New rules put in place by Tucson-based Perimeter Bicycling Association of America will make it significantly harder for women to receive a platinum classification in upcoming PBAA events.
Citing safety concerns, PBAA officials eliminated the additional time given to women to earn platinum status in all of its events including El Tour de Tucson and lowered the platinum times for several events.
In previous years, women were awarded platinum if they finished in under six hours. In 2010, women will have to finish in under five hours — which has always been the platinum time for men.
Finishing a PBAA event under the platinum time requirement has long been considered an accomplishment and offers perks to those riders who complete it with a platinum time, including lining up in front at all of the PBAA events.
PBAA President Richard DeBernardis said the majority of accidents happen in the first few miles and the rule changes are aimed at increasing the safety, especially at the start of the race.
“In bicycle event production the best safety mechanism is to put the fastest people up front,” DeBernardis said. “The people in the platinum group are supposed to be the fastest.”
A rider who finished El Tour de Tucson in just under five hours would have done it in an average speed of 21.6 miles per hour. A woman who finished just before the old six hour mark would have averaged 18 miles per hour.
It is that difference in speed that PBAA officials believe is safety issue.
Barbara Franklin, who is in charge of event registration, brought the platinum issue up to the board when she saw that 25 percent of the Cochise Classic riders finished with a platinum time. She said riders who can keep a high pace throughout the race don’t cause as many accidents.
Franklin said slower riders can cause accidents because, “they just can’t keep it up so they fall off and the guy behind them eats their wheel.”
DeBernardis said the gap between men and women has narrowed significantly since El Tour began.
“Twenty-eight years ago when I started El Tour de Tucson, women were an hour behind men,” DeBernardis said. “Today it is not true. Women are so much faster and can compete with men and can achieve the same level a man can.”
Renee Lawton who completed El Tour in 5:53 last year, doesn’t completely agree.
“For a woman to achieve platinum in under five hours, that is going real fast,” Lawton said
Lawton said 5:30 was a more realistic goal for recreational cyclists like herself.
According to results published on PBAA’s Web site, 694 women completed last year’s 109-mile El tour de Tucson. Of those women, 96 women received platinum based on the old rules, 13.8 percent of total female participants.
If the new rules had been in place, only 14 women or two percent of total female participants would have been awarded platinum.
Last year, 2,961 men completed El Tour, while 409 or 13.8 percent of them received the platinum classification.
“The biggest issue here is the women,” DeBernardis said. “It affects more women that it does men right now. But we looked at the safety factor and we said, ‘regardless if you are a man or woman, we should go according to time and speed.’ If you have a fast time then you should be up in the platinum group and everyone else should be in the gold, silver and bronze.”
The women are going to feel like they are being discriminated against but they’re not, and speaking as a woman, they’re not,” Franklin said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with gender or age. It has to do with speed. It’s not men’s platinum time, it’s platinum time period.”
Rachel Alter, who finished the 2009 El Tour de Tucson in 5:23, said she understands the need for the event to be safe, but said receiving the platinum status was important.
“I felt that accomplishment getting platinum time,” Alter said. “Five hours and 23 minutes would still have been awesome if it was considered gold, but I felt really good about myself for earning platinum.”
“I was fighting the whole time [for platinum],” Lawton said. ” It was really important to me. It was something that was achievable and it was an incredible feeling to be able to say to my friends and family that I got platinum in El Tour.”
According to Franklin, the platinum designation is not an award.
“All these people are like, ‘Platinum is my award, I earned that,'” Franklin said. “Well yes they did, but it’s not a prize — they interpret it as that — but it’s not a prize.”
Unfortunately people have misinterpreted platinum all these years,” DeBernardis said. “They tend to think it is an award you get in El Tour rather than a position place.”
Amber Peterman who finished in 5:08 said she does the ride because she loves it, not because she gets platinum status. She said it the extra time helpful.
“I do like that the women do have a little exception because there are very few women up there in the five [hour] range,” Peterman said. “You are always riding with the men.”
Alter suggested breaking the start up into intervals or having a type of sub-platinum start for women, but according to DeBernardis and Franklin it would pose logistical problems.
“If I did it in any more intervals we would be there all day getting people out,” DeBernardis “Who are the slowest people? They are the ones way back and they will never finish the event if we let them out an hour after we start the event.”
It makes timing a lot more difficult because then you have to classify these people,” Franklin said. “Then you end up having three starts. The platinum, sub-platinum, then the gold people.”
Women who currently have platinum status will retain it for three years from the date they originally received it, but will have to complete the events under the new rules to extend it.
DeBernardis knows people will be upset about the changes, but believes it is the right thing to do.
“We are going to get a lot of people asking us to go back, but we are not going back,” DeBernardis said. “Safety first.”