The 2013 Tour de France was a great race, with tough climbs, long days in the saddle, heroic breakaways and superb teamwork that culminated in a great night spectacle finish on the famed Champs-Elysees’ in the heart of Paris.
But there was one thing missing that many of us take for granted in the progressive 21st Century: There were no women riders and no women’s race.
It wasn’t always that way. The Tour Cycliste Feminin was a on-again, off-again event that brought the world’s best female cyclists to France to show that women not only raced bicycles, they could be just as exciting and inspiring as the male riders in Le Tour de France.
But more often than not, the women’s race struggled for financial support and the media attention that brings in both fans and sponsor money to put on a multi-stage race around France.
That may be changing. The Amaury Sports Organization (A.S.O.) that owns and produces the men’s Tour de France is now exploring the possibility of launching a new women’s multi-stage road cycling tour.
That’s an interesting change of fortune because in 1998 the A.S.O. accused the women’s Tour de France of trademark infringement. The women’s race lost its valuable connection with the world’s most famous cycling race and left France without a major women’s stage race.
If A.S.O. were to build – and financially support — a new women’s Tour, it could reverse years of weak financial and organizational history that saw stages cancelled, extraordinarily long transfers between stages and little prize money for the women riders. The 2009 race was the last time the race was held.
Jean-Etienne Amaury, chairman of the family-owned unit, told Bloomsbury News that its executives have debated the subject after a petition backed by Olympic road-race gold medalist Marianne Vos gathered more than 65,000 signatures in 11 days.
In the past, when A.S.O supported the women’s race, female riders departed early from towns closer to the finish than on the men’s course, but finished in the same location as the men. According to UCI (International Cycling Union) rules, elite women are allowed to ride a maximum of 140 km in a day, compared to the maximum distances of 240 to 280 km for the top male cyclists.
Italy’s Giro Rosa, the longest race for women in 2013, lasts eight days with a distance of 778.5 kilometers and has a $608 top prize. The male winner of the three-week Tour de France pockets a minimum of $595,000 but can earn much more from stage-win bonuses and other awards, not to mention a salary boost in the millions.
The big questions for A.S.O are the level of fan support and television coverage outside of France. Inside France, there is massive coverage, in part because A.S.O. owns L’Equipe, the country’s largest sports daily newspaper.
Would you follow a Women’s Tour de France? What should USA Cycling do to prepare American women riders to compete in such an event should the ASO decide to present it? Let us know!