Pics or it didn’t happen: RideLondon Classique should be demoted

Contracts or not, the race failed to meet women's WorldTour race standards and should face the consequences.

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For 2023, the hope is that women’s cycling will have progressed beyond Women’s WorldTour race organisers failing to provide live TV coverage of their events.

But then most thought that of 2022, too.

The UCI introduced the Women’s WorldTour in 2016, replacing the ‘World Cups’. Then, when bringing in the two-tier team structure in 2020, a stipulation of securing WorldTour status was for organisers to provide a mandatory minimum of 45 minutes of live coverage – which for multi-day races meant 45 minutes for each stage.

In 2022, 45 minutes of live coverage sounds like a paltry offering but also an easy target for even the most cash-strapped organisers to meet. The consequences of failing to meet this standard were made clear: any race that did not provide live coverage would be demoted.

To that end, the Giro Rosa (now the Giro d’Italia Donne) received a trip to .Pro status for the 2021 season after failing to provide a single second of live broadcast of the 2020 edition.

With new organisers at the helm, the 2021 race, mostly, met standards (with the exception of the queen stage which fell victim to tEcHniCal DiFfIcUltIes – an affliction that seems to mainly curse women’s races) and the event was duly brought back up to the Women’s WorldTour this year.

Also this season, the RideLondon Classique returned post-pandemic. The sprint fest, organised by the same people who run the London Marathon, a massive event, was three stages long, with two pan-flat road stages in Essex and the classique crit finishing down the Mall in London.

Racing-wise, well, it might as well be renamed the Lorena Wiebes Classique for 2023. And although it may have been a snooze-fest to watch it didn’t matter anyway, because we couldn’t. With the exception of the final circuit race we saw not a jot of the first two stages which, per the UCI’s own regulations, means the event should be demoted for 2023. And rightly so.

Shortly after the event, the UCI released a statement in which they were pretty unequivocal in their denunciation of the race:

“At the 2022 edition of the UCI Women’s WorldTour event RideLondon Classique (Great Britain), the event organisers did not provide the required live TV coverage of each stage, but only of the last stage. This constitutes a breach of the UCI Regulations and of the specifications that every organiser of the UCI Women’s WorldTour is required to respect. It is also, first and foremost, an unacceptable lack of respect for the teams and riders involved in the competition.

“For this reason, the UCI Management Committee has taken the decision to make the registration of the event on the UCI Women’s WorldTour calendar for the 2023 season conditional to the presentation of firm commitments concerning the live TV broadcasting of all the stages. In the meantime, the Management Committee has taken the decision to register the RideLondon Classique in the UCI ProSeries class for the 2023 season. For the UCI, daily live TV coverage of the UCI Women’s WorldTour events, which include the most prestigious races in women’s professional road cycling, is fundamental to ensure its continued international development. A final decision on the status of this race will be taken at the UCI Management Committee meeting in September.”

Well here we are, in September, and guess what? The RideLondon Classique has escaped what seemed to be its inevitable fate.

According to a UCI statement released on Friday, the race organisers have “provided evidence of contractual commitments to broadcast all stages of the race live on TV in 2023,” as a consequence: “RideLondon Classique is back on the calendar for the world’s most prestigious events in women’s cycling.”

Cue the eye roll of a thousand women’s cycling fans who have heard empty promises for live coverage on myriad occasions.

And fine, maybe the RideLondon Classique will come back for 2023 and give us live coverage with bells on. But isn’t the point of demoting errant organisers to set an example to others who might try and skimp on coverage?

We should be over the age of agonising over absent, glitchy, or partial TV coverage, but clearly we are not. It’s a refrain on Freewheeling that organisers who can’t provide sufficient live coverage should just accept that they are not cut out for WorldTour status, but the RideLondon Classique’s slap on the wrist sets the wrong example entirely.

I’m all for second chances, but the Giro Rosa treatment should be the precedent, not merely flashing a few promises and contracts to get away with providing zero air time. The only ‘evidence’ that a race organiser will provide live coverage is actually doing so.

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