A Texas Cup that Strives for Equality
Has gender equality in prize payout finally arrived for Texas bike racing? A few good men are seeing that it does.
photography by Michael Johnson
"In the beginning the bar was kind of high and not every race was in the cup. Over time everyone elevated their game and eventually pretty much every race was part of the Texas Cup which has led to some criticism the past few years that the Texas Cup has become more of a windshield award, meaning whoever is willing to drive the most wins, rather than a selective race series."
This is just a brief summary of the Texas Cup — a competition where riders earn points in road races across the state — as told by TXBRA (Texas Bike Racing Association) Vice President, Andrew Willis.
The Texas Cup was established in 2000 and at the end of each year awards the top three winners in each recognized category. Willis, who assumed the position late last year and is a long-time race director of the Holland Racing Driveway Series, has been working with USA Cycling and the TXBRA board of directors to restore the bar and establish a Texas Cup that offers equal payouts for male and female bike racers.
In 2016 the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) established full gender equality in terms of prize money by agreeing to introduce equal reward for men and women in the team time trials at the UCI Road World Championships. This was a big step for cycling, which was behind in almost every sport including running, basketball and even golf.
In America, however, independent cycling races have not necessarily followed suit.
In 2018, across the board, Texas bike race prize purses were still rewarding male cyclists with a much higher payout rationalized by a higher turnout of male racers. On average, race registration is double for men versus women at races. This is usually countered with a lower entry fee for female racers to justify a lower payout.
Willis and the board at USA Cycling are actively working to overhaul some elements of the Texas Cup and make it a series of races that highlights the best events in Texas.
“We have not yet finalized all of the changes unfortunately,” Willis says. “But one element the board is in full agreement on, is parity for men and women's payouts across all categories.”
This fairly abrupt stray from tradition may be a drastic change for female and male racers alike, as well as race directors. Men who have traditionally been paid out higher will find their race money cut — for some categories it will be slight, but others might be eliminated altogether. This change most affects professional racers who depend on prize money and sponsors for income.
Heath Blackgrove, veteran Austin cyclist and captain of the international men’s professional team, Elevate- KHS knows that with this change his team may be taking home less prize money, but is nonetheless a proponent for parity.
“Equal payout is a great step toward gender equality and to growing womens cycling,” Blackgrove says. “I really hope it encourages more women to get into the sport, increasing their numbers and numbers in general is what we all want to see. Anything that can help the sport grow and bring in new interest is a win.”
Women racers are of course ready for the change. Historically, female cyclists have been racing for love of the sport rather than prize money, but the chance for equality has been long awaited.
Carolyn Defoore, a two-time US Masters Road National Championships gold medalist, races for the Austin-based all-female cycling team, Wolfpack p/b Hyperthreads.
“I am very proud of Texas for taking this initiative,” Defoore says. “People consider Texas, California and Colorado to be the strongholds of cycling in the United States, and the example we set will no doubt be followed. Cyclists who want to see the sport thrive understand the power behind parity.”
Non-local racers who travel internationally to race are pleased with these changes as well — even if they’re not vying for the Texas Cup.
“Equality for women in bike racing is an important topic, and a tough one too,” professional cyclist Gwen Inglis says. “Some might argue that women’s fields are much smaller than men’s, so they don’t deserve equal prize money. Yet many women train and race at least as hard as men; many even harder. Women deserve the opportunity to be rewarded for it just as much as men do.”
Inglis and other female racers usually take home a meager financial prize. This year they hope to take home more than bragging rights.
“‘Gender equality’ in cycling is not just about equal payouts (or salaries) — it’s also about equal opportunities and challenges (e.g. competitive courses), media coverage, etc.”
Race promoters arguably face the biggest hurdles in undertaking the equality transition. For many, this may mean less revenue, new rules and unexpected expenses. And in some cases, a change they may not be ready for. It’s still too early in the season to determine how race directors will react. Only a few races have put the new rules into place, notably the ones directed by Wills. Another early race that has embraced the change is Pace Bend.
“We decided to shake things up and do away with payout inequality before we knew that TXBRA was going to require it” says Todd Reed, founder of the local nonprofit, Boneshaker Project, which hosts the biggest road race in Texas, Pace Bend Road Race.”
The cycling race, held in Pace Bend Park in Spicewood has been a favorite race for amateurs and professionals alike for over 20 years. Always a Texas Cup member, the race became a fundraiser for Boneshaker Project’s mission to inspire kids to lead active, healthy lifestyles seven years ago.
Last year, the one-day race expanded to include two days of racing for over 800 cyclists from Texas and beyond. This year’s race (held at the end of February) will offer equal payouts and a community ride for all levels of cycling enthusiasts.
“We’re proud to qualify as a Texas Cup Race and be a leader within the industry,” Reed says. “We hope the success of this race will inspire other local races to follow suit.”
“I always encourage anyone who wants to make change happen — those who embrace parity in sport, men and women alike — to go the extra mile,” Defoore adds. “ Support the races with equal pay by signing up to race, donating or volunteering. Do what you can to make sure the races that empower the entire cycling community flourish, and maybe eventually the change will become the standard.”
Pace Bend Road Race is one of the first races of the 2019 season, but follow the race schedule (below) to see how other races react. It might be controversial, but, in the words of TXBRA board member, Jeff Lucidio, “Change is needed in Texas racing — and change is a good thing!”
Texas Road Race
JAN 19 Tommy Ketterhagen Memorial Race, Bertram
FEB 2-3 Cedar Hill Race Festival, Cedar Hill
FEB 9-10 Davy Crockett Classic, Houston
FEB 23-24 Pace Bend Road Race, Spicewood
MARCH 2-3 La Primavera at Lago Vista, Lago Vista
MARCH 23-24 Tour of Corsicana, Corsicana
MARCH 30 San Marvelous Road Race 1, Bastrop
MARCH 30 Sun City - USA Crits, El Paso
MARCH 31 Jesuit Ranger Roundup, Celina
APRIL 7 Fayetteville Classic, Fayetteville
APRIL 13-14 Matrix Challenge, Dallas
APRIL 20 San Marvelous Road Race 2, New Braunfels
APRIL 22 Jacob's Well Road Race, Wimberley
MAY 5 Houston Grand Criterium, Houston
MAY 18 San Marvelous Road Race 3, New Braunfels
MAY 18-19 Hempstead Time Trials, Hempstead
MAY 24 Bike the Bricks, McKinney
MAY 25-27 DFW Area Criteriums, Dallas
JUNE 15 San Marvelous Road Race 4, New Braunfels
AUG 23-25 Hotter 'N Hell, Wichita Falls
SEPT 8 Chappell Hill Bank Road Race, Chappell Hill