Le Tour Entier was established to call for a women’s race at the Tour de France, supported by wider changes in the sport, to help harness the full potential of women’s road cycling and develop the sport equitably and sustainably.
This manifesto sets out the reasons why change is needed. It outlines the rationale for a women’s race at the Tour de France – as well as the wider, requisite reforms – and offers recommendations for action by all stakeholders.
Our objective is to help create a framework to support the growth of women’s cycling and build a sport with greater consumer, media and commercial appeal – starting with a race at the Tour de France.
We look forward to playing our part in driving change, and creating a cycling future that is successful, open and inclusive to all.
Global interest in professional cycling has never been higher, with increased viewing figures, public participation and sponsor investment. Nevertheless, professional road cycling is characterised by considerable inequity, both within the male and female ranks, and also between them. Relative to men, women’s cycling is overlooked, under-valued and under-capitalised. It is characterised, in particular, by:
- limited race opportunities
- lack of media coverage (especially television) and sport/athlete exposure
- insufficient commercial investment in both teams and races
- under-funding and financial insecurity of most professional teams
- financial insecurity of many races
- no minimum salary at the professional level
- shorter races (compared to men)
- smaller prize purses (compared to men)
- discriminatory (maximum) average age rules for teams
- fewer development programs for women of smaller nations (compared to men)
All of the above factors are interdependent in a vicious circle that perpetuates the undesirable status quo. We contend that women’s cycling is suffering at the hand of those who are supposed to be its custodians. As a result of the unsupportive framework, female cyclists are unable to develop to the best of their ability. This creates a lack of strength in depth in the female professional ranks, leading to the misconception that women’s cycling is inferior due to physical capability, and is used to justify further inaction and failure to reform the sport.
The sport of cycling is losing out: both commercially and in reputation. There is a huge and valuable opportunity for all stakeholders to benefit from the full potential of women’s cycling, with the goal of developing the sport equitably and sustainably at all
levels. The Tour De France is cycling’s showpiece event and generates huge interest in the sport all over the world. It is the most commercially exploited and media saturated race on the cycling calendar. 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. In short, 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.
Of course, reform is challenging, and there are many obstacles, but we believe that the appetite for real and lasting change is there. Our goal is to push for these changes and developments for the long-term benefit of the sport and all its participants.
Rationale for wider reform
Holding a women’s race at the Tour de France – accompanied by wider reforms to help develop women’s cycling sustainably and equitably – is necessary for the following reasons:
- In the 21st century, equity is both expected by the public and enshrined in law. It is therefore entirely reasonable to suggest that similar opportunities should exist for women to compete in, succeed at, and make a living from cycling as they do for men. The inspirational role of elite sport should not be any different between men and women, boys and girls.
- Efforts to make cycling more equitable, open and inclusive - especially at high profile events such as the Tour de France - will improve cycling’s credibility, in terms of governance, sporting merit and consumer confidence. In doing so we will help repair the reputational damage of historical controversies and revelations.
- A women’s race at the Tour, and the growth of women’s cycling generally, will help to change society’s perceptions of women’s capabilities in sport compared to their male counterparts.
- 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.
- There is strong demand for women’s races, as indicated by the recent petition to the ASO [Amaury Sports Organization - the company that organises the Tour de France] calling for a women’s race at the Tour de France that garnered 93,000 signatures in the first month (see: https://www.change.org/petitions/aso-amaury-sports-organization-allow-female-professional-cycling-teams-to-race-the-tour-de-france).
- Female professional cyclists are eager to have more opportunities to race, especially in high-level, high calibre events around the world.
- The inclusive dialogue, transparent decision-making, and shared action required for this to take place will help prompt wider change in the cycling community’s modus operandi - creating a better framework for governance and the overall development of the sport.
- Generating a reputation for fairness will attract participants. If cycling is seen as exclusive, old-fashioned and chauvinistic, it puts people off and they will develop their interest in another sport.
- A women’s race at the TDF would encourage a new audience/demographic (women) for cycling, therefore adding value to the sport as a whole – this includes commercial gains for cycling brands and those companies who invest in the sport.
- Low levels of investment in an overlooked market mean that women’s cycling is commercially uncluttered with sponsors’ brands compared to men’s; offering a great opportunity for extensive right acquisition with brand stand-out and recognition, at relatively low entry cost. In addition, statistics suggest that female consumerism is on the rise (research found that 91% of home purchases are controlled by women (1) coverage is tackled, investment in women’s cycling can offer significant returns for sponsors and promoters by appealing to a wider, and consuming, audience.
