Armitstead believes that one possible solution would be "forcing ProTour teams to have a women's team." That is certainly an option, and seems a good one at first - many people also support the idea of forcing race organisers to hold women's races alongside their men's events. But would it work? Would teams devote the time, money and media to their female riders as they do to their men?
When whether Team Sky should sponsor a women's team, Armitstead hits the nail on the head - "I think Team Sky is missing an opportunity," she says. That is the real answer: persuading, rather than forcing, teams that it is in their interest to have a women's team. That way, they'll give them the backing they deserve. Force them to run women's teams and they'll do so resentfully, fielding athletes who have been given the cheapest minimum of coaching, riding bikes that are only a fraction of the value and quality that the men on the team ride. Result: in the eyes of the public, who in many cases will not understand the underlying issues, female cyclists appear less talented and less competitive than the men. Sky have had plenty of opportunity to put together a women's team and have a budget more than high enough to run several; it seems clear, therefore, that they have no interest in doing so (note that they do sponsor female track cyclists - who enjoy a higher public profile than female road cyclists).
So, how can they be persuaded that women's teams will bring them more glory and, crucially, more sponsors? The riders themselves are already doing all they can - they ride to their limits, even if they've had to work a forty-hour week in order to be able to afford to be at the races in which they compete, and they raise the issues facing their sport whenever they can, just as Armitstead is doing. There are a few team officials and managers doing a superb job too - Stefan Wyman, owner of Britain's Matrix-Prendas, is a glowing example and has recently written a series of informative articles on the subject (the latest of which can be found here); so to is Karl Lima, manager of the Hitec Products-Mistral Home - both have fought for many years to get a fair deal for the athletes on their own teams and in women's cycling in general. Rabobank is another admirable case and provides excellent support for its highly successful women's team.
|"The race with the Dutch girl and the English girl" -
Armitstead and Vos follow Olga Zabelinskaya