SARAH CONNOLLY Women’s rac­ing needs to be able to say it has a Tour de France

Procycling - - Prologue -

It’s time for a women’s Tour de France to re­turn

It’s strange that, in 2017, we’re still talk­ing about the lack of a women’s Tour de France – and no, La Course doesn’t count, not by a long shot. Road cy­cling is the only big en­durance sport in which the sexes are seg­re­gated, and it’s even an out­lier among the UCI’s dis­ci­plines.

A women’s Tour ran on the same roads as the men in the 1980s, the win­ners shar­ing the podium. Then, in 1999, the So­ciété du Tour de France re­fused to let the Tour Cy­cliste Féminin or­gan­is­ers use that name, and a sep­a­rated Grand Boucle strug­gled through the 2000s, un­til the fi­nal, re­duced 2009 edi­tion.

Things looked to be chang­ing in 2014 when, thanks to pub­lic pres­sure, the ASO brought in La Course for women on the Champs-Élysées on the fi­nal day of the Tour. At 89km, it was too long for the adrenaline­fu­elled ac­tion of a crit, not long enough for the usual road race tac­tics, but it did feel like a step­ping stone.

When the ASO an­nounced this year’s route would be dif­fer­ent, there was hope it would be­come a stage race once more but then they re­vealed that while the 2017 race will be on the same roads as stage 18 of the men’s Tour, fin­ish­ing on the Col d’Izoard, the route has been re­duced to just 66km. It now feels as though La Course is just a sideshow, and a real women’s Tour de France is as far away as ever. But does it mat­ter?

On one hand, of course it does. The Tour is the only race out­side of the Olympics to get pub­lic at­ten­tion so ex­clud­ing women sends a clear mes­sage: the only place for women is as podium girls or WAGs. Other sports - ath­let­ics, swim­ming, triathlon – con­tinue to reap the re­wards that par­ity brings.

Then there’s the set­ting. The Tour is fa­mous for in­cred­i­ble climbs push­ing rid­ers to their lim­its and th­ese moun­tains are miss­ing in women’s cy­cling. In the trou­bled 2000s, we lost a lot of events, es­pe­cially climbers’ races in France and Italy. While the num­ber of races has sta­bilised, the new ones tend to be in the UK, Bel­gium, and other coun­tries that have the will but not the ge­og­ra­phy. Ev­ery time the women take on big climbs – the Giro, the Rio Olympics – they put on a fan­tas­tic show but there’s lit­tle for the climbers.

On the other hand, a women’s Tour de France run by an un­in­ter­ested ASO could do more harm than good. Top teams and rid­ers have raced La Course be­cause, de­spite the is­sues, who wouldn’t race on the Champs-Élysées? But it’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter in the Vuelta’s equiv­a­lent, the Madrid Chal­lenge, where the ab­sence of some top sprint­ers and teams tells its own story. And a stage race of 80km days over flat cour­ses and smaller climbs would send a mes­sage that women aren’t ca­pa­ble of riding like the men. It would add noth­ing to the cal­en­dar.

It’s im­por­tant to stress that a women’s Tour de France shouldn’t be a char­i­ta­ble im­pulse. The women’s peloton brings a whole new set of fan­tas­tic sto­ry­lines to en­joy.

Then there’s how women race. Women com­pete over the same dis­tances as men in en­durance races such as the 6,900km Trans Amer­ica (which in 2016 was won out­right by a woman, Lael Wil­cox), yet the UCI has only just in­creased women’s one-day road race dis­tances to 160km. The pre­vi­ous limit of 140km re­sulted in ex­plo­sive rac­ing that’s ar­guably more spec­ta­tor friendly than men’s five-hour slugfests. The new dis­tance for women’s rac­ing won’t change that. In­cor­po­rat­ing what’s best in women’s rac­ing, while giv­ing them the chance to take on the ter­rain of the Tour at dis­tances which stretch the front of the field, would be a win for ev­ery­one.

With the ASO adding a women’s Liège-Bas­togneLiège this year, there’s still hope they’ll change their mind over La Course in the fu­ture. The im­por­tant thing is that they are con­stantly re­minded of the de­mand for a women’s Tour. Maybe by 2027, we won’t need to keep hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion.

Sarah Connolly is a proli ic writer and recog­nised as a lead­ing au­thor­ity on women's cy­cling. You can ind her all over so­cial me­dia, pod­casts and var­i­ous web­sites, in­clud­ing her own blog: prowom­en­scy­

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