A multi-day women’s Tour de France starts Sunday in Paris, the first in decades: NPR

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Team South Africa leads the field during the Women‘s Road Race on Day 2 of the 2020 Olympics at Fuji International Speedway on July 25, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan.

Michael Steele/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Michael Steele/Getty Images


Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Team South Africa leads the field during the Women’s Road Race on Day 2 of the 2020 Olympics at Fuji International Speedway on July 25, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The most famous cycling competition, for men, ends on Sunday in Paris.

But on the same day, in the same city, another version of the Tour de France begin.

And this one is for the best female riders in the world.

It has been more than 30 years since women took part in a viable multi-stage Tour de France. Now they finally have another chance, and it’s due, in large part, to the pandemic.

Riding to home victory

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, elite cyclists, just like everyone else, were in lockdown.

But for them, as the proverbial door closed, another opened.

The company Zwift, which combines fitness and video games for indoor training, runs virtual races around the world, with separate competitions for men and women. Including a Virtual Tour de France.

Some professional cyclists rolled their eyes.

“Like, I didn’t want to ride indoors. I thought it was stupid,” said American cyclist Lily Williams. “You know it’s harder to roll inside because you’re just staring at the wall.”

Others have seized the opportunity to break the drudgery of indoor training and maintain a level of competitiveness, albeit virtual.

“I saw the opportunity it gave us in one of the toughest years for the world,” said Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, a 13-year veteran of women’s professional cycling.

It paid off for Moolman-Pasio.

She cycled to victory in the fifth stage of the virtual Tour de France 2020, the so-called “queen stage”. The toughest stage of a multi-day road race.

The next day, Moolman-Pasio and her husband ventured outside their home in Girona, Spain, and noticed people pointing.

“He says, ‘Well, it’s because of the Tour de France,'” Moolman-Pasio said. “You know you were on TV and everyone saw you win the queen stage.”

It was not an isolated incident.

Colombian rider Egan Bernal, champion of the 2019 Tour de France, holds a virtual test during a press conference in Bogota on April 2, 2022.

JUAN BARRETO/Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

JUAN BARRETO/Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images


Colombian rider Egan Bernal, champion of the 2019 Tour de France, holds a virtual test during a press conference in Bogota on April 2, 2022.

JUAN BARRETO/Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Turn virtual racing into reality

According to Zwift, more than 16 million people in more than 130 countries have seen the virtual races – on television and on digital platforms. And the audience was evenly split between male and female events.

Long-time Tour de France organizer ASO – Amaury Sport Organization – saw the potential for women’s cycling in these numbers.

“That’s how the conversation started,” Moolman-Pasio said.

The conversation with Zwift was about launching a true women’s Tour, with weight and durability. A top-notch dissemination plan was essential.

“That’s key to the success of the race,” said Zwift’s Kate Veronneau, “to grow that audience, create future investment, grow the race and sustain it.”

Veronneau says broadcasting to 190 countries on each of the eight days of the race should certainly help keep the new women’s Tour de France going.

After so many other Tours had left.

Laurent Fignon, left, of France, and Marianne Martin of Boulder, Colorado, hold their trophies in Paris after winning the men’s and women’s Tour de France cycling races on July 23, 1984.

Steve/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Steve/AP

Trials and many errors

In 1955, a loop in five stages from Paris to Normandy marked the first women’s Tour de France. But that only lasted a year.

It was not until 1984 that the organizers tried again.

A multi-stage event called the Women’s Tour de France ran for six years. It featured three wins for the French cycling legend Jeannie Longo.

She won the last event in 1989. This Tour folded, like other versions thereafter, due to uneven media coverage and sponsorship.

Both are there now.

Zwift won’t say how much money it invested in its four-year title sponsorship of the Women’s Tour de France with Zwift. But that’s enough for around $250,000 in prizes, with $50,000 for the winner.

Finally seeing women

Moolman-Pasio is one of many veteran riders who have fought for a viable women’s Tour de France. She is thrilled to finally be able to take part in the most important event in cycling and the girls and young women who will watch her.

“Instead of sitting on the sofa and watching the Tour de France and seeing men climbing those epic climbs and fighting for the yellow jersey, they will finally see [women]”, said Moolman-Pasio. “And it’s an opportunity for them to recognize professional cycling as a career choice.

It is still a difficult choice.

Many professional cyclists have to work in addition to racing.

Williams, the American runner who thought virtual racing was stupid but loves it so much now that she sometimes intentionally rides indoors, was one of them. She spent most of her five years as a professional working at another job – as communications director for a bike registration network.

But the financial landscape is changing, and eventually Williams is a full-time pro.

“It’s the first year that I’ve earned a full salary from cycling,” she said. “Now I actually have the ability to just race my bike, which I can’t even tell you goes that far, because not only is training and racing incredibly demanding, but the travel and recovery demands so much more of you than ever before.”

The sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), was raise minimum wages for women in professional teams. Team budgets are increasing, and so are prize money at all levels. After the Women’s Tour de France with Zwift announced its record $250,000 purse, another women’s grand tour event, the Giro d’Italia Donne, matched the Tour’s prize money.

During her short professional career, Williams won a World Championship gold medal and an Olympic bronze medal in track cycling. She is excited about the upcoming Tour, a hallowed road race she watched every year, with her family, growing up.

A race now also for women.

“I think it is [part of] the general trend that we see everywhere,” Williams said, “where women are getting equal opportunities at all levels in many parts of the world. So everything is coming to a head. And I think the Tour de France is going to be such a great opportunity for us to show that as well.”

Lily Williams celebrates after the women’s team pursuit final during day two of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships on February 27, 2020 in Berlin.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Maja Hitij/Getty Images


Lily Williams celebrates after the women’s team pursuit final during day two of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships on February 27, 2020 in Berlin.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Eight, so far

It will be a shorter showcase than the Men’s Tour.

The women’s teams are not big enough, at least for the moment, to support a Tour de France in 21 stages like the men.

“The top women are more than ready to race three weeks,” said Sadhbh O’Shea, cycle racing editor for VeloNews. “[But with] a good chunk of these riders are working part-time to fund their races, until we can get a full field of pro riders, I don’t think the women’s sport is ready for a full three week stage race. “

But O’Shea thinks the eight-stage race that begins on Sunday suits that initial effort.

With so many races in the men’s Tour, “you tend to have these dips in terms of pace and aggressiveness,” O’Shea said. “Whereas with the women’s race, because it’s shorter because there are fewer runners, it tends to be a bit more enthusiastic from the start and throughout the course. Sometimes there are lulls, but it’s usually more action, more often.”

Women’s stages average 80 miles, men’s 99.

The action begins in Paris on Sunday, before the men arrive for their arrival, when the women will own the streets of the city. Their first stage begins at the Eiffel Tower – 12 towers, or 50 miles later – and ends on the Champs-Elysées. After the city, seven more stages of sprints, grueling mountain climbs and even sections of gravel and dirt roads.

At the end, on July 31, the new Women’s Tour hopes to end with new fans, and a promise to return – year after year.

About Hubert Lee

Check Also

ED Raids News Live Updates: SC to Issue Judgment on Several Provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act Today

!1 new updateClick here for the latest updates Australian inflation hits highest level in 21 …