USA Cycling announced on Tuesday that it has created a “pro team structure” for women’s cycling. It all sounded a bit confusing. So, let’s see if we can sort it out, shall we?
Without getting on the phone and calling a bunch of people (because this is tumblr after all) here are the key points of the changes and some analysis of their significance.
The easiest to understand change will shift the women’s national championship to the same weekend as the men’s pro championship. Also, the women will race for equal prize money.
This one has been a long time coming. For years, the women raced the “elite nationals” (in Europe known as elite-without-contract), which received considerably less media coverage than the men’s US Pro Championship.
Now, women who are on elite and UCI-registered teams and who carry a category 1-2 license will race the same weekend as the men. The same change applies to the US Pro Criterium championship. Also, I’m just going to go ahead and say, fuckyeah equal prize money!
Under the new rules, the U23 women will get a separate national championship race. In the past, the U23 women raced with the elite women, but were scored separately. Confusing, right? And not especially awesome for the younger women trying to make names for themselves by winning nationals. So now, the U23 women will race the same weekend as the U23 men’s race and have their own chance to shine. This is an important change for developing young riders for the future.
The “pro team structure” is less easy to understand, because in the immediate future, it does not appear to change much of anything. This change is aimed at the future and at building the women’s side of the sport into a more professional and logical structure.
Currently, there is no “pro license” for women. Women race as “elite” and the top license category in the U.S. is category 1 for women. Women’s teams are registered through the national federations in much the same way as men’s continental teams. There are technically no “pro teams,” though obviously, we tend to consider teams such as Specialized-lululemon, Marianne Vos’s not-Rabobank team, and Orica-AIS as professional.
The creation of a “professional team structure” opens the way to offering a “pro license” for women. This would also presumably in time create a more coherent structure for professional teams. As the sport grows, the women could have a separate national championship races for the elite and the professional riders in the same way the men do.
For now, the change sounds intangible and symbolic, but in the long run, it opens the way for the pro teams to become more professional, while the elite non-pro teams serve to develop riders and prepare them for the professional ranks. It also should create a distinction between elite and professional riders, a change that potentially makes the top level more competitve and more straightforward to sell to sponsors.
For now, this measure doesn’t change much. In the future - and it’s unclear what the time frame might be on this development - it almost certainly will.
Last, the USA Cycling announced the creation of a new race category 2.HC. The Exergy Tour will run under this designation. UCI-registered teams and national teams can both race in the 2.HC races.
(Updated! I removed some stuff here about race categories, because I still don’t quite understand the changes that are in place for next season.)