The Amgen Tour of California kicked off in Long Beach Sunday, and for the first time the state's equivalent to the Tour de France will offer equal prize money to male and female cyclists.
To be more precise, the men's race started Sunday. The women will compete on a shorter, three-stage course beginning later in the week. The lack of parity in the length of men's and women's rides in professional cycling is a matter of contention for some, and that will not change this year, but the purse will be the same for men and women.
The decision was announced at a pre-race press conference on Friday by Kristin Klein, Tour president and executive vice president of AEG Sports.
In addition to awarding equal prize money, the Tour will do away with podium hostesses — the women who stand next to the winners as a kind of stage decoration — and will also drop the tradition of the winner's kiss, Klein said.
These customs have become increasingly unpopular in the cycling world as the #MeToo movement brings intense scrutiny to the mistreatment and objectification of women, and as female cycling begins to attract more fans and media attention in its own right.
The Tour of California, which for the men runs May 13-19 across 645 miles from Long Beach to Sacramento, is the only race in the U.S. included in the UCI WorldTour, putting it in the same company as the prestigious Tour de France, which starts later this summer.
It's not alone in taking a stand on prize money or "podium girls," though. Australia's Santos Tour Down Under and its parallel women's event will dole out equal prizes starting in 2019. The Tour de France announced it will no longer use podium girls, following in the footsteps of La Vuelta a España, according to The Sunday Times. The Tour de France is notably still a men's-only race.
The Tour of California will feature 17 teams of cyclists from across 30 countries. The three-stage women's race covers 188 miles, beginning Thursday in Elk Grove and following alongside the men's race, with a second stage in South Lake Tahoe and a Saturday finish in Sacramento.
The Sacramento Bee put together a list of seven riders to watch. Among the women:
- Megan Guarnier, who hails from San Mateo and rides for USA Cycling's national team
- Katie Hall, from Saratoga, whose team is UnitedHealthcare
- Coryn Rivera, from Tustin, who's riding with Team Sunweb
Men to watch include cycling's No. 1-ranked Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who rides for Team Bora-Hansgrophe; veteran racer Mark Cavendish of Great Britain; and two California riders, Evan Huffman and Peter Stetina.
The Long Beach course covers 83.6 miles, and the race starts at 12:40 p.m. on Mother's Day.