• Mariana Castillo

Women in cycling

The gender equality debate in a competitive sport


“Gender equality in sport means breaking down the harmful stereotypes that continue to make women less likely to take up sporting activities. It also means promoting women’s advancement as professional athletes and leaders in the sport sector.” (European Institute for Gender Equality)


I find the problem of equal treatment between men and women, particularly in sports and in the 21st century, to be astonishing. At the beginning of October, two cycling races of high difficulty took place in northern France called the Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Roubaix Femmes. The women’s race took place on October 2nd, a day prior to the men’s race. The Paris-Roubaix dates back to 1896 with only men competing and 125 years later women are just being included. The women’s race trajectory consisted of 116 kilometers of racing starting from Denain concluding at the Roubaix Velodrome. The female racers had to compete through sectors of maximum difficulty. Around 30 kilometers of the race consisted of a cobbled road filled with mud due to previous rain; the majority of the racers, both men and women, had fallen from their bikes during this part of the trajectory yet Lizzie Deignan, winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, managed to keep her bike and herself off of the floor. Deignan was able to do an 80+ kilometer attack until reaching the finish line all whilst maintaining a whopping average speed of 39.6 kph. Not an easy thing to do.

Lizzie Deignan on the slippery cobble streets of France. Photo taken Francios Lo Presti


This year was the first time female competitors participated in such a race, yet, they were not given the attention or importance one would think they would receive. The race’s coverage was completely off, the beginning of the race was not covered, and the winning efforts of Lizzie Deignan were unnoticed. This was not the only problem; the prize money that was given to men and women differed. In the words of Dutch cyclist Iris Slappendel, “The prize money is more about the signal [message] organizers send out with it, so if it's only a 20th of the men's, that's a wrong signal."


This map shows the long stretch from Denain to Roubaix. Photo taken from ASO


This issue is important to me since I am part of the sport of cycling and I push myself every day in order to practice cycling at a professional level. It is hard for women to break through a sport considering that they are not treated with the same seriousness men are, and it’s crazy to think that in the year 2021 instances like the Paris-Roubaix still happen and the organizers think they can get away with it.


Many of the challenges I’ve faced are related to entering a male-dominated environment. Breaking into this community was tough; some men don’t take you seriously and harass you by saying that you’re never going to succeed, making you believe that women are incapable of practicing a sport.

I believe this is why there aren't a lot of young women in the biking community and why there’s a lack of young female competitors. It’s no wonder since it is a result of the toxic environment that has systematically kept young women from the sport, either by limiting exposure, creating entrance barriers, or attacking those who persist with sexist and discouraging comments.

Nevertheless, I am determined to follow Lizzie Deignan’s path and not let anything bring me down.

Mid-August, I competed and won the XCO (cross country) National Championship. Photo taken from Federación Nicaragüense de Ciclismo


Click this link to learn more about Lizzie Deignan and how she manages her life as a mom involved in sports.


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