Each year, Cyclepassion releases a calendar featuring a carefully selected bevy of female cycling stars from around the world. It includes women from a variety of disciplines – including triathletes, road racers, mountain bikers and track racers – but what they all have in common is that they are as sexy as they are fast. The calendar first caught my attention last year whilst on a mission to find a picture of a girl on a bike. Go figure. My search yielded the usual results – a combination of smiling gals in insipid pink flower jerseys and cheap crappy helmets, and Liz Hatch’s cleavage. So I was pretty excited when I discovered a calendar dedicated to pro women racers.
When I saw the photos, however, I’ll admit I probably did a little subconscious eye roll. The images are typical calendar cheesecake – complete with lots of makeup and little clothing, high heels, and racy (if you’ll excuse the pun) poses. Having said that, there is no denying that cycling does wonders for the ass – the women are fit, strong and gorgeous (if maybe a little oily) and the photos are really sexy. Sure, there is the cheese factor – but Europeans have a slightly different spin on sexy then we North Americans do. I’m not saying it’s better or worse – just more… European.The calendar is two-sided, with the B side offering profiles of the athletes, complete with relevant stats (and by relevant I don’t mean cup size) and cool race photos. While this is a very awesome and important feature of the calendar, let’s not kid ourselves. People aren’t buying it for the stats. The 2013 issue was just released and features photos of lady monsters like Julia Innerhofer, Barbara Benko, Anneke Berten, Sonya Looney, Nadine Rieder, Irina Kirchler, and Kristina Vogel. And you know what’s sad? Until now, I’d never heard of a single one of them. But more on that later.In it’s eighth year now, the calendar (which is the brainchild of German Anke Wilken and lovingly photographed by Daniel Geiger) enjoys some good buzz this time of year – most notably in the very niche market it resides. After eavesdropping on some spirited conversations on Twitter yesterday debating whether the calendar was empowering or demeaning, I have to admit I am torn – because in reality it’s a little bit of both.
It’s been argued that as long as women use their sex appeal to get noticed, they will not be noticed for other things – like being dedicated, kick-ass bike racers, for example. I’m not sure I buy that. Is a woman’s sexuality really seen as being inversely proportional to her intelligence? Or her ability to compete? If the Cyclepassion calendar, and Liz Hatch’s impressive rack along with it, disappeared forever under a sensible turtleneck sweater, would women’s cycling all of a sudden be equal to men’s cycling? No, it would not. Not today, not tomorrow. Not for a very long time, if ever.
Women’s bike racing receives little to no media coverage or public attention, and professional racers are paid a fraction of what their male counterparts are. Is this because every year twelve hot women pose for a sexy calendar? Or because Liz Hatch has a tendency to show off her magnificent rack? Probably not. In fact, I would argue that some people just might have been drawn to watch women’s races because chicks in tight clothes are nice to look at. But I doubt that’s why they keep watching. This years’ Olympic road race proved once again that women’s racing can be just as exciting as mens’ racing. Sometime even more.The reality is, in male-dominated arenas like cycling, sometimes women are left with very little at their disposal to use to any clear advantage. Sometimes, being committed, fast, smart, and nice just isn’t enough. So if our sex appeal is a way to generate interest, attention, and income, shouldn’t we be allowed to use it?
Not all of us have both the palmares and physical assets to be featured in the Cyclepassion calendar, but I was pretty thrilled recently to find a picture of myself on the Girls on Cross Bikes website. I did offer several times to take off my clothes, but Stefan the photographer didn’t think it was a good idea – something about all the kids playing in the area. Whatever.
So what about the men? Well, there isn’t a beefcake cycling calendar out there that I am aware of, and maybe for good reason. I, for one, have no interest in seeing Andy Schleck or Bradley Wiggins half-naked, oiled, and draped seductively over their bikes like boney aliens.That’s not to say some of the guys haven’t tried their, uh… hands at life in the centrefold. Take the suitably oily and habitually naked Mario Cipollini.
And then there’s the always demure Lancypants – who posed for this beauty back before people stopped giving a shit about him.When Victoria Pendleton posed for a similar shot, based on the media coverage and public outrage you’d think she’d announced she’d given up bike racing to be a podium girl.I have no issue with grown women getting their sexy on, whether they are star athletes, grandmothers, or hockey moms. Admittedly there is a time and a place for it – but I’m pretty sure Nadine Rieder doesn’t race or do her grocery shopping dressed like this. I do not believe that in order to be respected a woman has to become some androgynous drone devoid of any sexuality. But nor do I think that taking our clothes off is, or should be the only way we can get noticed for the things which we otherwise excel in.
Do I think the Cyclepassion calendar helps the progressive march of women’s cycling? Well, probably not as much as the growing number of advocates, conferences, events, articles, book and blogs dedicated to that very cause. Do I think it does any harm? No more than pictures of women in insipid pink flower jerseys and cheap crappy helmets. And certainly no more than the doping fiasco which threatens to wipe out the credibility of pro cycling for good.
And finally, would I buy the Cyclepassion calendar? If I was a hot-blooded heterosexual bike-loving man, maybe. I might even spend some time looking at the B side.