Inaugural Women’s Rider Union set to make big changes to the Female Professional Peloton
In a bid to improve the sport of women’s cycling, retired pro cyclist and former UCI Women’s Committee member Iris Slappendel, alongside American Carmen Small and multiple National Champion, Aussie Gracie Elvin, have banded together to establish The Cyclists’ Alliance.
With the aim to ‘represent the competitive, economic and personal interests of all professional women cyclists during and after their career’, the Cyclists’ Alliance will deal specifically in contract and educational support, career advice, legal and retirement assistance as well as work towards promoting women’s cycling to a larger audience and improving economic opportunities within the sport.
"We aim to unite all of the professional women cyclists from around the world because together we can shape our future," Slappendel said.
The move came in response to a survey conducted by Slappendel earlier this year which revealed that nearly half of female professional riders (46.9%) made less than $7,700AUD a year with around 17.5% of that peloton going completely unpaid. More than 50% of the women surveyed were required to pay their team back for travel, equipment and other services with 51.6% of women working in a secondary job.
The survey also found that 90% of participants had signed a contract with a UCI-registered team without legal consultation or advice in negotiations with many reporting that teams had pressured them to do so.
Health insurance was ranked the most important benefit for female professional riders, as well as a trustworthy entity that hears and voices riders’ concerns and interests.
The survey also found an overwhelming call for the UCI to ensure basic team standards of professionalism, as well as a collective belief that now is the time to change and improve the sport of women’s cycling.
“The response rate was incredible”, Slappendel said, “Riders from every UCI-registered team participated, and we garnered well over 200 unique responses. The overwhelming message from the women’s peloton was clear, change needs to happen for the sport to grow, and the time is now."
A mentorship program has already been developed with the aim to create a supportive network of current and upcoming athletes, and the alliance is currently working with different national associations to create education and job opportunities for riders. Slappendel has also proposed the idea of creating a retirement fund for members of the union, however recognizes that first the whole economic model of the women’s professional peloton needs to change.
The alliance has already met with new UCI President David Lappartient to share their long-term vision and will push for official recognition by the UCI ahead of the Innsbruck 2018 UCI Road World Championships.
Slappendel is set to attend the upcoming Women’s World Tour Commission meeting to voice the concerns of alliance members, while multiple World Champion and Olympic medallist Marianne Vos, has put her hand up to serve in the UCI’s Athlete Commission and UCI Road Commission.
As Vice Director Carmen Small explained; “Men’s professional cycling developed slowly over nearly 100 years of traditions which, over time, have been reinforced by political rivalries and economic decisions which have limited the sport's opportunities. Women’s professional cycling can, and must be, a sport which forges a new path that does not follow the template of the men’s sport.”
While the Cyclists’ Alliance already confidently represents two-thirds of the professional peloton, they’ve made a call for professional female riders from all over the world to join.
“An association of women’s professional cyclists will be an important catalyst to push the women’s teams, the UCI, and the race organizers, to unify under the umbrella objectives of building a stronger sport, with a new narrative, broader appeal to fans, with greater economic and career opportunities", Elvin said.
"We ask our fellow cyclists to join us so we can leverage our strength to negotiate a better future with our teams, our partners in the UCI, new business supporters, and fans across the world."