Sports

At Tour de France Femmes, It’s a Steep Climb to Equality

MEAUX, France — After successful Stage 2 of the Tour de France Femmes, the Dutch bicycle owner Marianne Vos pulled on the Tour chief’s yellow jersey for the primary time and defined that no, truly, this particular second was not one thing that had all the time been a dream for her.

As a baby, Vos had attended the Tour de France each summer time and camped along with her household alongside the course for your entire three weeks, shouting encouragement because the riders sped throughout flat roads, pedaled up curvy mountain passes and flew down steep slopes. That was the place Vos, an Olympic gold medalist and winner of quite a few world championships, fell in love with biking. But the race was just for males, so it was by no means her aim to win it.

Over time, although, as she grew to become one of the vital completed girls’s cyclists in historical past, it dawned on her: Why ought to males get all of the media consideration, fan adulation and cash that solely the Tour de France can convey?

This realization was partly how the Tour de France Femmes was revived this week after a 33-year absence. Vos was a main pressure in lobbying to convey again the ladies’s race, which was held as soon as in 1955, then once more from 1984 to 1989, earlier than it disappeared once more for a technology.

Not till Sunday, within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and below a searing summer time solar, did the ladies — 144 racers from 24 groups — get again on their bikes for a race related to the Tour, essentially the most prestigious race in biking.

“Of course, you may say possibly it has taken too lengthy, however yeah, however I’m simply completely happy it is right here,” mentioned Vos, who stored the yellow jersey on Tuesday after ending second in Stage 3. It was her second runner- up end in three days. “I feel the time is true.”

For some cyclists and girls’s rights advocates like Vos, the time has been proper for at the least a decade.

In 2013, Vos and three different cyclists — the American Kathryn Bertine, a girls’s biking advocate from Bronxville, NY; the British former time-trial champion Emma Pooley; and the four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington — have been so positive it was the best time for a girls’s Tour that they fashioned a group known as Le Tour Entier (French for The Whole Tour) to rally public assist for holding one.

Their efforts to persuade the Amaury Sport Organization, or ASO — the corporate that runs the Tour — labored, however solely to a level.

ASO agreed to host a race in 2014 that was clearly not The Whole Tour, contemplating that the primary version of the race was about 2 p.c so long as the boys’s race. The occasion, known as La Course by Le Tour de France, was a one-day circuit race held on the ultimate day of the boys’s Tour, in Paris. Vos gained that day, after which gained once more in 2019.

ASO was supposed to add three to 5 race days to that one-day race till the ladies’s race reached parity with the 21-day males’s race, Bertine mentioned in a phone interview on Monday, however that by no means occurred. La Course was changed altogether this 12 months by the eight-day Tour de France Femmes — longer than the La Course, however not practically so long as the boys’s Tour.

“I do consider that the social stress placed on ASO was the rationale they lastly, after eight years, determined to lastly increase the ladies’s race,” mentioned Bertine, who made a documentary known as “Half the Road” that mentioned the gender inequities in biking . “My greatest concern is that this race will keep eight days lengthy for an additional eight years as a result of it is scary to have a look at the ASO’s observe file on this. They are dinosaurs who resisted this for a lengthy, very long time.”

Bertine lamented that ladies’s biking went backwards not lengthy after the ladies’s Tour was held in 1984.

Six girls’s groups raced that Tour similtaneously the boys, with the ladies beginning 35 to 45 miles out entrance every day. They rode 18 of the 21 phases, together with climbing the intimidating Alpe d’Huez, and all however one of many girls completed. Marianne Martin, of Boulder, Colo., grew to become the primary American — feminine or male — to win the Tour de France.

On Sunday in Paris, sporting a sleeveless yellow costume the identical coloration because the Tour chief’s jersey, Martin, 64, was in the beginning of the Tour de France Femmes to cheer the ladies’s racers. She recalled using previous 1000’s of followers on the 1984 Tour, simply hours earlier than the boys’s race got here into the town, and feeling the fun the boys had skilled yearly because the race started in 1903.

People shouting. Flags waving. Cowbells ringing. She had by no means seen something prefer it. On Sunday, the environment felt the identical — and that was exhilarating, she mentioned.

