This July, Helen Bridgman is cycling the entire 3,460 kilometre route of the Tour de France, with InternationElles - to show that if amateur women can do it, the women's pro peloton certainly can.
She'll be bringing us weekly blog updates as the group make their way across Brussels, and then France. If you like dot watching, you can follow the team's progress here.
Whilst the legs are still fresh and free from aches, here's the 'who', 'what', 'why'...
In February this year I became part of a new team, the InternationElles. Made up of ten amateur females cyclists from all over the world, we are riding every stage one day ahead of the men's professional Tour de France race.
We are not racing, instead completing the almighty distance as a team.
I started cycling for fun about seven years ago and took it up a gear about two years ago when I started racing. To even contemplate riding 3,460km over 21 days is a little daunting to say the least!
Why am I doing this?
Along with my teammates, I am motivated to take on this challenge to highlight the inequalities that exist at every level within the sport I have quickly come to love.
Women's cycling has come a long way but it is far behind sports like tennis and football in terms of parity in TV and media coverage, sponsorship and prize money to name a few. I feel this at grassroots racing level and it can be seen on the roads I ride in Surrey and in sportives where women are always in the minority numbers-wise.
I’m under no illusion that there is a huge amount involved in putting on a massive multi-day stage race, but it isn't impossible.
The Giro Rosa and the Women's Tour of Britain are just two examples, but even they don’t have anywhere near the amount of media coverage that the men’s equivalent races have. Most people outside the sport of cycling won’t be aware these races even exist.
The Tour on the other hand is the jewel in the cycling crown. It transcends cycling. People all over the world have heard of the Tour. Most assume that there is also a women’s race, but they just don’t show it on TV and are shocked to know that there is no female equivalent.
It’s time for the professional women’s peloton to have a race of comparable stature to help the sport to grow and flourish and to inspire future generations of young girls to get into cycling.
If you have never seen or are doubting why anyone would want to watch women’s cycling, I challenge you to watch women’s pro races and not be excited by them. These women race from the gun and they race hard!
La Course last year arguably provided one of the most exciting race finishes of the year with Annemiek van Vleuten pipping Anna van der Breggen just before the line after a nail biting chase. And when there is coverage of women’s races, the viewing figures are there, and they are growing.
I could talk about this until the cows come home, but I’ll stop there for now!
How does an amateur cyclist train for such an event?
It’s basically been a big increase in training miles and back to back days of riding. Last year I only managed a total of about 9,000km of riding and I’d almost reached 7,000km for this year before I set off for Belgium.
I am very lucky that my work has let me take a three month sabbatical to enable me to focus on training and the ride itself. I've been making the most of it and training hard - lots of long rides mixed with interval training - and taking part in some audaxes and events like the Tour of Wessex.
A few trips abroad too, Mallorca, Girona, Corsica, to get lots of variety, and a bit more climbing than your average Surrey Hills ride. I've been lucky to have lots of friends to ride with to keep it fun and social so it doesn't feel too much like hard work!
You’ll be hearing a bit more from me as we undertake this big adventure. But for now, it’s time to tick of those first stages in Brussels...
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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