EXCLUSIVE! Nicole Hanselmann: "Much progress has been made to treat us more equal"

Swiss rider Hanselmann hit the headlines when she caught the men's race at last weekend's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Nicole Hanselmann gained worldwide attention when she caught the men at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.

The Swiss Bigla Pro team rider launched an early solo breakaway, but the event was neutralised when she came up to the support vehicles of the men's race.

When they set off again, she was soon caught and finished down in 74th.

But Hanselmann is far from downcast and, speaking to Olympic Channel from Italy ahead of Saturday's Strade Bianche, she says the incident was a result of efforts to correct the inequality between women's and men's cycling.

"It was a really well-organised race and they just made a mistake in planning. It's nice for the women to get similar publicity and race close to the men."

Olympic Channel: Tell us about what happened last Sunday.

Nicole Hanselmann: I just attacked on my own and started to catch up with the men's convoy. Then they started to neutralise the women's race. We had to stop for several minutes, and then we could continue.

OC: How did you feel when they neutralised the race? And how can this be avoided in the future?

NH: I felt a bit sad because I was in a really good flow at that moment. But now, I'm actually quite easy about it. I'm not angry. Maybe they just need to put more time in between the men's and the women's race. I don't know.

OC: Some observers have linked the incident with inequality in cycling between men and women. How big is the disparity?

NH: Actually, much progress has been made to treat us more equal. We had team presentations at the same time, they mixed up the men's and women's teams together. And we have similar starting times which is nice for us so we get more publicity.

"Actually, I think it was because of this - how the organisation wanted to treat us equal - that this thing happened."

I think it was a really well-organised race and they just made a mistake in planning. I think it's nice for the women to get similar publicity and race close to the men.

OC: Your fellow Swiss Fabian Cancellara won two Olympic time trial gold medals. You're the top female time trialler in Switzerland. How much difference is there between your treatment and that of the top male Swiss cyclist?

NH: There's a big difference. If you just turn on the TV you only see men's races. Sometimes there are highlights from the women's races. But mostly we have different races in different places, different dates. Actually it helps us to have races like this when we start together.

Nicole Hanselmann competing in the individual time trial at the 2016 World Road Race Championships in Doha
Nicole Hanselmann competing in the individual time trial at the 2016 World Road Race Championships in DohaNicole Hanselmann competing in the individual time trial at the 2016 World Road Race Championships in Doha

OC: Obviously the men have the Tour de France but there is no women's equivalent. How important would a women's Tour de France be?

NH: I think it would be really nice for us to have a Tour de France because it's just a really high prestige race. If we do similar courses or the same races, the image of women's cycling would increase. And elsewhere they just don't know what kind of races we do.

OC: But you think the situation is improving?

NH: I think generally it's in a changing process now. You see there are more men's teams involved in women's teams and it's getting more together right now. But I'm an athlete so I'm not that much involved in the process.

"I think it has a lot to do with respect. We have to respect the performance of both genders."

It's kind of difficult because we have different races, different distances. So if we get more similar races, same sections in the race, it helps us a lot to close this gap and I think we are on the right track.

OC: What are your thoughts on Tokyo 2020?

NH: We have to get a spot for Switzerland to get any riders there, and that's my goal.

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