Emakumeen Bira organisers angered by California date change

Last week’s news about the Tour of California women’s race concentrated only on the fact the race had been cut from four to three days. Apparently no one noticed it had also changed dates, now clashing with Emakumeen XXXI Bira, the Spanish stage race promoted to the Women’s WorldTour for 2018.

While losing race days is not good news, having two overlapping top level women’s races is arguably worse. The Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered by SRAM (to give the race its full, rather unwieldy moniker) is now highly unlikely to live up to its billing “showcasing the world’s best women cyclists” next year.

And neither will Bira.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) attacks during the Stage 3 of the 2017 Emakumeen Bira Photo ©Balint Hamvas/Velofocus

When published some months ago, the UCI’s original Women’s WorldTour calendar showed the Tour of California women’s race would run four stages between May 10th and 13th. Last week ASO – the same people who organise the Tour de France – announced the race would now finish on May 19th. The day Bira begins.

Simultaneous events serve to confuse the WorldTour calendar, creating a situation which cannot be good for teams and sponsors, even riders. And remember, women’s team rosters are small: riding two programmes is nearly impossible.

Indeed, over the years this has been recognised, and the clash will be the first time two events forming part of the UCI’s top women’s race series have overlapped. That includes the World Cup which preceded the Women’s WorldTour between 1998 and 2015.

Spanish organisers are understandably angry, fearing – probably rightly – a reduction in the overall standard of riders at their event. Not only have similar circumstances befallen the race previously, adding insult to injury they had already shifted their start date from Thursday to Saturday to accommodate teams travelling from America.

“Now these plans are not valid. What can we do now?” organisers told me in an email exchange. “The UCI Road department contacted us through our Spanish Federation to consult us, but they have decided [on] this change without our knowledge. We were informed by a friend.

“The UCI don’t respect us, we are very annoyed. There are some teams telling us they will come to our race, but this does not matter, women’s races need better treatment.”

Simply switching dates is not possible for Bira, with domestic Spanish races ruling out a swap to California’s original dates. Running it over the following weekends would adversely impact Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, itself re-scheduled for 2018 with the help of UCI to prevent a clash with La Course – another ASO race.

I understand Bira will retain its current dates.

But why the change?

Local organisers in California, AEG sent me the following statement for a piece I was writing for Cycling Weekly.

“We always run the women’s race within the larger window of the men’s race. We determined that the best race and course for the women was a three day event. The UCI was aware of our schedule and it is an approved race as part of the WorldTour.”

Not a whole lot of help. Maybe they feared a reduced field because of the Commonwealth Games? Perhaps running the event concurrently with the men’s event increases the number of roadside fans and exposure gained.

With Bira apparently the innocent victim, this situation looks bad for the Tour of California and the UCI. The former for being the big organiser who gets their own way, the latter for allowing the change.

Whatever, the clash of races has the potential to damage both races and the UCI’s flagship road series.

Let’s hope not.

NOTE: One week after this blog was published the UCI responded as follows.

“The organisers of the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM always link the women’s race to the men’s race, with both events running concurrently and concluding in Sacramento. The UCI regrets the overlap with Spain’s Emakumeen Bira race, but in the pursuit of the globalization of the UCI Women’s WorldTour it is important to maintain a UWWT stop in the USA. For future seasons, we aim to avoid calendar conflicts of events whenever possible.”

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