Trek Bicycle Corporation made headlines earlier this year when they announced they'd be paying equal prize money to the male and female winners of the Cyclocross World Cup race they hosted at their headquarters in Waterloo, WI, this past weekend — the first time in the history of the sport that women would be paid as much as men for racing the same course at the World Cup level.
A quick primer on cyclocross (also referred to as CX or simply 'cross): It's a mostly off-road type of bike racing in which riders cover terrain including but not limited to grass, dirt, snow (!), gravel, sand, and some occasional pavement. Races are generally one hour around a 1-2 mile loop, which includes both man-made and natural obstacles like ramps, boulders, logs, and "barriers." The most skilled riders can "bunnyhop" these barriers, while many riders choose instead to dismount their bikes at near full speed and carry their bikes over the obstacles. The sport originated at the turn of the century in France (fun fact: the 1910 Tour de France winner credited his victory to off-season training in cyclocross), but has been growing in popularity in America largely since the mid 1990s.
Ok, back to Wisconsin 2017. Trek announced in June they'd be paying the same purse amounts to the male and female winners, much to the chagrin of other World Cup race organizers. "There was speculation and feedback in the race organizer community, some more vocal than others, that it could make other race organizers uncomfortable or feel pressured to do the same," says Trek's Brand Manager, Eric Bjorling. Trek's response? Deal with it.
"We were not going to go downstairs and tell our female coworkers that we were organizing a race with a pay discrepancy," says Bjorling of the meeting in which the company unanimously voted to offer equal prize money. "We have a lot of female decisions makers here, and we have daughters, and we want to be on the right side of history . . . There's nothing revolutionary about common sense."
In a press release announcing their decision to increase the women's prize money to achieve parity, Trek stated that "Athletes are athletes. Gender, race, size, shape, and ability do not determine a person's value. Desire, ambition, goals, dreams, and heart are not defined by looks. Every person should have equal opportunity to fulfill their potential, and should be equally rewarded for doing so."
The women of cyclocross felt it was about time. "I'm really proud of Trek for stepping up," said 13-time US National Champion, Katie Compton. "It's a been huge discrepancy between what the men get and what the women get . . . I've been frustrated for a long time." Compton recalled taking home 12,000 Euros when she won one of her World Cup Overall titles, while the male winner took home 50,000 Euros.
Union Cycliste Internationale, the sports's governing body, currently dictates that the men's World Cup winner earns 5,000 Euros, while the women's prize for first is only 2,000 Euros. The 40th place male racer gets the same amount as 11th place woman. "Europeans, God bless them, but they can be so old fashioned," says Bjorling. Trek paid both the top male and female finishers 5,000 Euros on Sunday, voluntarily paying the female finishers 39 percent higher than is mandated in order to achieve equitable pay.
Sophie de Boer, a Dutch racer and last year's Cyclocross World Cup Overall winner, remarked, "If there's more money in the sport, more women can do it professionally, and if more women can do it professionally then the level of racing will increase. I really like what Trek is doing now, saying that gender doesn't decide if you can be a professional or not. I really hope in the future it's not even a discussion anymore."
I did not like the heat today @TrekCXCup BUT I did like the EQUAL pricemoney!!! Another big step forward and Im really happy to see (1/2)— Sophie de Boer (@ssophiedeboer) September 24, 2017
big sponsors as Trek step up the game. Another progression for women's cycling. We have to keep moving forward 👏🏻🚀 Thank you @TrekCXCup(2/2)— Sophie de Boer (@ssophiedeboer) September 24, 2017
Ellen Noble — who earned her first World Cup podium spot with a third place finish at the Trek CX World Cup on Sunday began using the hashtag #bunnyhopthepatriarchy on Instagram in the weeks leading up to the race, celebrating the victory for women's cycling on the heels of similar pay discrepancy battles in tennis, soccer, and hockey, to name a few.
UCI has yet to require equal pay for women at the World Cup level, but perhaps future race organizers will follow Trek's "costly" precedent and eventually force their hand. The path to pay equality may be paved with barriers, but it turns out that female cyclists are bunnyhopping right over them.