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Money versus Ethics

A recent discussion via Twitter ensued from this question, posed by the fabulously sharp-witted FestinaGirl:

@festinagirl Women’s cycling has all the panache the men’s sport has largely lost – why is that? Money? Attitude?

A few twitterati suggested the reason as less money in women’s cycling. One argument can be made for this point: less money means less incentive to dope (and frankly, less ability to afford the doping in the first place). While logical, this argument bears insidious implications, and I want to expand on the topic (beyond 140 characters) to discuss why.

Claiming lack of funding as the reason for cleaner racing the women’s peloton perpetuates a low standard for women by justifying less sponsorship, lower salaries and less prize money. Keeping money out of women’s cycling IS NOT SAVING WOMEN’S CYCLING. It is not a solution that will “save the women from the fate of the men,” and the idea that we need to be protected from more money is downright absurd.

Doping presents far less of an issue in women’s cycling than men’s, because we have a different history, one that has grown from different foundations into a completely separate culture of ethics.

Men’s cycling began largely as a blue-collar sport, a way for those born into a hard life or one of manual labor to earn more respect and more livable wages for themselves and their families. The stakes are understandably high when the social standing and survival of one’s family depends on results. In contrast, women’s racing got going in earnest during a time when sport was more widely available to all social classes as a leisure activity, when participation was truly a choice, rather than the only option available for advancing oneself or one’s family. Women started racing because they wanted to race, not because it was the only way out for them. (I think this is also part of why the younger generation of riders in the men’s peloton have a stronger anti-doping ethic: they also started racing for the love of racing, not as a means of escape.)

Yes, we women are competitive. Yes, we want to win. You might even hear women say they’d give anything to race at the top – and they do, but in the culture of women’s racing, “giving anything” means giving up years worth of earning potential in a more (read: actually) lucrative field, a “real” career, having a family, or the notion that anyone in our lives will ever understand why we do this… in this culture, “giving anything” does not mean sacrificing ethical standards.

I am not claiming women cyclists are saints, nor that the women’s peloton is 100% clean (nor do I want to or mean to vilify any men cyclists). What I am saying is that the culture for clean racing runs strong in women’s cycling, and that perhaps the shorter history of women’s cycling has allowed for a different ethic to thrive, without the burden of cultural inertia from a longer, darker past.

Personally, it outrages me to hear people ask “How can we invest more in women’s cycling without causing the problems we see happening in men’s cycling now?”

Seriously? Folks, money does not cause doping! Plenty of men cyclists chose and continue to choose NOT to dope even though it means a lower paycheck. If money were the only consideration, this would not be the case. Further, plenty of men who rake in big paychecks don’t dope. Sure, in some cases there may be a correlation, but correlation is not causation.

Far stronger than the pull of money is the underlying culture of ethics. Financially supporting a culture of poor ethics will exacerbate and encourage poor ethics, as has been clearly demonstrated by the recent USADA report.

But it also stands to reason that investing in clean riders will encourage, strengthen and exalt good ethics!

No bones about it: women’s cycling needs more money to grow and develop, and to invest in women’s cycling is to invest in and help perpetuate a culture of high ethical standards.

Most sponsors first get involved in the sport by supporting men’s teams, but many potential sponsors are worried about all the bad press swirling about at the moment. Why not start bringing sponsors to the sport through women’s cycling? Doing so would actually help the men’s side of the sport too: when the whole pie gets bigger, everyone’s piece gets bigger. Get sponsors excited about the sport through good experiences with women athletes and women’s teams, and they’ll be psyched to grow their relationship with the sport as a whole.

I am not casting this in a men-versus-women light; rather I’m taking a realistic look at the big picture: sponsors are pretty luke-warm toward the current climate in men’s cycling, so instead of accepting that and watching potential sponsors walk away from the sport altogether, why not encourage them to get involved in another, very positive way? Invest in teams committed to clean racing, support clean riders, and get on board with the many inspiring women’s programs out there!

And for the love of pete, STOP this narrative that investing money in women’s cycling will somehow ruin it. Money is precisely what women’s cycling needs to progress; the passion, professionalism, people, ideas and motivation are all there.

Investing money in women’s cycling will advance a culture of strong ethics and deep passion for sport, and the many interesting, dedicated and professional athletes and personnel already making it happen.

[For ideas on marketing women’s cycling, click here to read my previous post.]

Thanks for reading,


Amber Pierce – An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.

Amber’s path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.

Follow Amber on Twitter: @ambermalika








  1. Probably a detail, but I’d like to point out that standards of literacy and education seem to be much higher in women’s cycling than in men’s cycling. Consider these miscellaneous quotes from your last two posts:

    – “the spirit of continuing constructive dialogue”
    – “in many aspects: physiologically, culturally, socially”
    – “yet to be optimally (or for that matter, even appropriately or effectively) leveraged”
    – “the burden of cultural inertia from a longer, darker past”
    – “correlation is not causation”

    Is there even a single male professional cyclist who writes like that? As far as I know, none, not even one. If there is a male cyclist writing like that, I’d like a link to their collected works.

    Not sure if there’s any marketing potential here, but seems women cyclists could as a group write in circles around male cyclists. If it were a race, the women could drop phrases along the way like “correlation is not causation”, and leave those men spinning aimlessly behind, totally baffled.


  2. Chris – a most excellent argument! I could not agree more. Now, more than ever, brands need to look to creating not only brand exposure and “eyeball impressions,” but more importantly, an emotional connection with their consumers and clients. It is not enough to simply be well-known anymore; a brand must also align itself with broader values, specifically those shared by their relevant demographics. This in turn will serve to connect the brand more strongly with the target demographic in a positive, win-win manner. Partnering with cycling teams that uphold all of the good and beautiful and positive characteristics of sport will connect those characteristics to the brand, ultimately creating a socially-embedded brand-specific “culture.” Take Nike, for example: it isn’t just a brand, but a philosophy – Just Do It. Cycling offers exactly the qualities necessary to create such a brand culture, the long-term potential of which is mind-boggling! Folks, if you or someone you know is looking for a fresh and effective way to develop your brand, start reaching out to some of the great cycling programs just itching to make it happen for you!

  3. When sponsors support women’s cycling teams, they allow for the development of not just strong female athletes but also strong female role models for cyclists ranging from casual and amateur cyclists up to fellow professionals; in turn, more people (both men and women) would be inspired to take up the sport for the first time or develop more seriously within it, which would likely necessitate more equipment purchases (direct sales) and participating in organized events (exposure to brands and marketing). If sponsors engage entire demographics by encouraging and empowering them through cycling, the Return on Investment extends beyond the value of just mere dollars spent on their teams. As Sarai Snyder explained in her article, “Women In Cycling: Why We Matter,” women are change makers, powerful influencers (especially regarding financial matters), and great ambassadors of the sport who are likely to share their experience with others. In other words, sponsors can increase the number of people engaged in the sport by appealing to women, which can translate into a larger target market audience for their products, even for products not specifically related to cycling. The business side of cycling and the community side of cycling would both benefit. The culture of sponsorship and the culture of cycling are closely linked and can mutually impact each other.

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