In 2019, The Women’s Tour provided some of the most exciting racing seen all year. Lizzie Deignan had recently returned from maternity leave and was back in full fighting force, storming to the overall victory which made her the first ever two-time winner of the race. From a wet, crazy first stage in which Jolien d’Hoore sprinted to first place, to brutal uphill finishes and nail biting criteriums, it was an edition that only further cemented The Women’s Tour’s position as the UK’s most prestigious female stage race.
The Women’s Tour was cancelled in 2020 owing to the covid-19 pandemic and then postponed again in June 2021. It now will run from the 4th-9th October and include an individual time trial and kermess-style stage for the first time, aiming to provide flat but punchy parcours which will, in turn, lead to open and competitive battles for both stage wins and GC positions. The race has attracted a peloton full of the sport’s biggest names, including all nine Women’s WorldTour teams and four of the race’s previous overall winners. It has all of the ingredients to be a spectacular showcase for cycling, and entice more fans into the sport.
However, there is one caveat: the race will not be broadcast live in 2021. Back in February this year, it was announced that the organisers of the race, Sweetspot, had formed a new partnership with Eurosport and GCN, agreeing to show the event across digital platforms and channels live for the next five years. The announcement pleased fans and riders worldwide – the race would now capture a much wider audience and offer more return for advertisers and stakeholders, as well as help raise the profiles of riders, win-win. Defending champion Lizzie Deignan said: “to add live television coverage will really takes it to the next level.”
Lizzie Deignan of Trek Segafredo wins stage 5 of The Women's Tour 2019 (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
It comes as a big disappointment, then, that The Women’s Tour have changed tack over the last few days, confirming via their website that the race will not have live coverage. Instead, there will be a highlights package shown each evening on ITV4 in the UK as well as Eurosport/GCN globally. Although this is something, it will miss the excitement and anticipation of watching races live and will likely lead to a big loss of engagement from fans who will mostly have seen the final result on social media hours before the evening show.
"We appreciate that fans of the Women’s Tour in the UK and around the world will not be able to watch the race live. We share their disappointment," the organisers wrote. "There is nothing that we would like more than to be able to showcase the fantastic racing, beautiful scenery and great community support that the race receives through a live broadcast," it continued.
No official reasons were given in the announcement for the race’s inability to produce live coverage after they had committed to it earlier in the year. It cited that the past two years have been incredibly challenging for the organisers and said the cancellation of live coverage comes “as a result of commercial realities,” while committing to do their utmost to broadcast the race live in 2022.
Jolien D'Hoore wins stage 1 of The Women's Tour in 2019 (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
For many, this announcement came as a surprise as well as a disappointment. The Women’s Tour have been trailblazers for equality since 2018 when they brought parity to the event’s prize fund with the men’s Tour of Britain, as both pelotons raced for a total amount of €90,000. Such a commitment is unfortunately rare in cycling. For example, the 2019 Tour of Flanders winner, Alberto Bettiol won €20,000 for first place, while the winner of the women’s race, Marta Bastianelli, won only €1,265.
It was refreshing to see such long overdue parity from a race, and The Women’s Tour organisers should get full credit for putting on one of the most well-organised and best designed races in the season. It is just unfortunate that, while each stage of the men’s Tour of Britain was broadcast from start to finish just a few weeks ago, we will not get any live coverage of the women’s equivalent.
It will be a further shame for the race if they lose their status as a Women’s WorldTour event for not producing the required amount of live coverage to obtain this status from the UCI. The rules stipulate that races in the Women’s WorldTour must guarantee live television coverage of at least 45 minutes. When the Giro Donne (previously Giro Rosa) were unable to provide this, they were demoted to the second division of racing.
There has been no announcement from the UCI as of yet about if The Women’s Tour will share the same fate as the organisers have stated their commitment to provide live coverage in 2022. For now, fans of The Women’s Tour will have to make the most of the highlights each evening, but it certainly won’t be the same as watching in real time.
Cover image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com