Georgia Gould, a fine racer and decent person, has a petition up on line asking the UCI to require that women's field payouts be equal to men's field payouts. She doesn't require that the $35 and $25 payouts be equalized - y'know, the pittance payouts for those not finishing on the podium. Just the top 5 position payouts.
Equal pay for equal work is how it's characterized.
In my professional life I actually work on issues of this sort. Just to play devil's advocate here, assuming Elite Race = Elite Race, if you are proceeding on an equal pay for equal work principle, how can winning in a field that is at best half the size of a comparable men's field (in well attended events) to one ninth of the size of a comparable men's field, be characterized as equal work? Sure, it's 45 or 60 minutes or two hours of riding, but if you only beat 9 riders, or 55, it's not the same as beating 35 or 125, respectively.
Moreover, there is a trickle down effect that is somewhat jarring. In races where there is a men's 5, 4, 3-4, 3, Masters 40/50+ along with a Pro-1-2, common in roadracing, promoters have grave problems breaking even hosting 3-4 and 1-2-3 women's fields. You have to cover the cost of cops for the rolling enclosures plus all the other amenities, and the big costs don't pro-rate per rider, they pro-rate per race. To some extent women's can free ride on some of the services subsidized by packed men's 5, 4, and 3 races - ambulance coverage, potty rental, number purchases, etc. Buy do you really think the top 5 prize list in the women's 3-4, with 18 riders, ought to be equal to the men's 3-4 with 100 or 125 riders? I've often felt a little shabby, used, knowing my entry fees went to subsidize tiny elite fields with 45 or 50 riders at best. Taking another chunk out of my hide to subsidize women's elite fields with half that many or fewer riders, and taking another chunk out to similarly subsidize tiny women's 3-4 fields with a prize list equal to the 100+ rider 3-4 fields, would make me feel even more used.
This sport is subsidized on the backs of the participants at all but the very highest levels. You want higher prize lists for women? Drag more women out and get them into racing. I'm dying to see more women out there racing. It's good for the sport, good for the women who participate, and it will relieve a lot of the financial pressures on promoters, for whom every single rider is a financial burden until the costs are covered, and for whom every rider past that point represents profit, as well as a chance to improve prize lists.
I help promote a couple races. We make the women's prize list as high as we can make it in good conscience in light of the field sizes. Any primarily amateur race, even with a strong elite event (short of NRC pro attached) is perilous close to a break-even deal. At current levels of event support in road & cross, if we make *any* prize list in any field substantially higher, we have to rely on getting exceptional turnout, or we have to raise prices to subsidize it. By "we" I mean most promoters in these parts - while the biggest races break even or a touch better, most promoters - amateur clubs with tiny budgets - simply look to break even or not lose too much. We could finance higher prize lists by taking money out of the men's 4, 3-4 and 3, three of the four fields that subsidize the others. (Men's 5 get no cash, just medals and the like). Seems to me like you're screwing somebody there as it is, without taking another $500 out of their hides.
Nevertheless, here's my promise on this issue - in the events that I'm involved in, if I see really good women's turnout, I'll fight like hell to try to get the prizes improved. But the money has to come from some place and it's hard to justify when, most races, we don't know if we can break even until we get a couple dozen race day registrations. Got that? You want more prize money? Bring out your female friends and flood the zone. I'll do everything in my power to support getting more women into roadracing and cross. But I can't justify arguing in favor of shafting the vast majority of racers, who pay to play, in order to subsidize fields that are consistent money-losers. In cross, you can free ride. In roadracing, not so much; in fact if I were to run the costs, I'd submit that women's fields in roadraces are big money losers, with small fields, rolling police enclosures, motor refs, even with donated broom and commissaire wagons and free Mavic wheel support.
If it were actual work and we were making a product, you could plausibly argue that the same 'product' deserves equal pay. Even there, there is an argument that women's events even at the elite level, are less popular with spectators and thus don't merit the same pay because part of the work is drawing fans, and since fewer fans are drawn the market has passed judgment on the quality of the product. (It can go the other way - women's tennis supports men's tennis, and I'd submit men's tennis is an inferior spectator sport to women's). I'd entertain the argument in the interest of growing the sport, at least until the financial burden became onerous.
But for the vast majority of racers, including the vast majority of elits, it isn't actual work we do. In application, we lower level male racers bear the lion's share (good one there, eh?) of the financial burden of racing - not just paying for their own gear but paying for the prize lists and support services for all the other classes - women, juniors, elite men, and the other small classes that don't get bundled into a larger race. You play, we pay. And it's patently unfair to try to guilt us into taking up yet more burden to better compensate a class that doesn't even come close to paying for itself. As it is we stand to lose several hundred bucks on a men's elite roadrace, and that's assuming a strong turnout of 50 riders - optimistically.
After all, we pay a lot to race as it is. You don't think those carbon cranks and white bike shoes pay for themselves, do ya?