'Almost unrecognisable' - Yorkshire star Lizzie Deignan happy to see gender gap closing in cycling

Yorkshire's Lizzie Deignan believes cycling is 'almost unrecognisable' in terms of gender equality from six years ago when she highlighted the issue after winning Great Britain's first medal of the London 2012 Olympics.

Otley cyclist Lizzie Deignan.
Otley cyclist Lizzie Deignan.

Deignan was speaking at the launch of June’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour, which for its fifth edition will have an identical prize money structure to the men’s Tour of Britain.

Deignan (nee Armitstead) highlighted the gender gap in the sport after claiming road race silver on The Mall on the second day of London 2012.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The 2015 world champion thinks the transformation is down to the growth of cycling and changes in wider society.

Lizzie Deignan

The 29-year-old Otley racer said: “It’s almost unrecognisable.

“Female cycling is huge now, from participation right the way through to racing. There are domestic teams that function fully, that wasn’t around when I first started.

“There are pathways now for talented riders to make it. It’s hugely improved from when I first started.

“I think it’s because of the popularity of cycling in general in this country, the success of so many British athletes at the Olympics.

Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) before the start of the first Women's Tour de Yorkshire.

“Also because it’s an agenda generally, equality. It’s no longer acceptable for it to be any less than equal.

“The UK is one of the countries that leads that. I’m proud to be British from that perspective.”

SweetSpot, the organisers of both the Women’s Tour and the men’s Tour of Britain, have increased the Women’s Tour prize fund from £49,000 to around £80,000 for 2018.

“The overall general classification winner of the Women’s Tour will receive as much as the winner of the Tour of Britain. In short, every placing is matched pound for pound,” SweetSpot said.

Lizzie Deignan

Deignan added: “The organisers of this race have done an amazing job. It’s grown year on year and the fact we have equal prize money with the men is setting a precedent for any other race.”

The race, which takes place from June 13 to 17, will start in Framlingham, Suffolk and finish in Colwyn Bay, Wales. It will be the first time the race has taken place outside England.

“It’s established itself in a really short amount of time as one of the most important races on the calendar,” Deignan added.

Deignan’s longer-term focus is on the September 2019 and the Road World Championships in her native Yorkshire.

Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) before the start of the first Women's Tour de Yorkshire.

“That’s the main goal on my horizon,” she added.

Deignan had considered retirement to be an option prior to Yorkshire being awarded the championships and she then thought that event would mark the end of her career.

She no longer thinks that will be the case, saying it is “possible” she will ride at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“I used to (think Yorkshire would be her last event), but the closer it gets, the more I reconsider that decision. I’m not sure yet,” she added.

She is married to Team Sky rider Phil Deignan, but insisted the furore surrounding his squad was not something that she thought about.

A Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee report accused Sir Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky and principal Sir Dave Brailsford of “crossing an ethical line” in applying for TUEs for the anti-inflammatory steroid triamcinolone. All have categorically denied cheating.

Deignan said: “It’s not part of my every day. I focus on my career on the continent, riding for my professional team.”