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"For my 5th grade class project, I focused on how professional cyclocross is unequal and what to do about it."

By: Mac Tomkins  February 18, 2020

Last year, while in 5th grade, Mac Tomkins was asked to work on a "Passion Project" in class. He chose to focus on gender inequality in cyclocross for the project. With input from several professional racers, he set out to identify potential problem areas and proposed options for addressing them.

gender equality cx in our own words mac tompkins
Gender Equality in CX Presentation

In the spring of 2019, when I was in fifth grade, my teacher announced that we were doing a project about a passion of ours that has something we want to change. The first thing that came to my mind was cyclocross. I have been racing cyclocross ever since I was on a balance bike and have always loved it. The aspect of cyclocross that I want to change is gender inequality. You can make as many excuses as you want, but men have always been treated differently than women in this sport.

For my project, I focused on how professional cyclocross is unequal and what to do about it. I did research and contacted several people who are involved in cyclocross. Helen Wyman, Ellen Noble, Tim Johnson, Caroline Nolan, and Mary Maroon shared some facts and their ideas with me. I really appreciate their help and support; I couldn’t have done it without them.   

I started my report by explaining to my classmates what cyclocross is. And then I focused on the ways female professional cyclocross racers are not treated equally. Here are some examples:

Historically, sports have been male dominant and consequently, women have not had as many opportunities. Prize money between men and women has been unequal until very recently. It was only with the 2017-18 season that UCI required equal payouts for C1 and C2 races. As a result of this inequality, sponsors haven’t seen the value or return on investment in sponsoring women when men have been making more money. Additionally, the race time for men and women is different: women's races are ten to fifteen minutes shorter than the men’s races. Who really thinks women can’t race for an hour? 

The next thing I focused on is how can we stop gender bias in professional cyclocross. These are the ideas I came up with:

CX World Cup Race times by Gender
CX World Cup Race times by Gender

One of the ways to make cyclocross more gender equitable, that Helen Wyman pointed out, is having parents tell both boys and girls that it is okay to get dirty or do something supposedly dangerous. Another step that can be taken is to convince major promoters and governing bodies to agree that it is time to make cyclocross more equitable for women. This can have a big impact, like allowing women to make a higher minimum salary and get equal payouts. The UCI has already dictated that there has to be at least one woman on every pro UCI team. All we have to do is convince the promoters that it's worth it. We could also try and convince sponsors and promoters that they will still make good income by supporting women in the sport, and making professional cyclocross equal. 

Since finishing my school project, I have been watching the World Cups and DVV series this past year. I have noticed that many of the women’s races finished under 50 minutes and the men’s races were over an hour. I looked at the leaders’ finishing times for 7 DVV and 8 World Cup races. Of the 15 races, only 2 of the men’s races were under an hour. All of the women’s races were less than 50 minutes; only 2 races were longer than 47 minutes. 

I think the women’s and men’s races should be the same length. In my opinion, the women’s racing is way more exciting because there are so many amazing racers that are so evenly matched that you never know who is going to win. They are also very close together, meaning that no one is riding away with every race.

2019 DVV CX Race Times by Gender
2019 DVV CX Race Times by Gender

There are lots of examples of people working on equality. For example, US racer Ellen Noble has a campaign called Bunny Hopping the Patriarchy where she bunny hops the barriers in races and teaches other women to do the same. Ellen Noble is demonstrating that women can bunny hop the barriers and are just as good at it as the men! As long as other people support her, and the other women are bunny hopping the barriers, it will help make the sport more gender equitable. 

It’s encouraging that UCI World Cups are moving toward equal payouts. Also the UCI is now having a junior women's field in the world championships in 2020 for the first time. Another hopeful sign are programs like Helen Wyman’s Helen 100, a race series that provides opportunities for young women in cyclocross. Programs like the Helen 100 are signs of bringing gender equality to cyclocross.

Helen Wyman shared with me that her goal is that in 3 years, cyclocross is completely equal. I really hope that we can all accomplish this together as cyclocross racers -- especially us dudes! 


About the Contributor

Mac Tomkins is a NorCal junior cyclocross racer for Voler/Easton/HRS/Rock Lobster p/b Joseph Kochlacs Wood Products. He is currently in sixth grade and has loved cycling all his life.