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University Research to Help Boost Women's Cycling

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Tomorrow, the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain will lead off for its first stage, in Oundle, Northamptonshire.

As the first elite UCI ranking stage race to take place in the UK, it marks a significant step forward in the journey towards greater parity between the men’s and women’s branches of the sport.

The event is certainly not short of big name stars, with the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, widely regarded as the greatest-ever female cyclist, set to take part, alongside a host of big names from the sport. But as women’s cycling gains traction at the elite level, will this effect trickle down to the thousands of clubs that are the custodians of the sport at a recreational level?

Research currently under way at the University of Worcester is analysing the factors affecting women’s involvement in cycling, and seeking to identify the barriers that currently keep female participation figures well below that of their male counterparts.

Danielle Stephens, from the University’s Institute of Health & Society, who is undertaking the research, says there have already been some interesting results: “You’d think women’s numbers are lower because they want different things from sport, but this research shows that women’s motivations for participating in cycling are largely the same as men’s, which raises the question, why the big difference in participation levels?”

Danielle is working closely with cycling clubs across the country to analyse what it is in the sport that still seems to make it harder for women to take part. Her research considers the role of club culture, the provision of equipment, and the media discourse surrounding the sport.

She adds: “My research still has some way to go, but we’re seeing some interesting results already. The portrayal of women cyclists in the media, the provision of appropriate women’s equipment in retail, and the general culture of some amateur clubs all seem to be playing a part.”

But Danielle is keen to stress that there seems to be no lack of willingness on behalf of the clubs to get on top of this issue. “The clubs themselves have been great,” she said. “Many have willingly participated in my research because they want things to improve. They want to help get more women involved in the sport, they just don’t know how, or what to change. When this analysis is finished, we should all have a better idea of how to improve things.”

Danielle has already had expressions of interest from many clubs and regional governing bodies for cycling, who are keen to implement the findings of her research, once completed, in an effort to further boost the numbers of women in the sport.

Whilst she recognises the value of events such as the London 2012 Olympics and forthcoming Women’s Tour of Britain for raising the profile of women’s cycling, she feels there is more work that needs to be done at the grass roots if recent gains at the elite level are to filter down. “London definitely provided a boost, and hopefully the Tour of Britain will too, but there’s a lot of work to do at a recreational level if women are to see these elite riders as relevant role models who can inspire them on to their bikes,” she said.