Tour de France and “Where are the women?”

On Monday, writing about the Tour de France, I asked “where are the women?”

Of course, I’m not alone asking the question. Here’s Bicycling Magazine’s Why Isn’t There a Women’s Tour de France? Their piece concludes, “The Tour de France may well be one of the ultimate spectacles in global sport, but the injustice it represents is equally stunning.”

See also Why don’t women ride the Tour de France?

The Tour is the toughest road bike race in the world and while it isn’t labelled as a men’s cycling event in fact, it is.

There was a women’s tour which was labelled as the ‘women’s tour’ but the default popular event that most people know about is ‘the tour’ simpliciter. While men’s bike racing seems to be enjoying an upsurge in popularity, the tour formerly known as the Tour Cycliste Féminin, or simply Tour Féminin, hasn’t been held since 2008.

Organizers  of the women’s tour have had to scramble for financing each year. As well, the cities that sponsored the women’s tour demanded that the race run through their city leading to some odd locations and stages. Finally, the women faced conflict regarding the name of the race. Until 1997, it was the Tour Cycliste Féminin, billed as the Women’s Tour de France or the Women’s Tour but the organizers of the men’s Tour de France said it was a breach of trademark and in 1998 the name changed.

Even when it was held the women’s tour wasn’t the same as the men’s. See The forgotten story of … Marianne Martin and the Tour de France Féminin.

The Tour de France Féminin was over 18 stages compared to the men’s 23. The women riders completed about 1,080km of the 4,000km the men race covered, due to strict UCI rules about how far women could ride in races. In fact, even the shortened version violated UCI rules on rest time for female riders in multi-stage events – the women were granted an exemption and had five rest days over the 23-day race compared to one for the men. Though it was shorter in distance, the women’s course followed the men’s, including all the climbs. Each of the women’s stages ended at the same finish line as the men’s, so that the huge crowds waiting would be there to cheer on the women before the men arrived.

At first, the French press were skeptical of the 36 women, split into six teams, taking part in one of their most beloved cultural institutions. Martin says the media was full of stories questioning whether any of the women would make it to the Champs-Élysées. “It never even occurred to me that we couldn’t finish [the race],” Martin says. “I thought that was crazy the French would even think that.”

When I asked on Facebook, where are the women?, a cycling friend reminded me that the were off racing in the 2016 Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile. It’s part of the new women’s world tour.

The 2016 Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile was part of the new Women’s WorldTour. The 10-day stage will be held from July 1-10 in the northern provinces of Italy. The 11th round of the series will see a long list of heavy-hitters with defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv), world champion Lizzie Armitstead and WorldTour leader Megan Guarnier, both from Boels-Dolmans.This year’s race will including a tough mountain finish to Tirano, passing over the challenging Mortirolo during stage 5. The women’s peloton will also contest an opening 2km prologue in Gaiarine and a 21km individual time trial to Varazze during stage 7. They will take on one final mountain stage to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Guardia in Alassio on the Ligurian coast on stage 8. The race ends with stage 9 in Verbania, on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, north of Milan. Race organizers announced that Colnago would sponsor the pink leader’s jersey in February and announced the route in March.

What can we do to promote women’s bike racing? Let’s start by watching and following it. Of course that isn’t easy as this article in the Guardian points out. “The two most important bike races in the world are on right now: but you can only watch the Tour de France boys on telly. Meanwhile, fans of the Giro Rosa must check Twitter to follow the girls. Helen Pidd talks to TV networks — and cycling commentator Ned Boulting —to find out why.”



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