Tour de France Femmes: the race that could change women’s cycling

But, except for a brief period between 1984 and 1989, women were excluded from these festivities and therefore placed at the very top of the sport.

“And that’s why whenever I tell people what I’m doing… they always ask, ‘Oh, how… are you in the Tour de France?’ And I would have to inform them that there is currently no Tour de France for women. But now I don’t have to do that anymore.”

On Sunday, the same day the men’s race ended, the first women’s Tour de France kicked off near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as the women’s peloton embarked on their own eight-day odyssey through France.

The Women's Tour de France kicks off in Paris on Sunday.

This week it moves east through the vineyards and gravel roads of Champagne, climbing mountains reaching heights of over 1,000 meters, and ending at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, a wooded mountain with its upper slopes rising up with an alarmingly steep slope. or 24%.

“Rebirth”

The road to the women’s Tour de France began in September 1955, when French sports journalist Jean Leilio announced a five-day women’s race that was won by Millie Robinson of the Isle of Man.

A sequel was not held until 1984, when it took a different form, this time with the official Tour de France seal.

“In France, they didn’t think we were going to finish,” Marianne Martin, winner of the 1984 Tour de France Féminin, tells CNN Sport, standing on the banks of the River Seine in Paris.

“Was it a word on the street or was it a general feeling. And, of course, we all knew that it would be so.”

Six national teams, each consisting of six riders, started the race, and Martin completed the 1,059-kilometer (658-mile) 18-day route the fastest, a feat that earned her $1,000, with Laurent Fignon winning the race. the men’s race that year – won over $225,000.

Marianne Martin standing on the catwalk in Paris with Laurent Fignon in 1984.

The Tour de France Féminin ran until 1989, when it was discontinued and replaced by an unofficial race that was eventually reduced to four stages and eventually canceled in 2009.

Four years later, professional cyclists Catherine Bertin, Emma Pooley, Chrissy Wellington and Marianne Vos formed a pressure group to lobby ASO race organizers and circulated petition which garnered almost 97,000 signatures calling for a women’s run “together with the men’s… for the same distances, on the same days”.

In response to this growing pressure, the ASO created La Course, which began as a one-day circuit race on the Champs-Élysées, briefly became a two-stage race, then returned to its original state as a one-day race.

The eight-stage Tour de France Femmes organized by ASO, stemming from this fractured history, is a “completely new beginning,” Martin says.

“It’s like being reborn. It’s so necessary.”

“Showcasing the power of women in cycling”

The resumption of the Women’s Tour de France marks a landmark moment for gender equality in cycling.

“Women just traditionally didn’t have access to resources or even the ability to do a lot of the things that men could and were allowed to do,” McGowan notes.

“There was a huge push to show the power and ability of women in cycling … to dispel a lot of myths about what women can and can’t do.”

The lack of funding, live television coverage and prize money hindered the development of women’s cycling for many years.

“I financed myself,” Martin recalls. “To get on the US team in America, you had to participate in certain races around the country. And I decided that now I have a body, and I will receive money later.

“I just grabbed my credit card. And to be honest, I was very much in debt when I quit racing because there was no support that we have now.”

The financial cost of becoming a cyclist is starting to come down for women, thanks to the efforts of organizations like The Cyclists Alliance, a trade federation of women cyclists, and cyclists like McGowan.

Aisha McGowan races for the Liv Racing Xstra Women's World Tour team.
McGowan, the first African American female professional cyclist, set Abundance Project promote the participation of more women from ethnic minorities in cycling.

“For me personally, my path has never been to be the only person there. I want to be the first, but not the only one,” she says.

Project Opulence’s 2022 Micro-Grant Program provides recipients with entry fees, housing, transportation, a meal stipend, and other resources, allowing them to compete in four major American road races.

“I feel it is very important for people to create these structures. And if you’re able to try and create space and opportunities for women to race or even progress in racing, I think it’s essential.” McGowan says.

Meanwhile, by gathering information and organizing the collective power of the professional peloton, the Cyclists Alliance has improved working conditions for these cyclists.

In 2020, 33% of the women’s peloton worked part-time, and 43% reimbursed their team for services such as mechanical assistance, medical check-ups or race travel expenses. rider survey it spread.
The governing body of cycling, the UCI, authorized a year later, women’s WorldTour (WWT) teams – the sport’s top tier – must increase their minimum wage from $15,251 in 2020 to $27,961 in 2022 and to $32,638 in 2023.
The women's peloton at the women's Tour de France.

However, much remains to be done to achieve equality.

While the Tour de France Femmes is the richest race on the women’s calendar with a total prize pool of €250,000, this is only a small fraction of the €2.2 million prize pool for the men, while financial insecurity is exacerbated outside of the biggest races and WWT commands.

Ten of the 24 teams competing in this year’s Tour are continental teams – a level below WWT teams – and as such are not bound by the UCI minimum wage mandate.

Using data from its 2022 survey, the Cyclists Alliance told CNN Sport that only 10-15% of continental riders were paid the equivalent of the WWT minimum wage, while about 60% of non-WWT professional cyclists receive no pay at all.

CNN has reached out to the UCI for comment.

“Absolutely beautiful moment”

The profile that the very existence of the Women’s Tour de France gives to women’s cycling could accelerate these efforts to improve gender equality.

“We didn’t have the financial backing we have now,” Martin says of his time in cycling.

“So you get dedicated, enthusiastic sponsors … who will stand behind it and provide financial and technical support for the event, support it, get the media involved and inform people about it. [then] everyone wins.”

The main sponsor of the race, Zwift, a virtual cycling education platform, has already signed a four-year agreement, while another sponsor, workout tracking app Strava, has launched a campaign called “Aim for More,” which is committed to upholding fairness in professional sports.

Marianne Vos won the second round of this year's race while wearing the famous yellow jersey worn by the leader of the race.
One team, Le Col Wahoo, and its sponsors are partnering with one of the TV providers GCN+ to distribute 10,000 subscriptions so fans can watch the race for free, enhancing the prestige of the sport.

“The fact is that [the Tour] such a recognizable organization is going to do wonders because people from places that don’t even know about cycling have heard about this race,” says McGowan.

So if women go to the Women’s Tour de France, it’s also more than cycling; every attack, every break, every stage victory counts, because this is not just a cycling race – this is the Tour de France.

“It will be an absolutely beautiful moment,” McGowan says of the event. “The women’s platoon is such a wonderful group.

“I loved being a part of it, just respecting each other, knowing how much it means and how much it will affect the future of women’s sports.”