How do you protest the lack of a women’s Tour de France?
For The InternationElles, a collection of amateur cyclists and activists, it’s taking on a challenge as tough as the race itself.
Last year the 10 women in the group rode the entire course of the 2019 Tour de France one day ahead of the men, to raise awareness of the lack of gender equality in cycling.
The InternationElles had planned to repeat their outstanding feat again this year, before coronavirus put an end to their ambitions.
Instead the team turned to plan B - ride the 3,470km of the Tour in a four-day, non-step team relay riding from the ‘comfort’ of their own homes on statics bikes.
Then the five UK-based riders in the group will step up the challenge by taking on the Everesting challenge on the famous Bwlch climb in South Wales.
InternationElle Lou Gibson, a global events manager from Marlow said: “We were absolutely gutted when we realised that, despite our best efforts, we were not going to be able to ride the route ahead of the men in France this year. But we are a determined bunch and have worked tirelessly with our partners to find a way both to make our challenge even harder, to keep the campaign alive and make our voices heard.”
The InternationElles was formed last year to ride the Tour de France one day ahead of the men’s peloton, inspired by the unique event Donnons des Elles au Velo J-1 which started in 2015.
In fact the InternationElles actually rode further than the men’s peloton last year, as they completed the entire L’Iseran course on stage 20, which was shortened for the Tour peloton due to adverse weather.
This year the 10 riders, spread across the UK, Netherlands, USA and Australia, were unable to travel to France for the Tour due the global pandemic.
Instead they started their 3,470km relay on Saturday, August 29, as the men’s peloton departed from Nice, and will finish the first part of their ride on Wednesday (September 2).
Then the British contingent will travel to the Rhondda Valley in Wales to complete 26 repetitions of The Bwlch, a five per cent gradient climb, until they reach the height of Mount Everest.
The team have 10 key areas of inequality in cycling they want to draw attention to with their exploits:
- Reduce the pay gap in pro cycling – many female team riders still need to hold down jobs to pay their way and the Women’s Tour is the only race that offers financial parity. Minimum wage and paid maternity leave to be introduced as first measure.
- Address the lack of sponsorship – there are many fewer women’s team, the teams are smaller, so there are far fewer opportunities.
- Increase the number of women-only races – both at a professional and amateur level. Every men’s pro race should have a women’s equivalent, starting with the Tour de France.
- Introduce more longer women’s races – there appears to be a misconception about what women riders are capable of.
- Increase media coverage – more televised races, plus coverage within cycling media.
- Greater federation support (both domestic & international) – more women in positions of power.
- Greater accessibility of the sport at grassroots level – greater visibility of how to get started.
- Eradication of sexism within the sport - being told by teams to look pretty & body shaming.
- Make more women-specific race and training data available.
- Redress the gender balance in bike design e.g. bikes being sold with male saddles as standard.
The team are supported by Skoda, whose ambassador for cycling Dame Sarah Storey said: “The lack of a women’s Tour de France has been a symbol of the gap that exists between the opportunities for men and women in cycling and I’ve been delighted to work alongside these superb ladies to help shine a light on this issue."
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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