Let Them Race | The Case for a Women’s Tour de France
The Women Who Conquered the Tour de France Route, the Day before the Men
On Saturday, July 28, 13 women crossed the finish line of the final stage of the Tour de France. The amateur racers were not racing and expected no fanfare as they dodged traffic on their 21-day, 3,351km (2,082-mile) journey. All the same, they were greeted at the finish by the flashing cameras of an eager media. Suddenly, the figure of a woman with wings printed on the left thigh and across the front of their cycling kits seemed more appropriate than ever. They had done it; perhaps their efforts would now give wings to elite female racers everywhere to have their chance. Maybe now they would let them race.
In 1955 women were granted their first chance to have a go at the greatest road cycling race of them all – the Tour de France. The five-day Tour de France Féminin was raced by 41 women, who finished the challenge but were denied the opportunity the following year, and the year after that. In fact, the Women’s Tour didn’t reappear again until 1984.
For two years, women enjoyed the challenge of racing the same (only slightly shortened) routes as the men. But without the attention of the TV cameras, the Tour de France Féminin was shortened to two weeks. And after two years of a two-week tour, the race was cut altogether.
The latest incarnation of a “women’s Tour de France” is La Course, by le Tour de France. The one-day race through Paris streets has been held since 2014, with a one-year change up in 2017 to a controversial two-day event. But, if you ask many of the elite racers at La Course, the women’s race feels like a parade compared to the grandeur of the Tour de France the men take for granted.
That’s where “Donnons des Elles au Vélo” comes in. For four years, the group which has grown from three to 13 amateur racers has set out to complete the Tour de France route the day before the official competition. With the goals of fighting gender inequalities in cycling, increasing the numbers of women riding bikes, and blowing the lid off the gender bias that says women are fragile and not capable of such an arduous race, they encouraged all cyclists who believe in their mission to bring back the Tour de France Féminin to join them on route.
All 13 women who began Stage 1 on July 6th in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île finished on July 28th on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. But they were not alone, on each stage they were joined by supporters – and, not just one or two or even a handful – they have been accompanied by a vast peloton. At the start of Stage 6, 120 cyclists showed up to ride alongside the Donnons des Elles, saying, “we want to see a women’s Tour de France.”
For the first time, after four years of proving that even amateur women can ride and complete the Tour, the Donnons des Elles feel that their message has been heard. Outside of France, international media has started to tune in, and what began as a whisper is becoming a booming voice that the Tour de France cannot ignore. The Donnons des Elles hopes the coverage can help change the mentality that has prevented women from being granted their own Tour de France.
“We want a women’s stage race with the same media coverage and the same attention as men have,” Tetiana Kalachova, one of the Tour de France route finishers, told The Associated Press. “Not necessarily the same roads and not necessarily the same quantity of dates, but with the same appreciation.”
Though it is not clear if their goal will be achieved in 2019, one thing is certain: The “Donnons des Elles au Velo” will continue to ride “the day before” until a true women’s Tour de France exists.