Emma Pooley says she cannot understand why there is not a women’s Tour de France, saying it would not “harm anybody”.

Pooley and reigning world and Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos are among those behind a petition asking Tour organiser ASO to put on a women’s race from 2014.

Launched online last Friday, the petition (tinyurl.com/p7w3swh) has already been signed over 31,000 times, and Pooley believes it would be a vital step in reducing the gender equality gap within the sport.

“Women’s cycling has gone down hill in recent years, so this would be a positive step for the sport. I cannot see why there would be opposition to it, because it is not harming anybody,” the 30-year-old told Cycling Weekly.

“OK, there may be a few chauvinist males who think women should stay at home in the kitchen and cook their husband’s dinner, but I believe a women’s Tour would be great for the sport, great for the fans on the roadside and great for women’s cycling.

“There are a lot of problems in women’s cycling, but I think the root of the problem is that our races do not get TV and media coverage. Why would sponsors be interested in the sport? It’s clear that when people do watch women’s racing, they find it exciting, as the Olympic road races [in London] showed.”

“Logistically possible
Pooley, who won the last edition of the La Grande Boucle Féminine – widely considered to be the closest equivalent to the men’s Tour – in 2009, believes that from a logistical point of view, staging a women’s race is more than do able.

“ASO can make themselves look the like good guys, and they can reach out to a completely different market. It wouldn’t be simple [to put on], but the Tour isn’t anyway, it’s a massive logistical operation. If the biggest problem is the lack of hotel rooms, then get caravan companies involved and give the women’s teams a couple of those for the race!

“I agree you can’t race [a men’s and women’s event] at the same time, but the roads are closed for hours before the men pass through. Some people suggested doing it a women’s race a day in advance, which doesn’t really help because the media are not there to cover it. Fans spend hours on the roadside, often for a quick glimpse of the race, so at least with a women’s Tour they would get two quick glimpses!”

One big stumbling block comes in the form of an existing UCI rule, which limits women’s stage races to have an average length of 100km per stage.

Therefore, Pooley’s initial proposal to the ASO is to initially run a women’s race with shorter stages, before holding a full-length women’s event once the differences in quality within the peloton reduce.

“It is the case that the women’s peloton is not at a similar standard, so if you had a 250-kilometre mountain stage right now, there would be vast time gaps. That’s because women’s sport cannot be fully professional at the moment because of the financial limitations. It’s not that the women are lazy, but at the moment the sport isn’t fully developed enough for 120 or 150 riders to finish the Tour.

“That’s not me saying I don’t want to ride the full Tour – I do – but right now I just cannot see them allowing it and the UCI changing their rule. I want to do the whole thing to prove it is possible. Think about it – Marianne Vos can climb better than some of the riders in the Tour de France.”

*To read more of CW’s interview with Emma Pooley, see this week’s issue (July 18).

  • Alex Pettigrew

    It’s times like now when cycling, is at it’s peak. So go on Emma lets see, a male and female, Tour de France (No 101) start in Britain next year.

    Yours in Sport

  • Neville Janet

    Yes it’s time to look at re starting the womans Tour de France. ASO should undertake a careful look at this. Sponsors would gain access to a larger tv audience. It would also grow the sport of cycling.

  • Ken Evans

    In 2014 (351 days away) the Tour will visit the UK, starting in Yorkshire, maybe it would be possible to run a women’s race ahead of the men’s race, on the 3 stages run in the UK. If required the female stages could be shortened, so that they were certain to finish ahead of the men’s races. The finish towns could stay the same, but the starts could be moved forward along the routes, (as 200 Km is rather far, for a smaller female peloton). It may not be a full 3 week Grand Tour, but it is better than nothing.

  • Jon Miles

    Totally agree with Emma; women riders have for too long been ignored by mainstream cycling and a Tour in France would make such a big difference.
    Women’s racing in Great Britain has exploded in the past two years so the support is there, it just needs the will from those who control cycling.

  • ed

    what emma doesnt realise is someone has to pay for this, look at the sports pages all the magazines for sport are aimed at men. this is because advertisers obviously think its worth spending money to get to a male audience , look at the rake of gossip mags that women buy, they obviously think that paying an actrees for one campaign what would sponsor a cycling team for a year is worth it.
    basically procycling isnt about the riders or whether its fair or not, its about whether the sponsors think they get a good enough return.

    be it event or team sponsors unless the return is threr or someone is prepared to run it at a loss it aint gonna happen maybe emma should go out there and find sponsors and setup a womens tour of britain (i’d watch).

  • Steve Johnson

    Would like to sign the petition but the link doesn’t take you to it. Anyone got the right link, please?

    Also the page it does take you to has links to ‘Cycle Routes in Northern England’ which I’d be interested in but that just takes you to the IPC home page!

    Needs sorting out, CW.

  • John

    Having been to watch a few tour stages this year I think there is a lot of merit in these suggestions. The stage could just be run before the mens and it would give us something else to watch. If the stage is too long then just have the start a bit further down the road with the same finishes. Make it teams of 5 instead of nine and let the fun begin. Most of the main teams could easily support it.