Female Cycling: Why There Isn’t an Actual Women’s Tour de France?
My partner is a passionate cyclist. I remember him asking me if I liked his bike and cycling the first time we met. Of course, I knew how to ride a bike, but I wasn’t fond of the activity. The town I grew up in is rather hilly, and I never liked the climbs. Who does, actually? So I said no, not really. And he just kept quiet.
As our relationship was getting serious, he would not stop talking about me getting a bike and start riding with him. And eventually, over the years, he did get me into it. It was in Barcelona where I bought my first fixed-gear bike. I remember seeing it in a second-hand bike shop in my neighborhood through the shop’s window. It was a nice Specialized Langster and for a bargain price. And so I bought it.
I would first ride it as it was around the city, and we would also do some easy climbs with my partner. Later, he got me some new wheels and other gear. And cycling shorts too. But I was perplexed how little the choice of women cycling clothing was. I assumed professional riding wasn’t as popular among women as with men. Only later I realized I was wrong.
While watching replays from Tour de France stages from the previous years during the first lockdown of the pandemic, I began to wonder why there wasn’t such a race for women. From what I knew, plenty of professional female cyclists would like to participate in such an event. And who have both the guts and the physical condition to do so?
Actually, there have been various attempts to organize a similarly prestigious happening for women. Yet, none of them were as grand as the Tour de France itself. In fact, they were rather pitiful. And not because girls would not have the capacity.
The first-ever woman to take part in a major racing event was the Italian Alfonsina Strada. In 1924, she registered under the name of Alfonsin in the Giro d’Italia. She crashed in a rainstorm on the way to Naples but made it to the finish in Milan. Also, she beat two men on the way. She became a legend. Despite her success, the biggest races remained prohibited for women for another 60 years.
In 1984, the first Tour de France Féminin was introduced by ASO (the same organization which runs the actual Tour de France). For the whole of three weeks, women rode along with men. Although, the female route was a bit shorter, they would finish ahead of their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, after two years, the organizers reduced the Tour Féminin to only two weeks because of a tight budget and lack of media attention. Some present-day professionals might not even realize that such an event happened. In 1989, the women’s stage race that coincided with the men’s Tour de France was canceled.
There was another attempt to recreate the famous race. In 1992, Tour Cyclist Féminin was born. As it had no official tie to ASO anymore, it was renamed La Grande Boucle in 1998. It featured long, difficult stages and some original Tour de France climbs. But it never reached the desired prominence and came to an end in 2009.
After years of lobbying, ASO finally introduced La Course by Le Tour de France in 2004. Sadly, it was only a one-day circuit race on the Champs-Élysées on the men’s Tour de France’s final day. It became a two-day experiment in 2017. However, it shifted back to a one-day event the next year and has not changed since.
The good news is that David Lappartient, the International Cycling Union (UCI) president, said that a multi-stage women’s race would be introduced in 2022. Whether it will be called Tour de France is yet to be announced. But it should start as the men’s race concludes in Paris and continue for a further eight days, similarly to Giro Rosa, the grandest stage race in women’s road cycling of today.
So yes, women apparently do want to race. And there are plenty of skilled female riders too.
What do you think? Should women have their own Tour de France? In this day and age, how big would the audience be? And would you watch it?