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Commentary: UCI is disrespecting women’s cycling by banning 2022 kits

Rather than trying to become a brand, the UCI should focus more on being a good governing body.

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How to lose friends and alienate people, by the UCI.

Cycling’s governing body didn’t enamor itself to several women’s cycling teams, and the sport’s wider fanbase, this winter when it decided to ban two 2022 team jerseys with just weeks to go before the season gets underway.

To give it some credit, the UCI has done some good work in recent years to push the development of women’s cycling, but it demonstrated a major lack of respect for it with its recent decisions.

VeloNews has tried to get the UCI’s side of the story on several occasions in the last few weeks but has had crickets in response.

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A bit of background.

The Bizkaia-Durango squad — which has had the same blue and dark pink color scheme for years — has had two successive designs rejected as they were considered to be too similar to the dark purple WorldTour leader’s jersey.

The team still doesn’t have an approved design for 2022.

“We have worn pink for the last six seasons, and this has become one of the hallmarks of the team,” the team wrote in a statement last week. “The Union Cycliste Internationale has rejected two different designs of our kit due to their similarity to the UCI Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey.”

The Andy Schleck-CP NVST-Immo Losch team, which had already started producing its kit for 2022, was forced into a last-minute change as the UCI deemed there were too many kits with an orange and purple fade design.

The UCI isn’t wrong, there were four of them announced for next year and jokes abounded on social media that differentiating teams was going to be a nightmare in 2022. Had the UCI been hotter off the mark, it could have nipped this issue in the bud before kits were already under production. However, it waited until all the jerseys were unveiled to strike.

Despite using the same design as it did in 2021 — and being the team with the least amount of money to afford a late change — the Andy Schleck women’s team was the one that had to redesign.

Alongside the wasted money, the redundant kit is not a good signal to send when the world is trying to combat waste in the fight against climate change. Fortunately, the team could sell off the kit and make some of its costs back, as well as saving it from the garbage heap.

The reasoning behind each call was slightly different, but it ultimately boiled down to the same thing: the UCI pushing its brand above all else.

When it should be focusing its efforts on continuing to build women’s cycling, and the sport as a whole, it has busied itself with looking after its own interests.

Color clashing

Though the ultimate reason was the clashing with other teams, the glut of similar-looking kits has happened due to the UCI rejecting anything that looked remotely similar to its WorldTour leader’s jersey.

SD Worx — one of the teams that chose the orange and purple look — was one of many to have a purple kit in 2021 but it was told to change for this year as it was too close to the WorldTour leader’s jersey.

Fair enough, the UCI is trying to protect its brand by ensuring its uniqueness, but should the governing body of cycling be forcing itself as a brand and the sport it is supposed to be supporting?

Does the sport need — or even want — a WorldTour leader’s jersey?

Ok, so there is some merit in having a jersey that denotes the top-ranked rider in the WorldTour standings. Particularly for new fans, having one of the best riders singled out by a jersey certainly helps understanding the sport.

The benefits really stop there.

Last year’s overall winner Annemiek van Vleuten did not hold back in her criticism of it, saying that the jersey damages sponsor visibility. She also bemoaned the lack of reward for leading or winning the competition.

“When you win the world tour you get zero euros for it but you need to wear that jersey,” she wrote on Twitter in response to a comment about Bizkaia-Durango’s jersey troubles.

In June 2021, she also wrote about the jersey: “I race always to try to win races, not to gain points for a jersey (that also takes away attention for team sponsors).”

Van Vleuten’s later comments were in relation to a story following the Vuelta a Burgos, where she retook the WorldTour lead after her second-place finish overall. Interestingly, she chose to hold the jersey up during the podium ceremony rather than wear it.

This changed in later podium ceremonies where she donned the jersey over her kit.

The reasons for van Vleuten’s complaints are legitimate.

Unlike with many leader’s jerseys at races, key team sponsors aren’t affixed to the jersey for the podium ceremony. This means that during an important moment for sponsor exposure, its logos are obscured in favor of a plain jersey that only holds the UCI logo and jersey manufacturer Santini.

Sponsors do get onto the jersey when it’s worn under racing conditions, but the team kit sponsor must fork out the money to make it. If a rider refuses to wear it, the team is fined.

So, the jersey is foisted upon riders and teams with little to no benefit for them and woe betide anyone who tries to design a kit that looks similar to it.

This obsession with pushing a jersey that few in the peloton want is disrespectful and the UCI should be focusing on being a good governing body and not attempting to set itself up as a brand.

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