Tour de France Femmes

July 24, 2022
Sports News

🚲 Cycling’s feminist history

SOURCE: WELOVECYCLING.COM

As mentioned, the proliferation of women’s cycling went hand-in-hand (or foot-in-foot?) with the fight for women’s rights. While the first bike was invented in 1817, it wasn’t until the 1860s that women began riding, but it was typically on a two-seater or tandem bike with a male companion, of course.

  • Luckily, the mid-1880s brought improvements — such as a drop frame to accomodate the full skirts women wore at the time — which helped usher in a new era of cycling.

Speaking of those full skirts, the rise of women’s cycling also resulted in much-needed modifications to the “standard” dress. Female cyclists began opting for ’fits with divided skirts or bloomers for more comfort and mobility while riding. For the 19th-century woman, making the decision to bike resulted in having the option to choose how to dress oneself. Imagine that!

Biking’s impact also extended to the ballot box. Women’s suffragists utilized cycling in their campaign efforts, affixing “Votes for Women” banners to their bikes throughout the 20th century. The bike also afforded these activists a newfound freedom of movement which aided in their organizing efforts. Spinning and winning.

📈 The buildup

SOURCE: TIM DE WAELE/GETTY IMAGES

As for more recent women’s cycling history, today’s inaugural race is the first official women’s Tour de France (thanks to support from the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), which organizes the men’s race), but it’s preceded by several other women’s races staged in France.

  • The first was held in 1955, when French sports journalist Jean Leuillot attempted to launch a women’s tour. Forty-one cyclists participated, but the race didn’t gain traction, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that another women’s event was staged.
  • The summer of 1984 brought the Tour de France Féminin, which ran alongside the men’s Tour for six years before abruptly ending in 1989 due to “a lack of economic balance.” Well, duh.

A few other women’s races were held intermittently in the years that followed, including La Course by Le Tour de France most recently. The race was organized by the ASO, but was only a one- or two-day event, compared to the men’s 23 days. Why’d the org decide to finally clip in to a full race? All thanks to some virtual spinning (no, Cody Rigsby wasn’t involved).

  • When COVID-19 delayed the 2020 men’s race, Zwift — an online cycling and running platform — stepped in to host a virtual edition that included men’s and women’s participants.
  • The equal platform resulted in equal viewership, convincing the ASO it was about damn time the women had their own tour. And the rest is (about to be) history.

🚲 The details

SOURCE: PROCYCLINGUK.COM

The inaugural road cycling race will feature 144 women from 24 teams competing over the eight-day, eight-stage competition. Yes, cycling is an individual sport, but team leaders would be nothing without domestiques, the teammates who offer mechanical and technical support along the way. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.

As for the course, the first stage begins at the Eiffel Tower and ends on the stunning Champs-Élysées, where the men will conclude their 21-stage race shortly after the women get underway.

  • Each stage will task riders with a different challenge. From flat to hilly to gravel terrain, expect the overall leader to change a few times throughout the race as cyclists with different strengths literally flex their muscles.
  • Speaking of flexing, the race’s final stage is by far the toughest — a 123-km (~76 mile) summit to the top of La Super Planche des Belles Filles. NBD.

The reward for all that biking? A slice of the €250K (~254K USD) prize pot, the largest in women’s cycling history, but paltry compared to the €2.28M (~2.32M USD) grand total awarded throughout the (admittedly longer) men’s race. Baby steps.

💪 The top contenders

SOURCE: TIM DE WAELE/GETTY IMAGES

Annemiek van Vleuten, Team Movistar: The 2020 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champ, van Vleuten is the overwhelming favorite to take home the inaugural title. The Dutchwoman will also be rolling fresh off a first-place finish at the multi-stage Giro D’Italia Donne earlier this month. Essentially, all she does is win.

Demi Vollering, Team SD Worx: Vollering’s no stranger to racing the streets of France: she took home first place at the 2021 La Course. And the Dutch racer will have fresh legs, too. Unlike many of her competitors, Vollering opted to skip out on the Giro D’Italia to conserve energy. We’ll see if it pays off.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futoroscope: The adidas-sponsored Ludwig is one of the sport’s most exciting up-and-coming athletes. The Danish star took second at last year’s Le Cours and will be looking to boost her French team into a historic hometown title win.

📺 How to tune in

SOURCE: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The cyclists begin their tour today at 7:20 a.m. ET, with all of the action airing on Peacock and CNBC in the U.S. and FloBikes (subscription required) in Canada. Allez!

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