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Last weekend couldn’t have gone any better for Trek-Segafredo, who took the win in both Milan—San Remo with Jasper Stuyven and Trofeo Alfredo Binda with Elisa Longo Borghini—both in spectacular style.
An exciting double-header weekend of racing in Italy with standalone races for the men and women proved that the women’s calendar does not need to follow the men’s model in order to succeed and grow.
On Saturday, some may have wondered why there isn’t a women’s Milano-Sanremo when, increasingly, there are women’s editions of many classic men’s races. Those wondering, however, may not have been aware of Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the longest established standalone women’s one-day race on the calendar—that this year marked its 46th edition.
Standalone women’s races such as Binda are one of the few pieces of history unique to the women’s peloton. Compare the number of editions of any men’s classic to the women’s and it becomes evident that when events speak of their long tradition they are referring only to the men’s race.
Indeed, hosting women’s races separately might actually prove more lucrative and garner even greater exposure, according to CEO of Flanders Classics, Tomas Van Den Spiegel, as he took to Twitter to lay out the challenges his organization faces in the wake of backlash over prize money at one of their races, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As part of a lengthy thread, Van Den Spiegel commented: “When it comes to sponsorship it is not an easy job to sell the women’s races separately, given the fact that they ride mostly the same course on the same day as their male counterparts. In an ideal future the women’s race is a popular standalone event on a different day.”
When it comes to sponsorship it is not an easy job to sell the women’s races separately, given the fact that they ride mostly the same course on the same day as their male counterparts.
In an ideal future the women’s race is a popular stand alone event on a different day.
— Tomas Van Den Spiegel (@tomasvds) March 2, 2021
A women’s Milan-San Remo would not only be unnecessary, a women’s version of Milan-San Remo that took place on the same day as the men’s would not work logistically, even at a reduced distance. Not only would the men’s coverage eat into the women’s, but not even the most dedicated cycling fan wants to sit in front of the television for one second longer once Milan-San Remo is over.
#MilanSanremo Me: I need to go outside and get some fresh air.
Also me: pic.twitter.com/IK25YG3UGb
— Sadhbh O’Shea (@SadhbhOS) March 20, 2021
Milan-San Remo is a purist’s race, steeped in a long tradition. Many have compared it to Test cricket in that it requires the patience and obscure knowledge that would confuse a casual viewer but are thrilling to those who are privy to the nuances of the sport. Men’s cycling can afford this level of obfuscation, but the women’s side of the sport is still vying to be seen as a profitable venture—or just to be seen at all. There is constant action in a women’s race that a passing viewer would understand; in contrast, there exists a website entitled ‘ismilansanremoexcitingyet.com’ which is itself an in-joke.
— Edward Pickering (@EdwardPickering) March 20, 2021
Women’s racing is explosive and aggressive, which makes every second exciting to watch, a significant reason for this is the shorter distances the women’s peloton covers compared to the men’s. A race like Milan-San Remo is the antithesis of that. Trofeo Alfredo Binda, at 141.8 km long, lends itself to the style of women’s racing with its constant attacks and long-range solo hit-outs. In contrast, Milan-San Remo, at 299 km, speaks to the tradition of men’s cycling wherein fans revel in the ‘challenge’ of a protracted lead-in to an explosive finish. That’s not to say that either one is superior; it’s simply a case of horses for courses.
While the women’s side of the sport benefits, to an extent, from leveraging the ready-made popularity of races like Paris-Roubaix and Flanders, if it is to grow, it also must create its own legend, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda is very much a part of that.