There are many races in pro cycling that don’t have a women’s professional race. So, why are you targeting the Tour de France?

Relative to men, women’s cycling is overlooked, under-valued and under-capitalised. It is characterised by limited race opportunities, lack of media coverage and exposure and insufficient commercial investment. This means that professional female cyclists cannot develop to their full potential: stymieing the overall growth of the sport. 

Since its inception the Tour de France has been the most prominent endurance sports event in the world, watched by and inspiring millions of people worldwide. It is also the most commercially exploited and media saturated race on the cycling calendar. Yet today women don’t even have the chance to toe the line. 

The reform of women’s cycling must start at the top — at the most visible, high profile race.  Establishing a women’s race at the Tour would showcase women’s road cycling to the world; provide a huge boost in publicity and visibility; demonstrate the commercial viability of such an event; provide a model for success that can be replicated by other event organisers/owners and kick-start wider change and reform. It would not detract from the men's race - it would add another dimension. 

We believe that holding a women’s race at the Tour would be the single greatest step towards breaking out of the vicious circle that women’s road cycling is currently trapped in. 

The nearly 100,000 signatures to the petition shows the demand is there.

Why do you think the Tour de France does not already have women in competition?

The main reasons for the lack of a women’s Tour stem from lack of sponsorship, political will and media coverage – a circular, self-fulfilling prophesy.  It is also impacted by culture and tradition, and the fact that road cycling is very slow to change in its attitudes relative to other cycling disciplines and other sports. 

Between 1984-1989, a simultaneous Tour de France was held for women during the men’s event. The women’s race did not interfere with the men’s race. The event eventually folded not, as is sometimes mistakenly asserted, because of female physical incapability or organisational difficulties, but because the women’s race received no media attention and therefore no sponsorship investment. It simply couldn’t survive without this support. 

Do you want the women to race against the men?

No. We do not want the women to compete against the men. We want women to share the same venue. Much like a marathon, triathlon, track and field, swimming or even tennis events — the women and men compete separately but use the same course or stadium, at or near the same time. The women’s race and the men’s race would be separate fields, neither interfering with the other’s event.

Should the women’s race be the same length as the men’s (~3 weeks)? 

Currently, the UCI restricts women’s stage races to eight days in length. Road stages must not exceed 130kms, while time trial stages are limited to 40kms (although the UCI can grant exemptions to those rules on a case-by-case basis). These rules restricting length and duration of races are based on tradition and assumptions that are not substantiated by evidence from respected sports physiologists. 

It is reasonable to suggest that the UCI’s rules should encourage opportunities for women to compete in races of the same length and duration as men. Abolishing these limits is a key step toward equality and the public perception of cycling as a modern, fair sport.  This is not to say that women’s races must always be of the same duration and length as men’s, but the opportunity should exist. The current situation is a denigration of women’s capabilities, determined ex ante by the UCI. 

That said, we accept that it might be unfeasible initially for the women’s race to be the same length as the mens’. It will take time for athletes to adapt, develop the necessary strength in depth in the female peloton, attract the necessary commercial investment and develop the logistical capability to manage a 3 week race. But we believe that the ultimate goal should be for a women’s race over exactly the same course as the men’s. 

Are women strong enough to race such distances?

Respected sports physiologists argue that women are more than capable of completing  - and competing at - these distances. It is worth noting that in the 1960s many believed that women couldn’t run more than 800 meters. A marathon was out of the question!  Retrospect has shown us all how erroneous that was. We believe 30 years from now people will look back at these current limits of women’s cycling and think, “Wow, how prehistoric!”

It is true that the women's international field currently has fewer competitors than the highest level of the men's peloton, it does not mean they have less athletic potential. The lower number of full time female professional racers is mainly because the framework that currently exists does not enable them to maximize their athletic achievements. For example, most women cannot yet make a full-salary living from cycling, and hence have to work and cannot train full time – it is a vicious cycle.  There is also a high drop-out rate from the sport compared to men’s cycling, because of these financial pressures and the overall shortage of women’s teams. 

