Sky Sportswomen: Lizzie Armitstead calls for minimum wage for female cyclists
By Lia Hervey
Last Updated: 21/10/14 4:42pm
Lizzie Armitstead has called for a minimum wage for female cyclists in order to professionalise women's cycling.
The Olympic silver medallist and Commonwealth cycling champion told Sky Sports News HQ Sportswomen show she believed attitudes to women's cycling had changed, but there was still work to be done.
It's kind of the chicken and egg scenario. It's media exposure, it's sponsors. At the end of the day, cycling is a business, so we have to be able to offer something to a sponsor, and without exposure, that's going to be difficult but that's where the UCI perhaps has to be a little bit stronger.
"There have been some good realistic steps and good progression,” she said. “I think the International Cycling Union (UCI) has put in some good ideas and some good strategies but obviously there's still a long way to go.
"I think before we talk about having a three-week Tour de France, which has been a massive talking point this year, we need to talk about the professionalism of it. You can't expect a woman who's holding down a part-time job to train for the biggest race in the world. She has to have a minimum wage and I think it's something that is pretty crazy that we don't have that."
She has also called on professional teams to consider funding and running women's teams alongside their existing men's teams.
"It's kind of the chicken and egg scenario. It's media exposure, it's sponsors. At the end of the day, cycling is a business, so we have to be able to offer something to a sponsor, and without exposure, that's going to be difficult but that's where the UCI perhaps has to be a little bit stronger.
If professional men's teams are now going to have development teams, women's teams should too, she believes.
Brian Cookson, President of the International Cycling Union (UCI), said the issue comes down to money.
"You can't just develop professional sport by passing rules about minimum wages. There has to be money coming into the sport," he said.
"If companies want to sponsor the sport, they have to feel there is a value in sponsoring the competitors whether males or females and so it’s important what we do at the UCI level and also at national federation level is get behind women’s cycling, support it as much as we can, and get as many sponsors in as we can. We need to raise the media profile, so there is more of a value, so we can then offer more full-time professional careers to more women than is the case at the moment.”
Armitstead, the Boels Dolmans and GB rider, still believes now is a good time to be a female cyclist.
"I feel really lucky to be female cyclist at this point, even just to be a sportsperson at this point,” she said. “The home Olympics was a huge thing for any sportsperson in this country and has given me way more opportunities than I would have had if I hadn't had that.”
She also backed British Cycling's decision not to send any female riders to the Cycling World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain last month following the retirement of Olympic medallist Emma Pooley, but expressed concerns about development of young female riders.
"I can understand both sides of argument. We didn't have somebody capable of winning a medal and we don’t really have anyone at the moment who is focusing on time trial, so therefore has the potential in it,” she said.
"But interestingly my granddad said to me: If people didn't go to the Olympics who 'couldn't win a medal', then you wouldn't have silver medal.
"That's sport. It's all about trying to improve and be better so it's a difficult one. It's not always about gold medals I think. It has to be about development and we are missing that in UK at the moment.
“There is no pathway for female GB road cyclists, but at the same time, if you are wanting to be the best in the world, you have to forge your own pathway. It's not that things should be there on a plate for you. You have to work really hard and that's what I've done and I didn't let it stop me."
Following her Olympic silver medal in London, Armitstead became Commonwealth champion in the road race in August this year in Glasgow. She followed this by winning the UCI Cycling World Cup later the same month.
"I'm really happy with the season as it's been a massive success for me," she said. "The Commonwealth Games was a real goal because of what it means to the public, and what it means to my family, but personally wining the Cycling World Cup has been a bigger achievement for me.
"It's never been something I thought I'd achieve in my career, as it's all about being consistent in World Cups across season, and that's never been my strong point until this season so I'm very happy.
"It felt like I'd got my just desserts I suppose. People don't really see the hard work that you put in and that doesn't change whether you get 20th or gold. You've still put in that same amount of work and it just meant that people who don't really understand my job could understand in a different way that I'm Commonwealth champ. To people who don't really understand the hard work I do, it's a simple way of showing them I'm a champion.
"I was emotional, but not overwhelmed, because London will never be topped for me I think. Being a British athlete, on The Mall, receiving a medal was incredible. And if I'm being really honest, it was not on that level - the Commonwealth Games is not the same competition. It was more about relief. It was such a team performance, I felt a real pride being an English girl on top of podium with Emma Pooley next to me and it was really nice for my family to be there with me."
My job is not something you can switch off from. It's constantly rolling around in my mind what I can be doing.
Armistead on cycling
Armitstead is now in her off-season and plans to spend time at her home in Monaco and with her family in Otley, Yorkshire. She says that future ambitions are never far from her mind.
"My job is not something you can switch off from. It's constantly rolling around in my mind what I can be doing. I've thought about 2015 a lot. I know exactly where I want to be good and how I am going to do it.
"There's a women's Strada Bianche next year, which is really exciting. I think it's a really iconic race and I love the finish so I'm going to aim for that as my first season target, then the Tour of Flanders, have good spring, and then the National Championships and the World Championships.
"My ultimate goal is to be world champion, to have that rainbow jersey. Somebody asked me the other day, 'what result would I give up to be World Champion', and I said: 'all of them' - maybe not my silver medal from the Olympics, but I'd certainly give up all the rest to be rainbow.
"In cycling it's that traditional iconic jersey that you win. To be Olympic champion is more about a sporting success and what it mean in the general public and the understanding people would have of it but to be cycling world champ, it's just special."