One night time at that 1984 Tour, she joined a males’s workforce for dinner and observed that their resort was a lot nicer and their meals was a lot better than that of the ladies. Yet she was unfazed.

“I did not care as a result of we have been on the Tour de France and I obtained a therapeutic massage daily and we have been fed and obtained to race our bikes daily in France,” Martin mentioned. “I did not have expectations for extra.”

She recalled successful about $1,000 and a trophy. The males’s winner, France’s Laurent Fignon, gained greater than $100,000. This 12 months, there may be additionally a yawning disparity between males’s and girls’s prize cash.

The girls will get about $250,000, with the general race winner receiving about $50,000. On the boys’s facet, the purse was greater than $2 million, with Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard successful greater than $500,000 for ending first.

There’s nonetheless a great distance to go for ladies to obtain parity within the sport. The worldwide biking federation, for instance, caps how far they will experience in at some point, a distance that’s a lot shorter than the boys’s most. (The girls’s Olympic highway course, in one other instance, is 60 miles shorter than the boys’s.) The males’s minimal wage on the WorldTour is larger than the ladies’s, and the budgets for ladies’s groups are sometimes a pittance in contrast to the boys’s.

Linda Jackson, proprietor of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB girls’s biking workforce, mentioned the highway to the highest of the game — and to equality — will take each time and a calculated plan for achievement, particularly when constructing one thing sustainable.

Jackson, a former funding banker, began her workforce in 2004, with the aim to sometime race in Europe. Her squad is competing on the ladies’s WorldTour and in addition within the Tour de France Femmes this 12 months.

There are many indicators that the game is on the upswing for ladies, she mentioned, together with extra races, extra TV protection and better minimal salaries that assist riders focus solely on their coaching (which suggests a larger degree of competitors).

It was additionally essential that Zwift, a health expertise firm, signed a four-year contract because the marquee sponsor of the Tour de France Femmes. In 2020, the corporate paired with ASO to host a digital Tour de France through the pandemic, and viewership numbers for the ladies’s occasions have been so excessive that Zwift ultimately made a dedication to assist ASO convey the ladies’s Tour again to life.

“ASO, specifically, would not do that as a result of, ‘Equality for ladies, wow, would not it’s good to have?'” Jackson mentioned. “They are doing it as a result of they see the rising momentum within the sport.”

She added: “They aren’t going to have a girls’s Tour in 20 years in the event that they lose cash for 3 to 4 years. ASO has to break even at the least.”

Media publicity is an important element for the race’s success, Jackson mentioned, and with 2 1/2 hours of reside tv protection a day at this girls’s Tour, “this one race has the potential to change our sport ceaselessly.” Kathrin Hammes, who rides for Jackson’s workforce, mentioned: “People listen after they hear concerning the Tour de France. It’s the one race that everyone is aware of.”

Many of the ladies racing the Tour mentioned an eight-day occasion was a good begin, however that they’re already hoping for extra. The Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten, a race favourite, mentioned she is prepared for a three-week problem, similar to the take a look at the boys endure. She added that she could be “tremendous excited” for an epic climb just like the one up Alpe d’Huez as a result of that might be one other milestone for ladies’s biking.

For now, the racers have a number of days left earlier than reaching the ultimate phases, which will likely be held within the Vosges Mountains and can finish with a painful climb up La Super Planche des Belles Filles, a summit that’s at occasions included within the males’s Tour.

And Vos — who has achieved nearly all the pieces there may be to do in biking — has a few days left earlier than she will be able to look again and respect her roles as a racer and an advocate who helped make your entire occasion occur.

Maybe she’s going to bear in mind younger women cheering her title as they lined up alongside the course and watched the peloton take off on Stage 2. Or the group of males from a Brie-making society sporting creamy yellow cloaks and matching flat-topped hats who requested her for a selfie.

But early within the race, Vos mentioned she couldn’t consider something however the many miles forward.

“I’m so grateful for everybody who put their vitality into making this race occur,” she mentioned. “But I’m additionally centered on racing now. I’ll let it sink in and take into consideration what occurred possibly in the long run, after the season, or in a couple of years even.”

Riding away, she mentioned, “All I do know now’s that the Tour de France is larger than sports activities.”

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