Cascade Cycling Classic organizers took pride in the fact that for the past six years the Central Oregon stage race was one of the few major cycling events in the country to offer equal prize money for men and women racers.

That changed when both races were sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) for this year’s event, which started Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

According to the technical guide for the race, the total prize purse for the pro men is $23,979, with the overall winner earning $2,951. The total prize purse for the pro women is $8,025, and the overall winner gets $225.

Molly Cogswell-Kelley, events director for Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, which puts on the race, said Wednesday that “it’s completely inequitable.”

“It’s an insult to women, it really is,” she said. “Had we known this, we wouldn’t have gone UCI.”

The staggering prize difference prompted CCC organizers to post a statement on the race website this week explaining the reasons, which included restrictions placed on the distribution of prize money by the UCI, the world governing body for cycling.

And the issue was just one of many that led longtime race director Chad Sperry to announce he is stepping down after this year’s race and the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation to decide the pro men’s race will not be sanctioned by the UCI in 2018.

“The prize money minimum amounts are mandated by the UCI,” Sperry explained in the statement. “When we first started working on the prize list for the pro men and women’s races, we went to USA Cycling (and UCI) and begged for a variance that would allow us to take the men’s prize money and give it to the women to make it an equal purse. The UCI denied our request. So, we went back to the women’s prize money and increased it by 20 percent of the minimum across the board.”

Sperry, a Redmond resident and owner of Breakaway Promotions who has served as CCC race director since 2007, noted he is stepping down as race director in part due to the stress it puts on his family. He also said that MBSEF — for which the race serves as a fundraiser — is “literally donating their time and services this year. We want to thank them for that.”

Cogswell-Kelley said Wednesday the cost to the foundation to put on the CCC is more than $200,000.

“And now that it’s UCI, (costs are) going up a lot more than we thought,” Cogswell-Kelley said. “We budget a year in advance, and we were told that nothing was going to change. The prize purse was going to be the same. Three weeks ago we got word that the total purse would be three times more than we’ve ever paid before.”

Cogswell-Kelley noted that MBSEF will likely not raise much from this year’s race.

The pro women’s race was sanctioned by the UCI for the first time last year, but this marks the first time in the 38-year history of the CCC that both the pro men’s and women’s races have been sanctioned by the UCI.

Sperry and MBSEF decided to push for UCI sanctioning after many cycling team directors told them the sanction was important to them to help earn points for their riders to qualify for events such as the world championships and the Olympics. And USA Cycling also urged Sperry to go UCI to get more top pro teams and national teams to race in Central Oregon.

“Going UCI created more costs and hardships for the race, but we felt as an organization, that it was the right thing to do,” Sperry said in the statement. “Road cycling is on a significant down slide for both participation and sponsors. The added costs of going UCI has been incredibly negative, financially speaking, on (MBSEF). My company, Breakaway Promotions, who runs the event has also taken a substantial pay cut this year. We are all making huge sacrifices for this race.”

Cogswell-Kelley said she is looking for ways to provide more prize money to the women, and some of the community is rallying to make that happen.

According to a Wednesday news release, Bend-based DVA Advertising & Public Relations has created a GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/cccwomen to raise money for the top three overall pro female finishers in this year’s race, with a goal of raising $15,954 — the difference between the pro men’s and pro women’s total prize purses.

“What kind of message does it send to young women who might be interested in cycling, that their male counterparts are earning more than 13 times the amount of prize money for the same or similar effort?” Justin Yax, a partner at DVA, said in the release. “As an agency of cyclists, and as fans of the sport and its importance to the Central Oregon community, we felt there was an opportunity to step in and help out where the UCI was restricting the good intentions of race organizers.”

Kirsti Lay of Rally Cycling won the pro women’s Mc­Kenzie Pass Road Race on Wednesday, after which she answered questions about the prize-purse disparity.

“Obviously we want equal prize money,” said Lay, 29. “We’re pushing for that in all of women’s cycling. You see what the organizers are trying to do to put it on, too, so we’re really grateful to them. I see both sides to it. There’s some give and take, especially when the UCI put some guidelines in. We just need more financial backing and maybe a higher minimum for women. But we’re still grateful for the organizers.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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