainly in the highest echelons of world cycling I think that the raft of negative comments would suggest that it is deep rooted in general ignorance.
There are numerous comments about the fact that men are faster than women. That may be the case, but we are not talking about racing them against each other so it's completely irrelevant. What makes a good Tour is not the speed at which they race, but the myriad of things that happen over the three weeks - the breaks, the spills, the winds and the teamwork. There's absolutely no reason why these same nuances would not make a women's tour just as exciting. I'd also be interested to know whether what happens in long distance running - the longer the distances the smaller the gap between men and women becomes - is also true of cycling.
Others say there's not enough money to justify the cost of putting the race on. Well the obvious solution is to run the race on the same course on the same day starting a few hours before or after the men. It's simple economics. If you rent a marquee for your village carnival then you may as well put on an evening event in the same marquee and save the cost of renting it twice. Granted this would be a logistical headache, but given our ingenuity as a species I am confident that it's not beyond the realms of possibility!
The overriding issue, and the elephant in the room, is that the whole thing is a spiral of negativity. For as long as there has been professional cycling men have been given priority over women. As such, and as is the case in many other sports, women's cycling maybe isn't as exciting to watch as men's, so there are fewer household names, they are not as fast or skilled, so sponsors don't invest and there is resultingly little TV coverage, so there's less incentive for women to enter the sport so there's a smaller pool of shared experience , so the standard is lower, so it's less exciting, so there's less investment and so on and so on. It'll take a bold move to turn the tide, and here's the crux: it won't happen in one single step, it will take a long time. Men's professional cycling is where it is thanks to years and years of fine tuning and feedback. Women have the benefit of sharing in this experience, but it's still going to take time to encourage and foster a big enough pool of female cyclists to rival the men's circuit, but there's no reason why given the right ingredients, it won't.
Having identified the elephant in the room it's worth acknowledging its big brother: because of the entrenched sexism in the sport, both at the organisers level, and in those who comment on BBC articles, there is a significant barrier to overcome in that women are still objectified in sport / cycling. The fact that the day's winners at the Tour De France are still being presented with their prizes by a bevvy of pretty women simply beggars belief. Formula One organisers recently removed glamour models from the pit lane only for the likes of Lewis Hamilton, sadly a role model to millions, to echo what a BBC survey found, that over half of the people (presumably men) who watch the races, objected to their removal. Sadly it's a problem right from the top to the bottom and is reflected in pretty much all aspects of life, not just sport.
What to do about it? That's the trillion dollar question. Acknowledge, and maybe event accept yourself, that women are equal and teach your kids that. Raise your kids as equal, don’t stoop to using phrases like 'like a girl', and campaign for equal prize money and an equal footing for women in all sport. Let's get some enlightened individuals - I'm thinking a few more Gareth Southgates' here - to the top of the pile to lead the way and let's get sport to act as an example to the workplace, to the film industry and to every other facet of life that is out of balance.