In June 2019, Tour des Fjords AS (the race organiser for Hammer Stavanger), through the Norwegian Cycling Federation, applied to the UCI for a women’s Hammer race to form part of Hammer Stavanger from 2020 onwards.
The race offer was for full equality with the men’s race on format, parcour, duration, TV broadcasting and prize-money. In early October 2019, Tour des Fjords AS announced this exciting development, which was well received by teams and riders, particularly as the event would offer a great opportunity to showcase women’s cycling with free worldwide live coverage of all three days of racing, start to finish as with all Hammer races.
Tour des Fjords AS, the Norwegian Cycling Federation (NCF), the Hammer Series and Velon, all strongly believed that this would be an important new event to advance equality for women cycling – a belief that was shared by the teams and riders.
The Norwegian Cycling Federation confirmed to Tour des Fjords AS in early October 2019 that the UCI Road Department had included the women’s Hammer Stavanger race in the draft 2020 Road Calendar submitted to the UCI Management Committee for approval.
However, the UCI informed the Norwegian Cycling Federation on 18 October 2019, a week after the formal publication of the calendar, that the UCI Management Committee had refused the application, stating that a women’s Hammer race “was not in the best interest of women’s cycling”. This followed the UCI’s refusal to support Hammer Colombia, announced on 14 June 2019, an event that would also have offered a women’s race which was fully equal to the men’s.
Velon had already filed an anti-trust Complaint against the UCI with the European Commission and has now added an “Addendum to the Complaint” on the grounds of the UCI’s discrimination against women’s cycling. The EC has been asked to adopt interim measures in accordance with Article 8 of the Council Regulation 1/2003/EC, requiring the UCI to amend its 2020 Calendar and allow a women’s race to be staged on 22-24 May 2020 as part of Hammer Stavanger.
The Hammer Series concept, format and business model offer a unique opportunity to establish a truly world class cycling series for women, promoting full equality between men’s and women’s racing, based on a proven successful, innovative and exciting racing format. This is made possible due to the carefully designed structure and format of the events, focusing on competition between teams, racing over shorter distances, involving circuits and of a shorter duration, making it possible to offer the same racing opportunity and exposure for men’s and women’s races each day.
The UCI publicly advocates race organisers to promote greater equality in racing, TV coverage, prize money etc. (even when the UCI Regulations do not require this). In September 2019, the UCI published a “UCI Women in Cycling – Best Practice Guide” with a stated purpose to provide National Federations with the necessary working tools to put in place strategies for the development of women’s cycling.
Very few existing races offer equality for women’s road cycling compared to men. The UCI’s refusal of a women’s race in Hammer Stavanger flies in the face of everything the UCI proclaims regarding the advancement of equality for women’s cycling. Velon and its race partner Tour des Fjords were supported in their efforts to bring a women’s Hammer race to Stavanger by financial partners of the existing race, including the Norwegian Central Government, Stavanger as the Host City and potential sponsors – who all demand greater equality for women cycling. It would seem that only the UCI is against this.
Velon seeks a stable, predictable and fair regulatory environment for the sport that treats the teams, riders and race organisers in equal manner – something the UCI is refusing to provide and has illustrated again with its actions to deny another Hammer race.
Refusing to allow a much-welcomed women’s Hammer event, which would increase the general public’s interest in women’s cycling and grow the sport in a country which has played a leading role in promoting it, is yet another example of the UCI using its regulatory power to block the legitimate business activities of Velon, its partner race organisers and the teams – this time in a manner which discriminates against women’s cycling.
For this reason, Velon has added to the anti-trust Complaint it submitted to the European Commission against the UCI last month, extending the complaint to discriminatory grounds.