Tour of the Gila to provide equal pay for UCI women

For the first time in Tour of the Gila’s 36-year history, UCI Women will receive equal pay.

Donated funds made possible the move toward equality and a total prize purse of $35,350 — the same as UCI Men, said Jack Brennan, Tour of the Gila race director.

“We’ve been wanting to make this happen — and go above and beyond the UCI requirement — and now we’re finally able to do it,” Brennan said. “It’s been a Tour of the Gila goal from the race’s beginning.”

UCI requires minimum payouts for UCI-level stage races, of which there are only two remaining in the U.S. — Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race. But the governing body’s minimum payout requirement differential between men and women has been a vast chasm for years.

In 2021, for example, UCI Women’s WorldTour riders received a 20th of the prize money men received. At Paris-Roubaix, the winning payout was €1,535 for women, compared to €30,000 for the male counterpart, and the overall purse paid across the top 20 riders for the men was €91,000 and for the women €7,005.

Joe Martin Stage Race equalized its UCI payout in 2022 with help from Walmart sponsorship. But when bike racing budgets are tight, prize money often takes a back seat to ensuring the race can be put on, its safety and other needs, Brennan said. Tour of the Gila always fulfilled the minimum UCI requirement for pay, but was able to go beyond that this year.

“The money is important, but by continuing and even accelerating Tour of the Gila’s tradition of supporting female athletes, this move affirms the value of women’s racing,” said Mara Abbott, Olympian and the winningest Tour of the Gila competitor of all time. “As new racers look to start their careers and more established competitors make the decision to continue each season, this type of support is generous, deserved, and embodies so many of the characteristics I love about the Tour of the Gila and the team that tirelessly works to put the race on every year.”

Out of tragedy, equality

It wasn’t until an unfortunate tragedy struck that the race could afford to equalize the prize money for UCI men and women.

In October, the two owners of Gila Hike & Bike, Martyn Pearson and Alex Olsen, passed away in a car crash as they were headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a mountain bike race.

The couple were well-known cycling community members in Silver City, New Mexico, where Tour of the Gila takes place, and where their bike shop serves as a premier retailer and mechanic for racers and riders alike as well as a race sponsor. The deaths rocked the town and its cycling community, which held memorials to remember Pearson and Olsen.

The two had met in Silver City when Olsen stopped by the shop in 2015 with Woman Tours, a nationwide, all-women’s group cycling tour. She and Pearson clicked, and once she reached home on the east coast and drove back, she and a friend took a detour and passed through Silver City to see Pearson again, her parents, Clark and Whitney Bullock said.

Alex Olsen in April 2015 at St. Augustine Beach, Florida, after her bike tour across the U.S.

Soon Olsen, a cook who worked in New York City, moved to Albuquerque to start a job in a restaurant, and she and Pearson began dating. Later she made the move to Silver City, where she became co-owner of Gila Hike & Bike and step-parent to Pearson’s two children. Olsen also taught culinary subjects and led outdoor experiences at Aldo Leopold Charter School.

Giving back was a theme of Olsen’s life: She also served for 20 years on the board of her grandmother’s Patrina Foundation, which works to uplift, train, educate and support young women.

“Alex lived it,” Clark Bullock said. “She didn’t have to embrace it. She just lived it. She was always a leader and so was Martyn.”

Pearson had moved to Silver City from the U.K. as a college student and began mountain biking. He offered to work at Gila Hike & Bike for free and soon became a mechanic before moving back to England for a stint and then returned to Silver City and the shop.

Alex Olsen (left) and Martyn Pearson

Brennan, the director of Tour of the Gila, who was an owner of the shop at the time, sold his share to Pearson in 2016. Olsen bought out the remaining owner in 2020, and the two were off and running the business.

“It felt so good to have them at the helm of the shop,” Brennan said.

Making an impact in cycling

As the community continued to recover from the loss of Pearson and Olsen, the couple’s parents gained a firsthand understanding of the impact they had on Silver City and the community on them. Clark and Whitney Bullock and Chris and Julie Pearson looked for ways they could honor the couple and support cycling, and they turned toward Tour of the Gila for one of them.

Whitney Bullock said she hopes a takeaway from Olsen’s life, impact in the cycling community, and the legacy she’s leaving behind with equal pay at Tour of the Gila, is “how much she loved being part of it and that parity is always important,” she said.

She said the Grant County Community Foundation now has a targeted fund in commemoration of Pearson and Olsen.

Martyn Pearson (far right), Alex Olsen (second middle from right), parents Whitney and Clark Bullock, Julie and Chris Pearson, Martyn’s two children and Alex’s two brothers gather together in 2018 in Taos, New Mexico.

“It’s to support both of their interests, and so that’s the way to keep their contribution to their community alive and well,” Whitney said. “That and to keep the bike shop running and telling their story.”

And while the move toward equality emerged from tragic circumstances, Brennan said he hopes it will honor two Silver City cycling-community members and the women bike racers who deserve it.

“It’s about investing in the cycling community and making it better, and they will live on through that,” Brennan said.

Limited edition commemorative jerseys

This year’s Tour of the Gila will be called the Martyn & Alex Tour of the Gila, complete with four commemorative designed jerseys (red, green, polka dot and white) by Jakroo to celebrate the couple’s lives.

All jersey proceeds will go to a trust for the two children Pearson and Olsen left behind.

Jerseys can be purchased from Jakroo’s online shop and in person at Gila Hike & Bike during the Martyn & Alex Tour of the Gila.