Data sciencing women's cycling, pt 1

Posted by Amelia Barber on Sunday, August 4, 2019

(Title image featuring the one and only Marianne Vos from the 2019 Giro Rosa. ® Getty Images)

I am passionate about women’s cycling, so I thought what better way to christen this blog with a post combining my love of women’s cycling and data science. Women’s cycling is every bit as competitive and entertaining as men’s cycling, yet these athletes continue to struggle for equality and recognition in a male-dominated sport. There is still no minimum wage for professional female cyclists, and many of the elite women struggle to make a living through cycling. Half of the women in the sport earn less than 10,000 EUR a year, and 17% received no salary at all in 2017.1 For comparison, men on UCI professional teams are guaranteed a minimum wage of 26,000 - 39,000 EUR depending on division, pro continental vs. world tour

This is post is part one, focusing on the rider demographics of the elite women’s peloton2. Part two, looking at the relationship between age and number of seasons on rider ranking can be found here.

Raw rider data was scraped from the website of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for professional cycling in August 2019. If you are data science-inclined and want to explore the code used to generate this post, it can be found here. Analysis and plots were done in R and interactive plots were made using Plotly .

Exploring the riders of women’s professional cycling

For this entire analysis, I am focusing solely on cyclists competing in the road discipline, but there are additonal athletes competing in other disciplines. So, just how many female professional cyclists are there?

As of 2019, there are 567 riders competing on professional women’s road teams, up from 234 in the first year data was available from the UCI (2005).

We also see an increase in the number of teams over time tracking the increase in riders from 22 in 2005 to 46 UCI-registered women’s teams in 2019 (data not visualized).

However, the number of female riders pales in comparison to the total number of men listed as part of UCI professional teams (all tiers: continental, pro continental, and world tour), where there were over 3000 male rider in 2019 compared to 567 for women.

Where are the riders from?

Italy represents the largest proportion of the peloton and has stayed consistently so at around 15% of riders for the entire duration of the dataset. The cycling powerhouse that is the Netherlands also represents a sizable portion of the women’s field at around 10% (though in 2005, Dutch riders made up 22% of the women’s peloton!)

Some countries, such as the US, have seen large growth in women’s cycling over the past 15 years. US riders made up only 1% of the professional peloton in 2009 and increased up to 13% in 2016. Other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland (not highlighted on the graph), have seen reductions in the relative proportion of riders.

Another way to visualize this is with an interactive map indicating the number of professional riders from each country3

Data shown for 2018. Map is interactive so zoom in, move it around, and explore. Draw a box to zoom in, double click to zoom back out. You can also select ‘pan’ from the top bar to drag it around.