By Owen Rogers
Lizzie Deignan’s victory at La Course last Saturday finished a stunning week of women’s racing. She won a nail-biting edition GP Plouay the Tuesday before, and the Euros was equally gripping, all three making excellent adverts for women’s racing.
However, it was La Course which made the headlines, once again providing huge exposure for the women’s sport.
I’ve worked at all the European Women’s WorldTour races, and while those run alongside men’s events like Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège attract some headlines, I can safely say La Course attracts more coverage than all the standalone women’s races put together.
As always La Course this year brought the annual bout of indignation about the lack of a Tour de France from those who follow the women’s sport only for the one race, and accusations ASO has dragged its feet are entirely fair.
When it was created in 2014, my first year working in the women’s sport, the event was touted as a precursor to a full stage race, however, while the event moved away from its Paris debut, nothing bigger materialised.
Until now that is. Not only has UCI president David Lappartient mentioned the creation of a French multi-day race in recent days, more importantly, Tour organiser ASO has been hinting at it for a while.
Details came in mid-August when Tour boss, Christian Prudhomme met with Les Donnons des Elles au Vélo, a group of women riding the route of the Tour to raise awareness of the lack of a women’s event.
A tweet from Les Donnons’ sponsor, Pete Geyer of race livestream website cyclingfans.com failed to gain much traction.
As well as congratulating the women on their achievements and tenacious campaigning, Prudhomme confirmed the creation of a women’s Tour de France. He told them it would begin on the final day of the 2022 Tour and last for one week.
For anyone believing in justice and equality this is very welcome news. At last, the women’s peloton can properly take advantage of the world’s biggest race, and reap the benefits of the publicity that hopefully comes with it.
But there is continued criticism the new race is not coming soon enough, and even ludicrous suggestions they should have found space for a stage race in 2020’s reorganised calendar.
Not only does the re-scheduled nine-day Giro Rosa begin on September 11, Tuesday this week should have seen the start of the six-day Boels Ladies Tour in the Netherlands. Organising a French stage race in the five weeks since the Dutch race was cancelled is unworkable.
We complain when men’s WorldTour stage races overlap, but overlapping top tier women’s races is not possible when even the biggest teams lack the numbers to deal with a double programme. Of the eight newly created WorldTour teams, two have only 11 riders and the biggest, Canyon-SRAM has 16, so with six-woman race rosters it’s not going to happen.
So what about next year? Surely there’s time?
Possibly, however, COVID-19 has disrupted 2021 already, the re-scheduling of the Olympics throwing a spanner in the works, causing even the men’s Tour to change dates and postpone the proposed start in Copenhagen.
What’s more, other races will already have set dates and begun organising their events. Why should those who have been successfully run for years be forced aside at ASO’s whim?
Any new stage race must be properly integrated or risk disrupting what is a relatively structured season. The UCI will need to work with organisers to re-schedule dates, and the traditional Women’s WorldTour hiatus after the Giro Rosa is a perfect spot making the proposed date after the men’s race perfect. Except next year the Olympics will be in that spot.
ASO is a naturally conservative organisation and it will have weighed the pros and cons of staging a women’s Tour, and if Prudhomme and Lappartient are talking publicly about it they are highly unlikely to go back on their word.
When I watch the Tour I often think how, as boys the riders dreamt of competing for yellow as they raced their mates in the park. How they jabbered with enthusiasm, their parents patiently and sceptically listening to their boys’ aspirations.
It’s been a while coming, but now young girls can have that same dream.
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