In a press conference following the opening stage of this year’s Tour of California, UCI President Brian Cookson fielded various and sundry questions from the media concerning the current "health" of cycling, the reorganization of the men’s pro race calendar, and what the UCI is doing to promote and support the growth of women’s cycling.
Cookson shared the spotlight with the top three finishers in the women’s circuit race on Sunday, and seized the opportunity to share his thoughts about the Tour of California race, which is now in its ninth year.
"Tour of California has grown every year," he said. "It’s an absolutely top-class event now, and it’s taken its place among the very best and the greatest events on the International Cycling Union’s calendar. It’s great that you’ve got a women’s race as well. It’s great to see that. I landed too late to see them today. But I’ll see them tomorrow and Tuesday before I go home."
Moreover, Cookson told the press that with the UCI’s goal of further "internationalizing" cycling, combined with an increase in quality of many newer races, a reorganization of the men’s pro calendar is in order.
"I want to see the best riders at the best races all of the time," he said. "So there’s going to have to be a little movement here and there, a little bit of adjustment. That’s not an easy process when there are people who have a long heritage and people who have other financial and local conditions to cope with. But I think with goodwill we can find a solution that’s going to take the men’s pro road racing season forward. It’s a couple of years off. It’s not there yet because it’s a work in progress."
In addition, Cookson said that the UCI’s top priority is restoring the sport’s credibility after it has suffered so much damage over the past several years.
"We don’t need to go into the history of all that again, but I think we all know what we’re talking about," he said, referring to the doping scandals that have rocked cycling since USADA charged Lance Armstrong with doping.
"We’ve got an historic opportunity to change and bring cycling forward out of what you might call those dark ages of problems," Cookson said. "What I’ve been really pleased about since I took over at the end of September has been the number of people and organizations like sponsors, broadcasters and media people coming forward and saying they want to help our sport. Even despite all of the problems of the past, we’ve got a sport that’s thriving."
Furthermore, Cookson said supporting and promoting the growth of women’s cycling is one of the ways in which the sport can evolve and reinvigorate itself – following years of years of negative press, and poor representatiion of women in the sport.
"I think cycling is probably no different from many other sports, that we men have not taken women’s sports seriously enough for decades and generations, really," he said. "I think that’s changing now. I think we’re seeing an absolute sea change of investment and interest in women’s sport coming from the people. From the media as well. That’s a really good thing."
Over the last year, Cookson said that the UCI has invested "quite a considerable sum" of money promoting television coverage of the women’s World Road Cup, particularly via the UCI’s YouTube channel.
"It’s a step forward," Cookson said. "I’d like it to be better broadcasting. I’d like it to be more television coverage of women’s racing. But some of that’s up to you guys in the media as well to play your part.
"We’re doing our best at the UCI to try and move things forward and help develop women’s racing," he continued. "There are some great women athletes here today, as there have been over in Europe this past week at the Tour of Britain. So I think the future is looking very promising for women’s cycling, and we at the UCI will do all we can to support that development."
When questions were asked as to why the Tour of Britain has been such a success in contrast to similar women’s stage races in the United States, Cookson was quick to point out the organizational skills of those involved in the event(s).
"The organizers, Guy Elliott, he’s a guy who wanted to do something special, saw the opportunity, worked with British cycling, worked with the component that helps organize the men’s Tour of Britain and put on a fantastic event," he said. "The question there is that individuals can make a difference. And there’s a guy who’s done a great job, and the affects are there to see."
Cookson also pointed out that sustainability is key to the vitality and and longevity of new cycling venues. Namely, new events need to to take place in such a way so that they:
"don’t just have a big bang and then it all goes quiet and everything fades away, but that we do things that develop gently through evolution and we build on success. Once you get some success then you get more success."
Cookson also expressed the importance of the sport reaching out to young athletes, and encouraging them to participate.
"The difference now from 20 or 30 years ago is that kids don’t just come to sport by accident anymore," he said. "They don’t just roll up and join a club. You’ve got to go out and find them to bring them into your sport. You’ve got to give them the support systems, the development programs, the coaching, and help them get into the sport."
When asked about adopting policy reforms that would require events to offer a women’s race, or mandating that teams also have a women’s team as well, Cookson suggested that the image of having women’s events or teams as a mandated subsidiary to men’s events or teams, could actually serve to dilute the viability of women’s cycling in general.
"There are events and sponsors and host towns and cities out there that might actually be more interested in having a women’s event than a men’s event," he said. "So just to compel a men’s event to have a women’s event alongside it, I don’t think is necessarily an answer to all the problems.
"I’d like to see women’s teams strong enough to attract sponsors that perhaps wouldn’t be interested in a men’s team," he said. "There are some teams that are associated with men’s teams. I’d like to see that as a development process in a way, that eventually women’s cycling will be strong enough to stand on its own, and as I say, attract it’s own sponsors, host towns, cities, events and promoters."
You must be logged in to post a comment.