- Women’s cycling offers sponsors a unique dual differentiation: distinctive commercial marketing (appealing to both male and female consumers and brands) as well as the Corporate Social Responsibility benefits of investing in a developing sport with important social benefits. Women’s road cycling has an array of inspirational brand ambassadors ready to inspire, engage and promote the sport and its commercial investors.
- A women’s race at the Tour de France (and the accompanying media coverage of events, teams and athletes) will help to broaden cycling’s appeal to the public, create more fans of professional cycling, provide a wider range of sporting figureheads, enhance the engagement with current fans, as well as stimulating mass participation in cycling. With investment in a structured performance pathway to help the transition of talented amateur athletes to the elite ranks, the quality of the female peloton will be further improved in what is a virtuous, mutually beneficial circle.
- A women’s race would further enhance the economic and social value to local communities hosting the Tour. This will also be the case for other communities hosting women’s events.
- At a time when inactivity and obesity are known to be increasing dangerously in the more economically developed countries of the world, with the wider social and economic problems that this brings, promotion of women’s cycling—at both the professional and grassroots level—shows an investment in the health and wellbeing of our nations. (For example: 80% of women and girls in the UK are not doing enough exercise to benefit their health).
Realising the full potential of cycling requires reform in policy and practice – at the local, national and international level. However, this growth will only ever be piecemeal if there is no concerted action to improve the opportunities for women to race and participate in the sport.
Establishing a women’s race at the Tour de France, as well as wider action, must be based on the framework for development arising 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 must unite to grow the sport successfully and sustainably, at all levels.
Attention should be paid not only to developed nations, but also to developing countries, where the sport is in its relative infancy and there is the opportunity to establish equality and good governance from the outset.
The road ahead may seem difficult, but the opportunities for growth are there and win-win solutions exist for all involved.
Areas for action: The Tour de France & advancing women’s cycling
Women’s Race at the Tour de France:
- While we ultimately seek a Tour with full parity, we accept that this may take time to be realized. However, 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.
- Between 1984-1989, a simultaneous Tour de France was held for women during the men’s event. Using the format above, the women’s race did not interfere with the men’s race. The event eventually folded not, as is sometimes mistakenly asserted, because of women’s physical incapability or organisational difficulties, but because the women’s race received no media attention and therefore no sponsorship investment. In the future, creating a platform of media exposure for the women’s race must be a shared venture by all involved, to insure the women’s event is granted publicity opportunities that will ensure the success and growth of the event (See for details: Media Coverage)
- Independent research should be undertaken in order to fully understand thecurrent state of women’s road cycling.
- This s hould include a thorough assessment of the landscape: levels of participation (at the elite and grassroots level, including clubs and teams) and demographics, commercial investment, marketing, media coverage, race opportunities (quantity, location and duration), rules and regulations, levels of support, access to facilities, etc.
- Opportunities need to be increased for women’s teams to race at the World, Continental and National level. A full evaluation must be made into previous, and existing, women’s events in order that the lessons can be learned.
- Programs for assisting racers from small and developing nations must be structured so that an equal playing field of race opportunity is created for women (and men) worldwide.
- In the short term, the UCI could sanction a women’s World Tour, and in the future, Continental Tours and Continental Championships. Each race within the Tour would be organised by an event owner/organizer (2)
- All of the current men’s pro World Tour events should also have a women’s race, taking place simultaneously. Of course, respect needs to be shown to existing women’s races, to minimise overlap and ensure that the current successful races are not undermined.
- The UCI should use the race licensing system to encourage all World Tour events to hold a simultaneous women's race with television coverage. This would benefit cycling fans as well as the women's sport
Length and duration of races:
- The UCI currently 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.
- Note: 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.
- Sport is sport irrespective of gender. Women’s cycling deserves media coverage because it’s an exciting, thrilling, tactical and emotive sport to watch, not solely because the athletes are female. Every 4 years the Olympics proves this; with 7.6 million viewers watching the BBCs coverage of the women’s Olympic road race for example.
- 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 throughout the year and around the world. It takes regular and frequent broadcasts of the same sport to build audience awareness, recognition and interest.
- The UCI could acquire the entire broadcasting rights to all the proposed women’s World Tour races, with the ability to sell those rights exclusively to one broadcaster for the entire series. This would increase the commercial appeal of rights to broadcasters and also help to create coherence and consistency in the promotion, packaging and presentation of the sport. For example, the WTA recently sold the exclusive media rights to the WTA Tour to BT Sport. It will be important, even if this was not to take place, that the parity is ensured in any media coverage the UCI already owns the rights to (eg, the road cycling World Championships).
- Consideration will need to be given to how best to package and present women’s events. This includes both live and highlights programmes, as well as magazine shows to help promote the personalities and brand ambassadors within the sport and a provide more of an aesthetic lifestyle element to the sport’s coverage.
