"Be the change you want to see" A year on from Rouleur’s women’s issue

An International Women's Day message from writer and presenter Orla Chennaoui

Rouleur made a promise, to me and to you, its readers, after the publication of its first Women’s Issue of the magazine just over a year ago. It was a magazine I had the honour of guest-editing, so I have a vested interest in holding that promise to account.

When Issue 101 became the biggest selling issue in the magazine’s history, as it still is having sold out three times over, executive editor Ian Cleverly vowed that it would not be a one-off; that the editorial team would commit to increased coverage of women’s cycling, engaging more with the millions of female fans of the sport around the world. So where are we? International Women’s Day is as good a time as any to check in on that promise.  

Related: Cover stories, Issue 101

It is with no small amount of relief that I can tell you that, since that record-breaking issue, Rouleur has ensured parity in men’s and women’s race previews, debriefs and newsletters online. In the kind of move that struggles to make headlines or be retweeted as a sign of progress, the team have been sending dedicated, bi-weekly women’s cycling newsletters. In every print issue since 101, there have been three to four key features on women’s cycling, or women in sport. The final, big-impact issue of 2021 led with the retiring superstar Anna van der Breggen on its cover. 

Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2021 (Image: Peter Stuart)

All of this in itself is positive. It is progress. But here’s what excites me even more. Here’s what gets my blood pumping faster in the hope that things are, finally, changing. The fans’ and readers’ response to this increased coverage has been nothing short of immense. One of the most popular stories of the entire year on the website last year, was ‘How Lizzie Deignan became Queen of Hell’. Only three other items attracted a bigger readership. One of those was also female themed and written, my own ‘The V Word’, discussing the taboos of women’s sexual anatomy.

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The Paris-Roubaix Femmes newsletter had the highest numbers of engagement, by both open and click rate, of any in the magazine’s digital history. Indeed, the inaugural women’s Hell of the North and the manner in which it was won, have proven so popular that there can be little doubt of the merits of having finally included it in the racing calendar.

In an Instagram poll of Rouleur followers, over 50% of respondents chose Deignan’s cobbled win as their outstanding moment of 2021. For context, Tadej Pogacar’s second Tour de France victory received one single vote. We’ve been saying it for years in the hope it would be true, but now we know it is; when women’s cycling is given the platform and coverage, the appetite is there. 

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The best thing is that none of this has taken place in isolation. Rather, it is part of a wave of change, a swell of progress that is impossible to ignore. Race organisers such as Flanders Classics, and teams like BikeExchange-Jayco and Trek, are proactively bringing forward parity of prize money and pay, because they can, and because they should.Image: Marthein Smit

Having started The Cycling Podcast Feminin six years ago, producing monthly episodes dedicated to the women’s sport, our listening figures for last year were over three quarters of a million. That’s 751,900 listens to a podcast on women’s cycling. And it doesn’t stop there. I am thrilled to be a part of more women’s racing coverage on Eurosport and GCN than ever before.

Related: The V Word

There are those who will say it’s still not enough, that we need more. We deserve more. These people are entirely correct, and I am one of them. We are still so far from parity of pay and coverage that it sometimes makes me despair. But none of this change has been inevitable. All of it has come as a result of an awful lot of hard work and commitment to a cause. That extra hour of broadcast coverage of a standout Strade Bianche Femme at the weekend? That was two years in the making. Yes, we still only had two hours of racing, but even that would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.  

But here’s the uncomfortable truth; it’s not enough to demand equality from the sidelines and expect others to make it happen. In an age of social media and advanced monitoring algorithms, our opinions and wishes count. Literally. We all need to shout about the coverage there is, to demand more, to consume the current content and fuel demand. Tweet, retweet; post, repost. Click. Watch. Read. It’s never been so easy to have a voice in activism. 

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If we want more women’s cycling, we need to make that want a priority that decision-makers can’t ignore. Trust me, in most cases we’ll be pushing on an open door. There is an awareness in the industry how much things needs to change. And it is changing. But it’s up to each and every one of us to be a part of it. Be the change you want to see. Demand the change you want to be. Together, we will get there. I’ve never been more certain of it. 

Cover image: Marthein Smit