This is why we agree that, at least initially, a women’s Tour de France could be shorter, with the plan to gradually step up the distances as the strength in depth of the women’s international field increases. 

Should the women’s race be on the same day as the men’s?

The Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne hold similar top ranked men's and women's races on the same day, with great success. Other cycling disciplines (track, MTB, cyclocross, BMX, criterium) have similar opportunities for men and women to race (not quite equal, but more similar).

It is absolutely crucial that the women’s race at the Tour be held in conjunction with the men’s race: on the same course (most if not all), on the same day, with the same stage finish. This is because: 

  1. The roads are already closed all day - it would be a massive undertaking to close them for 2 days instead. 
  2. The whole race infrastructure - in terms of barriers, lines, timings, podiums and so forth - is already there.
  3. The spectators are already there. This is win-win for both women’s cycling (raised visibility) and spectators (two races to watch!).
  4. It is far easier for the media to cover two races on the same course, rather that having two separate races on totally different stages. 
  5. The media at the finish line can cover the finish, podium, interviews etc of both races, for minimal extra effort.

Are there enough hotel rooms?

Yes. There are enough hotel rooms in UK and France. Even if there weren’t, female professional cyclists are adept at utilizing all possibilities of accommodation. However, most of the infrastructure could easily be shared. If, in the first year there were 60-100 female riders, 45 team staff, some extra race officials it might add up to 150-200 extra people. On top of the (apparently) 1200 that ASO has to accommodate. From hotels to homestays to caravans… the women’s teams will do what it takes to have the opportunity to race.

Do you think a women’s Tour de France can really happen by 2014? 

La Course did!  But here was the response...]  While we ultimately seek a Tour with full parity, we accept that this may take time to be realized. However, as we said above, a shorter version is possible and realistic in the immediate future.   Initially, the inaugural Tour for women could be a shorter pilot race – with the intention of increasing length as the size and strength of the female peloton increases annually. 

For 2014, the women’s Tour could potentially be between three to ten days long, and run alongside the men’s. It could either start in the UK as part of the ‘Grande Depart’ or share the final half of the Tour, finishing in Paris. Logistical concerns over road closures and having two races on the course at the same time can be addressed by starting before the men’s race, possibly with shorter stages, and with strict application of time limits. 

Won’t the Tour de France overlap with existing women’s races, like the Giro d’Italia, and therefore compromise the opportunity for women’s races?

In no way would we want the women’s Tour de France, or any other prospective races, to interfere with other women’s events—it is our mission to add opportunities, not to damage the races that already exist, which are run in the face of considerable difficulties by passionate and motivated race organisers. Careful planning and the arrangement of future dates can make the race calendar work in favour of all races.  

Why don’t we see the women’s races on TV? What can be done to improve media coverage?

Media coverage is vital for the sport to develop, especially commercially. For cycling, and especially women’s cycling, to flourish the focus must be on increasing the quantity and quality of television coverage of events, as well as harmonising this coverage across throughout the year and around the world. It takes regular and frequent broadcasts of the same sport to build audience awareness, recognition and interest. We believe women’s cycling is “the next big thing” for televised sport.

Consideration will need to be given to how best to package and present women’s events. Creating an engaging and entertaining ‘highlights’ programme  - either separate from, or combined with, the men’s programme – would be a good first step. 

With the pressure on journalists (especially online) to file copy swiftly, the UCI, event owners, Teams and NGBs should help facilitate this by encouraging attendance of the media (including providing VIP event access and hospitality), detailed releases, information and readily accessible imagery for female athletes and women’s events. 

Social media represents an exceptional commercial opportunity for women’s cycling; creating direct relationships with audiences that offer value to sponsors and provide both an alternative channel to traditional media and also a means of influencing and utilising traditional media’s broader reach.

Are women’s races exciting and entertaining?