- With the pressure on journalists (especially online) to file copy swiftly, the UCI, event owners, Teams and NGBs should help facilitate this: 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.
- It is important for all cyclists - male and female - to conduct themselves in a professional manner, acting as brand ambassadors who effectively represent the sport and encourage further public interest.
- Local clubs, groups and cycling fans should be encouraged to develop relationships with, and feed information to, local media. They should also use websites and social media to promote the sport, and advocate change.
- The male-focused trade press (cycling magazines and websites) should consider greater equality in its editorial and advertising content; covering more female athletes and races and offering information that is appealing to a female audience. This would help change perceptions, encourage greater female participation and create female brand ambassadors.
- The women’s World Tour could be sponsored by one title brand or multiple commercial partners, as with F1, or the English Premier League, Champions League or WTA. This income stream could support race operating costs and also to the individual Pro Tour Teams.
- Rights holders, notably the UCI, should market the top level of road cycling better and make strong business cases to encourage commercial investment in women’s cycling. As a market with low levels of investment, sponsors have a prime opportunity, particularly in a difficult economic climate, to acquire not just individual teams at highly competitive prices, but even an entire sport with valuable audiences, fans and participants.
- Well-run professional women's teams are to be commended and encouraged, but due to the low media coverage of races at present, many teams struggle to find sufficient sponsorship. Women's teams benefit from an association with men's professional teams through the extra media interest, greater appeal to sponsors and fans, better financial stability, and shared team infrastructure, equipment, and knowledge. The extra level of investment for a women's squad is small in comparison to running a men's team. The UCI could encourage men's WorldTour teams to have both male and female squads through the licensing system, for example by counting women's UCI points towards teams' WorldTour status.
- Given the current financial situation of women's UCI teams, implementing a mandatory minimum wage for professional female cyclists is difficult as it could exceed the budget of most teams. Hence, the overall progress of the sport is limited by the fact that many athletes have to seek alternative employment to sustain themselves financially, making it difficult to compete against those few who are able to train full time. The UCI should work towards a situation where a minimum wage for female riders is possible, by focusing on necessary improvements in media coverage, profile, and commercial investment in women's cycling.
- According to current UCI rules, the “majority of the riders in a women’s team must be under 28”. There is no such age median required of men’s WorldTour teams, and men have an U23 and junior division whereas the women only have juniors. Scientific evidence suggests that women can compete at the highest level in endurance sports in their mid to late 30s, and race results support this. Kristin Armstrong won the 2012 Olympic time trial aged 39. At the 2013 USA National Road Cycling Championships the average age of the professional women’s podium was 34.5 years. Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 aged 32, and Cadel Evans was 34 when he won in 2011.
- This discriminatory rule presents a real barrier to recruiting and retaining talented older riders, and though it was conceived to help develop younger talent it actually hinders many teams and riders. While there is only one tier of women’s UCI teams, this rule is unhelpful to the women’s sport and restricts its development. The UCI should review this rule, and consider applying it only to development teams.
Small Nation development:
- The UCI should ensure that its development programmes for cycling's smaller nations offer the same opportunities for male and female riders
- Ensure that women are represented at all levels, including in stakeholder consultations. This could also include the setting up of a Women’s Commission within the UCI, with representatives from across the cycling community.
- A minimum wage for riders in men’s WorldTour and Continental Pro teams has helped male road cycling to maintain its high professional level, by ensuring that all riders, not just the stars, on the top teams can make a living from the sport. The fact that most women’s teams cannot afford to pay a living wage to their riders is indicative of a failure of the UCI to promote women’s cycling over the past decades. The viability of a minimum wage for women depends upon the commercial development and media coverage of the sport, which the UCI should encourage and assess. Event owners and team managers must be held to account by the UCI in the event of failure to fulfil their contract.
- Athlete agents/managers have a role to play in securing individual sponsorship deals and media coverage for their athletes, and NGBs may wish to work with agents to ensure that the elite female athletes have better managerial representation.
- Teams and NGBs must aim to offer holistic support to female athletes, in order that they can maximize their performance: including access to healthcare, nutritionists, psychologists, facilities and technological support.
It is our belief that the ASO, the UCI, NGBs, commercial partners, the media, and the athletes should work together to start these changes now. There is no reason why reform cannot begin now, with the key first step being a women’s race at the Tour de France – so that the future of women’s road cycling, and the sport as a whole, can thrive in 2014 and beyond.
(2) For example – the Women’s Super League was made possible by a partnership between football’s governing body the FA, broadcaster, ESPN, and four leading commercial sponsors.