The Women’s Herald Sun Tour provides inspiration, and is a much-needed start according to top women’s sports leader.
The path is clear, and the gears are now clicking in for Australian women’s cycling, according to former national champion and 2018 Jayco Herald Sun Tour commentator Bridie O’Donnell. The women’s sports leader claims the move to include the inaugural event in our oldest stage race helps ‘validate the careers of local and international professional female riders’
‘It’s a really big step forward for women pro-cyclists, and when an event raises its rankings or aspirations it sends a very clear message – the athletes competing and the people running the event want to showcase the performances and acknowledge they’re amongst the best in the world’
The recently appointed Head for the Office of Women in Sport and Recreation for the Victorian Government is passionate about this new race delivering many layers of benefit.
‘When women see something they realise they can be it as well, and this cycling tour comes on the back of the explosion in AFLW and women’s cricket and means young girls can say “Yes, I want to grow up and be a pro-cyclist or a cricket player and earn a living doing what I love’
She’s excited about the increased television exposure for women across the summer of cycling and is keen to be behind the microphone with world class commentators Matt Keenan and Phil Liggett.
‘To be able to explain to the audience the different capabilities women cyclist have is important, because they’re not just a slower, smaller version of male cyclists. They have different physiology, we don’t compare male and female marathon times, so I think the right media exposure and commentary delivers this amazingly insightful package that promotes women’s cycling as its own entity’
The calibre of world class talent in the Women’s Herald Sun Tour, presented by Let’s Go Motorhomes, has O’Donnell awestruck
‘It’s fantastic Annemiek van Vleuten rides for Mitchelton-Scott, a team owned by Australians with Australian sponsors. She’s the number one rider in the world, currently wearing the Time Trial world championship rainbow jersey – to have her here is terrific.’
But it’s more than just the Dutch superstar or those Aussies already riding for top trade teams, the flow on effects are enormous for the emerging crop of local hopefuls.
‘At the next level of national teams and NRS teams that have an invitation to ride in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, for those young riders to be in the peloton learning from the best in the world is amazing. When I was racing in the peloton I was always thrilled to say “there is Marianne Vos or there’s Judith Arndt” and the riders now are no different, they want to be inspired and work hard to be like their idols.’
While there is a way to go before complete equality, O’Donnell acknowledges the move to be embraced by Australia’s oldest stage race needed to happen.
‘This is long overdue and I think fans have often asked when there will be women’s race, and while there is a bit to go for parity in stages this is a terrific start. It’s really important to deliver both male and female cyclist to our passionate fans, and what they want to see is great racing and great events – they don’t care if it is a man or a woman.’
The former time trial star thrilled with the course diversity on January 30 and 31.
‘The road race first at Healesville will showcase some great climbers and overall athletes, while the short, technical and fast time trial in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD will be a wonderfully spectacular afternoon and provide a real buzz. When I did a prologue for the Giro d’Italia in the middle of Milan it was terrific, on the tight corners with crowds lining the normally car-choked roads, it’s a very exciting atmosphere for the riders – I’m sure this stage will deliver that for our girls and crowd’.
And the move to include women has a financial impact, O’Donnell pleased commercial sponsors are seeing the merits of female cycling and their stories and personalities get a chance to shine through.
‘As we have seen in women’s sport of recent, excellence doesn’t look at gender it just looks at great performances’
And she expects plenty of those later this month.
There’s free family activities before the start of each of the tour stages – See it live!
Jan 30 – Healesville – Women’s Road 123.5 km Road race starting 10.30 am
Jan 31 – Alexandra Gardens to Southbank – Women’s 1.6 km Time Trial – from 4pm