Former world champion Lizzie Deignan has hailed the growth of women’s cycling as the biggest race in Britain begins today.
The expansion of the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour from five days to six days in 2019 mirrors the development the women’s side of the sport has made in the decade or so in which Deignan, nee Armitstead, has forged her career.
The Otley-born rider has always been at the vanguard of the movement to bring equality in her sport, using her position as an Olympic silver medallist and 2015 world champion to advocate the strength of the women’s cause.
But while she believes progress is being made, the business-minded 30-year-old has cautioned that those putting their money into women’s cycling do so with a sustainable model at the forefront of their strategy.
Deignan – who only returned to competitive riding in April following the birth of her first daughter Orla last September –said: “The sport is growing. I took a year out and it felt like five.
“The women’s peloton has grown in strength in depth. There’s more exposure, more teams. We are at a point now where we cannot go back, the media wouldn’t allow it. Too many questions would be asked.
The women’s peloton has grown in strength in depth. There’s more exposure, more teams. We are at a point now where we cannot go back, the media wouldn’t allow it. Too many questions would be asked.Lizzie Deignan
“But the change we have had needs to be sustained. We are not a million miles away, but we are not there yet.
“The business model has to be right and we cannot offer sponsors enough exposure yet.
“My hope is that in 10 years’ time I can watch the women’s Giro on TV and not have to search for it on the internet.
“We need the viewing figures to showcase that there is an audience.”
Deignan was speaking on a visit to Leeds Children’s Hospital last week as part of her role as an ambassador for Leeds Cares, the official fund-raising partner of the UCI Road World Championships.
Deignan is building her season around trying to win the rainbow jersey for a second time, this time on Yorkshire soil, with this week’s Women’s Tour a key tune-up race for her. Contested primarily in the south and the Midlands with a start point today in Beccles, the Women’s Tour carries the same prize money as the men’s Tour of Britain, which is held in the autumn.