Cyclingnews US editor Laura Weislo looks at the state of the two sides of cycling and suggests a way that male and female athletes can all get the support they need...

OFF THE RADAR: Women’s sport suffers as men’s cycling flourishes

Considering that we’ve been experiencing what’s supposed to be the worst economy since the great depression, cycling seems to be doing pretty well –or is it? With less sponsorship money and manufacturers cutting back on what they give to teams, are the rich simply richer and the poor gone out to get real jobs?

Looking at men’s cycling, things seem to be better than ever. Two new teams have entered the upper crust of the sport. Team Sky seems ready to take over the world of cycling with the biggest budget and most powerful media presence in cycling history, and RadioShack has the power of Lance Armstrong and a sizeable bank balance in its favour.

There are still 18 men’s ProTour teams and 21 Professional Continental teams, so from all indicators the top level of cycling has remained largely unaffected, even if some teams are doing more with less.

The economy has really hit hard in women’s cycling. Most people are unaware that a top women’s team runs on less than one tenth of the budget their male counterparts receive. If you took the salaries of the top ten female racers in the USA and added them together, it might be what a mid-pack rider on a Pro Continental team makes.

That’s because the women’s teams follow the rules of the lowest level men’s pro teams, which have no requirement for a minimum salary. The result is that very few of the world’s top female cyclists earn a wage and so women’s teams have been vanishing.

While Team Sky is living large and driving Jaguars, the reigning Olympic champion and two-time winner of the World Cup, Nicole Cooke, doesn’t have a team that can pay her a salary. And it’s not just her, but former World Champion Amber Neben, former German champion Trixi Worrack and other top riders too. Imagine if Alberto Contador, David Zabriskie and Heinrich Haussler couldn’t find a team or were riding for free.

Women’s teams are run by people who dedicate themselves to the support of women’s cycling, not because it’s their job, but because it’s their passion.

In the USA, people like Michael Engleman (USWCDP), Dave Verecchia (Vanderkitten), Lisa Hunt (VBF), Nicola Cranmer (Proman) and dozens of other dedicated people dig into their own pockets and work their hearts out to help women’s cycling.

Aside from salary, another problem has been the loss of several high-profile UCI women’s races like the Montreal World Cup, Grand Tour du Montreal, Tour de PEI and likely the Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt, Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale and Tour de Berne.

What’s the solution? I call upon the men’s side to share the wealth, much like HTC-Columbia and Cervelo do, and carve out a fraction of their budgets to support a women’s team. Ask Bob Stapleton how it’s done – he’s been dedicated to running a successful men’s and women’s squad for years. But why can’t more teams do the same?

It’s great that RadioShack and Garmin are supporting men’s development teams, as this too is an important part of the sport. But you could fund an entire women’s squad with what these two teams spend on hospitality, and there are current female champions who have nothing.

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