New UCI president Brian Cookson must address issues in women's cycling

Sky Sports News reporter Orla Chennaoui blogs on one of the key challenges facing world cycling's newly elected leader

Last Updated: 28/09/13 3:38pm

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Brian Cookson: New president of the UCI

Brian Cookson: New president of the UCI

Sky Bet

After what was surely one of the most bitter battles for the top spot in any sport than many of us would care to remember, cycling finally has a new president.

Both Brian Cookson and the outgoing chief Pat McQuaid had promised to strengthen and help develop women's cycling.

It's Cookson's vision that will now be enacted and analysed. How fitting then that we should be looking forward to the women's elite road race this afternoon.

Chatting to the female members of the Great Britain team, it's clear that the sport has a long way to go before achieving anything approaching parity.

Lizzie Armitstead, the team leader for this afternoon's race, was one of many who felt compelled to pull out of the recent Giro della Toscana because of safety issues. Tales of most of the peloton having to weave through traffic as they raced to the line fill me with a sense of horror. And this is the highest ranked race in the women's calendar.

Speaking of high-ranking races, they don't get much bigger than the Tour de France, but unlike some of her contemporaries, Armitstead doesn't believe there should be a full-blown female equivalent. "I'm not sure I'd be able to make the distance" she said. This, coming from the Olympic road race silver medallist, would cast doubt on pretty much everyone else in the peloton.

Similarly, Britain's women's coach, Simon Cope, doesn't think the answer is in forcing men's Pro Tour teams to invest in a female equivalent. He said: "My opinion is I don't think there's enough bodies around, and the teams with the bigger budgets would buy up all the best riders. I feel it would become top heavy."

Exposure

So what would be a sensible next move? More of the shorter races for the women in conjunction with the men's, according to Cope.

He added: "The one day races should run a women's race alongside [the men's] with a view of maybe integrating stage races at a later date."

There are some races which do exactly that, but they are few and far between.

"There used to be Milan - San Remo, for example, and there used to be an Amstel Gold, but for some reason they've gone," Cope added. "But I think if you use the same finish line, and a different start, for the spectators it gives them two for one value really doesn't it? Two races for the price of one. I think that's a start."

"Women's racing needs TV coverage and I think TV will bring sponsors. With the men's races the TV's already there isn't it? Your cameras are there, your reporters are there, so instead of having a seperate staff, it wouldn't take a lot more infrastructure to do it would it?"

Whether that particular strategy will be one that catches Cookson's eye remains to be seen. He has already pledged to establish a women's commission and has appointed the first female Vice President.When he takes the keys to the cycling headquarters in Aigle, his intray will be overflowing. On this issue, there'll be an awful lot of paperwork and celver thinking to be done.

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