A group of 13 women cyclist completed their own Tour de France a day before the men. The mirrored the 21 stages riding all 3,351-km to promote the return of a women’s Tour. The pro women’s peloton only got one day of racing on the same route as the men at La Course by Le Tour de France. The women had no podium ceremony awaiting them on the Champs-Élysées but they hope their exploits proved a point.
“We want a women’s stage race with the same media coverage and the same attention as men have,” Tetiana Kalachova told The Associated Press. “Not necessarily the same roads and not necessarily the same quantity of dates, but with the same appreciation.”
The 13 women have documented their ride with videos and posts on social media as they have ridden the high mountains on the Alps, the Pyrenees along with the cobbles stones of Roubaix. “We are trying to prove that women, even amateurs, totally clean – no doping, no special assistance – are able for this kind of effort.”
The ride is organized by the Donnons des Elles au Vélo J-1 club which started riding the course in 2015. Each year it has grown and long with the bigger more people have taken notice and supported their ride. “Now when we come, people scream and encourage. They prepare food for the breaks or on arrival. They write our names on the climbs and this is pretty awesome,” Kalachova said.
The highest profile women’s stage race on the calendar is the Giro Rosa which overlaps with the beginning of the Tour. The race is often overshadowed by the men’s Tour despite the exciting racing. Even La Course, which featured a nail-biting finish which few got to enjoy because of limited highlights and live coverage.
The group of women riding aren’t alone in believing a women’s Tour de France would benefit the sport. “I want to see a women’s Tour de France within the term of my presidency,” said UCI president David Lappartient soon after his election. La Course is nice, but ASO can do more and I have put pressure on them to achieve this.”
Women’s cycling will get a new high profile team in 2019 with Trek starting a team led by former world champion Lizzie Deignan who is expecting her first child but intends to return to competition with an eye on the world championships in 2019 and the 2020 Olympics. Sunweb, Mitchelton-Scott, Groupama-FDJ and Movistar also have women’s teams but it’s yet to be seen if a wealthy organization like Team Sky will start a women’s program.
While the 13 women are done their ride as the 2018 also wraps up, they prove a three week stage race is not too taxing for amateur women let along the worlds top professionals. Let along issues of TV coverage and sponsorship, organizers can at least provide equitable races to both pelotons. That sort of parity is the riders long-term goal and they hope their ride has inspired organizers and other women to champion the cause.