Boardman: Catalytic times for women’s cycling in big week

06 May 2014 / 16:44

Olympic champion Chris Boardman, a leading figure in catapulting British cycling to the top, says this week’s Women’s Tour in eastern England can aid female sport to attain followers and more lucrative contracts.

Boardman, who at Barcelona 1992 won Britain’s first Olympic cycling medal for 72 years, has witnessed a lot in his time as a competitor, advisor to Team GB and commentator.

And the 45-year-old expects to see a lot more where women’s cycling is concerned.

“Women’s sport is more topical than it’s ever been, which is good. In our country there’s a profile, right now,” said former hour world record holder Boardman.

“And globally it’s as good a moment as I’ve seen in the last 20 years where there’s an interest.

“The drugs issues in [men’s] professional cycling have only helped because people have looked away and thought ‘I like cycling. Is there anything else I could be watching?’

“That can only have helped women’s cycling.”

Boardman sat on a select committee on women’s sport with Emma Pooley a few months ago and a key topic was how to grow female cycling.

Although the inaugural Women’s Tour will have equal prize money, daily television coverage and hotel accommodation compared to the campsites of the past, Boardman underlined the improvements in the making are a sensitive issue.

“Even she [Pooley] didn’t know what the answer is,” said Boardman. “You need the publicity to attract people and grow the amount of people who’d want to be in this race.

“When those people come along it becomes healthy, there are sponsors, there’s an outlet, there’s a viable reason to be here.

“But it’s where do you break the circle? Somebody’s got to invest ahead of time to make it work and I think you’ve got just enough of both at the moment, it might be the catalytic phase.

“Even the best, Emma Pooley and the like, what they make is risible. It’s not even an average wage for somebody on the street and she’s one of the best riders in the world at that level.”

Boardman’s suggestion was a delicately compiled highlights programme to ensure viewers do not change channel.

Then with an increase in numbers, more companies will want to cover events and more money should follow.

“You’ve got to be very careful with women’s racing at the moment that you set the event right and televise it right because the volume isn’t there, the depth isn’t there in performance,” said the former world time trial champion at Manchester’s Bike & Triathlon Show in March.

“There’ll be a few who totally stand out head and shoulders. You need to manage the event so you just get the good bit.

“It needs managing in this phase to make sure it’s as good as it can be but they’ve definitely got their foot in the door with the racing they’ve got this year.

“I think for women’s sport right now, the only programmes should be highlights programmes where you can take the best bits, put it together and make it spectacular.”

Women’s road racing is set for a spectacular summer, with Team GB talent competing at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in July and August while other world leaders will tear down the Champs-Elysees on the same day the Tour de France comes to a close.

By Tom Pilcher

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