Guest Voice Nathalie Novembrini: Italian women’s cycling

VeloVoices fan: Nathalie Novembrini

Today 24-year old Nathalie Novembrini, one of VeloVoices’ fans, has very kindly contributed a thought-provoking article on the issues facing women’s cycling based on some interviews she’s conducted in Italy in the course of her studies to become a sports psychologist. Nathalie’s based in Bergamo, Italy, and is an ardent fan of all Italian cyclists, particularly Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti, as well as Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen.

A former professional cyclist recently explained to Natalie why she’d had to quit the sport she loved.

I love cycling, it’s my life, I miss it so much, but salaries were so low I couldn’t pay the rent.

It would appear that a job as a female cyclist isn’t going to make you rich, unless you’re a champion. I’ve never heard about a male European rider leaving his sport because he doesn’t earn enough money to pay his bills.

On the other hand, it frequently happens in female cycling. Because there are fewer sponsors, there’s no agreed minimum wage and contracts often aren’t worth the paper they’re written on – always assuming they’re committed to paper! They’re not even deemed worthy of the same classification: women are ‘elite’ – the same as top male amateurs – while men are ‘pro’.

Georgia Bronzini winner stage 6, 2012 Tour of Qatar

Giorgia Bronzini (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Last December, double road race world champion Giorgia Bronziniwas quite vocal about these problems, which are forcing a number of riders to withdraw from the sport and others to seethe in frustration. But money isn’t the only problem. The structure in the Italian female cycling world is also allegedly quite depressing.

Riders complain about the lack of qualified support staff as teams often rely on riders, who weren’t able to make it in pro cycling, to fulfil these roles. These people are usually men who are quite dismissive of women as professional athletes. For example, if there’s a problem with a bike, they might say that it’s the rider’s fault. Or, even worse, they say:

 You know, you’re a woman, you don’t understand mechanics.

Teams operate on very small budgets, consequently salaries are low and they don’t have the economic power to differentiate between the salaries of the team leaders and those of the support riders. This means that there’s even a competitive atmosphere between riders on the same team. In addition, every rider fears getting the sack if she doesn’t win a race or if she doesn’t place better than her teammates.

To be fair, things are quite different in the bigger teams, such as GreenEDGE or the former Garmin squad, which have both male and female teams. Here the staff is equally skilled, the sponsors are similar and the projects are equally promoted, also on the team’s websites.

Last month in Italy a female riders’ delegation met with the ACCPI (Italian Pro Cycling Riders Association) in a bid to obtain parity with the more professional foreign teams. They submitted their requests for minimum wages, higher race prizes and greater exposure in the press order to increase the visibility of women’s cycling.

The results of the meeting seem to be positive. Bronzini noted:

Thanks to ACCPI for listening to us. At the moment we female riders have the same duties as other pro athletes, but not the same rights. With the help of the Association, we hope to reduce the gap with our male colleagues. This huge difference exists irrespective of results. Our Italian male pro riders haven’t amassed the same important results as their female counterparts.

In response, the ACCPI has proposed creating a female section of the Association to help realise the proposals made during the above discussion. On March 24th there will be another meeting, this time to elect a representative for the female Italian riders.

As reported by double world champion Bronzini:

So long as we’re considered as amateurs, we can’t claim the same privileges as our male pro colleagues.

Let’s applaud the Italians for their initiative and hope female cycling will soon reach the same levels of popularity as men’s pro cycling and bring the women their just rewards.

It would appear that the Italians are not the only ones concerned with the state of women’s cycling. Two heavyweights (not literally) of the sport, Judith Arndt and Marianne Vos, have also lent their support to these issues.

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