For decades, cyclists and their fans have clambered for a women’s Tour de France. Though there are no shortage of events that prove gruelling for female cyclists, they tend to fall short of the kind of European stage race that attracts the best competitors in the men’s field. The Tour de France is bigger than the sport itself, with audiences tuning in simply to take in the scenery and insightful commentary that lends itself to a history lesson. Few races possess the same kind of energy, prestige and wonder as the Tour de France and not surprisingly, the sport’s female stars have put up a decade-long fight to see a lasting, prestigious women’s stage race run alongside the men’s Tour. Now, it’s been confirmed that a women’s edition of the race will go ahead in 2022 that closely follows after the men’s race.
According to Tour de France organiser, Christian Prudhomme, the women’s race will be held after the men’s tour, with more details to be announced in October around the time the men’s Tour is launched. Prudhomme told The Guardian, “It will take place next year, that’s certain. It would have happened this year if it had not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, obviously, and above all if the Tokyo Olympics had not been after the [men’s] Tour, so the best riders may not be available. But the decision has been taken. There will be a Tour de France femmes in 2022 following closely after the [men’s] Tour.”
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Currently, details surrounding the event are scarce, with no known route or length for the race. Prudhomme did suggest that the race, which is run by Amaury Sport Organisation, will have its own identity which is “linked to the past and present of the Tour de France, and – why not? – perhaps the future as well.”
A women’s Tour de France has actually taken place, from 1984 to 1989. The idea was to create an event equal to that faced by the men. The three-week tour saw the women ride the same routes as their male counterparts, only slightly shorter to ensure they finished ahead of the men’s peloton. But as the men’s race grew in popularity and coverage, becoming a prime-time spot on the TV, the women were largely ignored by the media. After two years of a full-length tour, organisers then cut the Tour de France Feminin down to just two weeks.
“In my view, you have to out to one side the idea of parity between men and women. Why? Because there was a reason why that race only lasted for six years, and that was a lack of economic balance,” explains Prudhomme. “What we want to do is create a race that will stay the course, that will be set up and stand the test of time. What that means is that the race cannot lose money.”
According to Prudhomme, all the women’s races that they organise lose money, suffering a similar fate to that of the women’s Tour of 1984. It’s led him to exclaim, “The challenge is to set up a race that can live for 100 years. That’s why we want it to follow the men’s Tour, so that the majority of the channels which broadcast the men’s Tour will cover it as well.”
He adds that the women’s field is more disparate compared to the men who have a high level that most fit into. “For a men’s organiser, that’s tough – you need steeper climbs all the time, harder climbs and so on,” Prudhomme explains. “To run a women’s race is more simple, you don’t need 50 hyper-steep climbs, you can be more natural about it. Women’s cycling is far less controlled than men’s.”
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