Yes! Women’s racing has developed in both talent and field size over the past 30 years, since the debut of the women’s road race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As events such as the 2012 London Olympic road race demonstrated, women’s racing now is exciting, skilful, competitive and aggressive. This makes for engaging and entertaining viewing for spectators and television viewers, but most women’s races have little or no television coverage. Crucially, the viewing public has to be able to see women race in order for attitudes to change and a fan base to develop.  

What about the few female racers that have suggested they don’t actually want a Tour de France for women?

Indeed, not every athlete wants to race the Tour de France! Consider track and field—rarely do you see a 100-meter sprinter who wants to run the marathon, and vice versa. In cycling, we also have an array of athletes suited for different (longer or shorter) events. We respect the opinions of all racers, but we hope that despite one’s personal preferences or abilities, all racers will support the development of a women’s Tour de France for the women who are suited to the event. After all, everyone will ultimately share in cycling’s progression —whether it be a one minute track cycling event or a three week stage race. 

Some female cyclists have also voiced concerns about the race length, or calendar clashes, or logistical challenges – we believe these concerns can be addressed as described above, with sufficient consultation and genuine cooperation between all stakeholder groups. 

And for the women in the peloton who doubt their very capabilities based solely on gender, we challenge you to dream beyond the limits currently placed on you! 

Would the women’s race simply be a second best “side-show”? 

We believe that a women’s field would be seen as an asset to the race and spectators, and viewers, would be in favor of seeing two races come through. For those who still consider women’s sport to be a “sideshow,” we feel that if it takes a “sideshow” to prove people wrong, then a sideshow is better than no show. 

It will take time for attitudes to change, and it has to start somewhere. If a women’s race is never allowed to happen, how will it ever improve so as to be seen as equal?  The viewing public has to be able to see women’s racing and be impressed by it (eg 

the Olympic road race) and that is how attitudes will change. It is irrational and counter-productive to suggest that a women’s Tour or Giro or Vuelta would be not as good as the men's race if run alongside, so it's better to have nothing. The first step in creating change is changing minds.

What responses have you received about the campaign?

With nearly 100,000 petition supporters, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from everyone, including some sponsors, sections of the UCI, athletes and the public. The shared vision to grow women’s cycling is there, however there are some differences in opinion for how best to achieve this. The key is that any action arises from genuine, transparent and honest collaboration between all the 

stakeholders. These include: 

  • The UCI, Continental Confederations, and member Federations
  • Race organisers, especially the ASO, but also all other event owners
  • Individual athletes (male and female) 
  • Teams, national and trade
  • Commercial sponsors 
  • The media 
  • The viewing and participating public. 

Instead of competing to secure vested interests, all stakeholders all must unite to grow the sport successfully and sustainably, at all levels. The doors to dialogue are now open, and that in itself is a huge step forward! 

As fans, supporters and athletes… we want to see a women’s Tour de France. 

What can we do to help the Le Tour Entier movement?!

So glad you asked!

Cycling fans should ‘vote with their feet’ and attend (or participate in) women’s cycling races. You can read, watch or listen to coverage of women’s cycling. It is also important for all women cycling fans to blog, tweet and respond to on-line articles to demonstrate that the interest is out there, as well as writing to local/national/international media requesting coverage or reporting on events/athletes.  Do you want to see women’s cycling on TV or in the paper? Put in a call or email to your news stations and newspapers. Be bold! Ask for what you want. 

You’ll be amazed what you receive. 

In addition, local cycling clubs and teams should be encouraged to develop relationships with, and feed information to, local media. They should also use new communication channels, including websites, Twitter, Facebook etc to promote women’s cycling and encourage involvement in the sport. 

We encourage companies to explore the (commercial and CSR) opportunity presented by women’s cycling, and invest in the sport (the athletes, races and teams). 

Most importantly, remember, change is always possible…and it starts by having the courage to go after what you want. As Gandhi said:

“Be the change you wish to see in this world.”