Le Tour de France. One of the most watched sporting events on the planet. 3 weeks of hardcore across variable terrain including elevations which makes the mind boggle just to think about. But that's just the men's racing. Where's the women's access to this elite spectacle? If you do your research, you will find that there was for a very short period, a women's tour but was pulled due to various reasons; lack of investment, missed editions and seems politics within cycling itself with an argument regarding re-branding. A team comprised of women riders from around the globe (hence the team name!) backed by many sponsors including kit designers Attacus, thought they would get ahead of the men's tour for a chance by riding every stage before they did! That's respect defined. Helen Bridgman has shared her thoughts on the challenge to change perceptions and hopefully re-convince the powers at be that there can be a women's tour, we're right behind you!
In February this year I became part of a new team, the InternationElles. Made up of ten amateur females cyclists from all over the world, we rode every stage one day ahead of the men’s professional Tour de France race. We were not racing but instead completing the almighty distance as a team. I started cycling for fun about seven years ago and took it up a gear about two years ago when I started racing. To even contemplate riding 3,460 km over 21 days was a little daunting to say the least!
I was motivated to take on this challenge to highlight the inequalities that exist at every level within the sport I have quickly come to love. Women’s cycling has come a long way but it is far behind sports like tennis and football in terms of parity in TV and media coverage, sponsorship and prize money to name a few. I feel this at grassroots racing level and it can be seen on the roads I ride in Surrey and in sportives where women are always in the minority numbers-wise.
The Tour is the jewel in the cycling crown. It transcends cycling. People all over the world have heard of the Tour. Most assume that there is also a women’s race, but they just don’t show it on TV and are shocked to know that there is no proper female equivalent. It’s time for the professional women’s peloton to have a race of comparable stature to help the sport to grow and flourish and to inspire future generations of young girls to get into cycling. I'm not necessarily talking about exactly the same race, despite the fact that women are physically capable of doing it, but one that is created by women for women and most importantly that has the same media coverage and caché of the Tour.
We’ve received a phenomenal amount of support and have been blown away by it. We were living in a bit of a bubble for the 23 days of the Tour, so we didn’t fully appreciate just how far and wide our story was being spread and how many people were following our journey. Followers of our social media accounts grew rapidly, and we got a huge amount of media coverage — everywhere from SBS in Australia, the BBC in the UK and the New York Times in the US. It’s crazy! I did Ride London with my four other UK teammates and so many people, a lot of guys included, came up to us to congratulate us on what we’d done and say how much they enjoyed following our journey. It makes us all feel so proud.
We have heard rumours that ASO, the Tour organisers, are going to be setting up a working group after the summer to discuss how they can put on a women’s race in France that ‘is to women’s cycling what the Tour is to men’s cycling’. Along with Claire Foret (who founded the Donnons des Elles au Velo J-1 project that we were part of), we’d love to be part of those discussions. Current female pros, retired pros, women’s pro team managers and logistics experts should all be part of that discussion to shape something truly spectacular. It has to be sustainable and also work with the current women’s racing infrastructure and calendar to ensure it is successful and can grow in the future.
InternationElles would like to thank their sponsors and major supporters:
Skoda UK https://www.skoda.co.uk