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After a 33-Year Wait, Women Cyclists Can Finally Compete in the Tour de France Femmes

It’s a step in the right direction toward gender equality in the sport.

Sadly, gender inequality is an issue that spans across industries, one that’s particularly noticeable in the sports world. Female athletes are often paid less and not given the same air time as their male counterparts, and companies tend to spend more of their advertising dollars on men’s sports. This is a battle SI Swimsuit models and U.S. women’s national soccer team members Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have fought against for years. But a positive change is happening as female cyclists hit the road in the Tour de France Femmes, an event three decades in the making.

We all know about the Tour de France, which started in 1903 and has since become the preeminent race in men’s cycling. Women have never had a comparable race. There was a one-off event in 1955, a five-day stage race through Normandy called the Tour de France Féminin. But then nothing again until 1984, when there seemed to be a glimmer of hope as a women’s stage race was initiated. It was canceled after the 1989 event due to lack of media coverage and sponsorship. Some unofficial races have taken place intermittently since then but didn't get attention or the proper backing.

EPERNAY, FRANCE - JULY 26: (L-R) Tiffany Cromwell of Australia and Team Canyon//SRAM Racing, Ilse Pluimers of Netherlands and Team AG Insurance - NXTG, Eugenia Bujak of Slovenia and UAE Team ADQ, Maike Van Der Duin of Netherlands and Team Le Col Wahoo polka dot mountain jersey and Victoire Berteau of France and Team Cofidis Féminin cross the finishing line during the 1st Tour de France Femmes 2022, Stage 3 a 133,6km stage from Reims to Épernay / #TDFF / #UCIWWT / on July 26, 2022 in Epernay, France. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

EPERNAY, FRANCE - JULY 26: (L-R) Tiffany Cromwell of Australia and Team Canyon//SRAM Racing, Ilse Pluimers of Netherlands and Team AG Insurance - NXTG, Eugenia Bujak of Slovenia and UAE Team ADQ, Maike Van Der Duin of Netherlands and Team Le Col Wahoo polka dot mountain jersey and Victoire Berteau of France and Team Cofidis Féminin cross the finishing line during the 1st Tour de France Femmes 2022, Stage 3 a 133,6km stage from Reims to Épernay / #TDFF / #UCIWWT / on July 26, 2022 in Epernay, France. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Throughout that time, women in the sport requested an official race and similar backing as the men, only to be shut down. Four female cyclists even signed a petition in 2013 demanding women be allowed to race the Tour de France.

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“While many women’s sports face battles of inequity, road cycling remains one of the worst offenders: fewer race opportunities, no televised coverage, shorter distances, and therefore salary and prize money inequity,” the petition read. “We seek not to race against the men, but to have our own professional field running in conjunction with the men’s event, at the same time, over the same distances, on the same days, with modifications in start/finish times, so neither gender’s race interferes with the other.”

In response to the petition, La Course by Le Tour de France was held between 2014 and 2021, but it was only a day or two. La Course has evolved into an event more closely mimicking the men’s version. The new Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (the official name) takes place over eight days and covers 640 miles, including two mountain stages. The prize is €250,000 (about $256,108), the biggest purse in all women’s cycling.

Moreover, media and brands are finally getting behind the much-deserved race. It is being broadcast in 170 countries, and Zwift, an extremely popular cycling video game platform, is the title sponsor.

“The inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift marks a pivotal time in sport, as the women’s pro peloton line up for the world’s most prestigious cycling event,” Zwift said in a statement. “Let’s celebrate this moment, this momentum, with some new rules to power the sport forward.”

Other major players in the industry, like Hammerhead—a company that makes a cycling GPS computer used by world-renowned athletes like Chris Froome and Flora Duffy—opted to split their media spend between both the men’s and women’s races. Plus, they created a commercial honoring powerful female cyclists that ran during both tours.

“The Tour de Femme denotes a critical moment in time,” says Amanda Braverman, the global brand marketing director at Hammeheard. “There’s an obligation across the industry to rise to meet the moment. I’m proud to see Hammerhead doing just that—elevating and honoring the heritage of female cyclists and personalities and committing to major media placements beyond the Tour de Femme event itself.”

Not surprisingly, all this effort and support is paying off and giving the deserved attention to the incredible women cyclists racing. So much so that even the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, tweeted about the event.

"What an amazing Stage 1 of @LeTourFemmes — and such a great sight to see after 33 long years," Biden wrote on the official FLOTUS Twitter account.

Of course, there is still work to be done. Incredibly, the race had to receive an exemption from UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) because the organizing body still has limits on what the distance of a women’s race can be. But, all can agree that the Tour de France Femmes is a step in the right direction.

Want to tune in? The race will conclude on July 31 in eastern France at La Super Planche des Belles Filles.