Peloton Watch
  Advancing Women's Cycling  
  July 21st 2013  
  Much has been said regarding the petition for a Women's Tour de France. Some support it, some don't and there are a lot of people sitting in the middle not sure. While I will briefly touch on my thoughts of the petition my main aim here is not to complain but to present some ideas of what I think is a more realistic path. And for the record I love following women's cycling. I wish there was more of it and I wish it was broadcast live. I am not sticking my head in the sand or trying to come up with a way to take away from the petition.

While I think the petition is a noble idea in my view there is one or two problems with it. And saying that does not make you anti women's cycling as many have tried to portray people. Saying that makes you a realist. Saying that makes you want a solution that is feasible and can be progressed.

Two points I will make about the petition:

1 "at the same time, over the same distances"

A lot has already been said regarding UCI regulations preventing this so there is no need for me to add a lot more. Does the rule need to be altered? Perhaps but as it stands it is clear. I don't claim to have any expertise in sport science or any related field. But going from racing events of closer to 100km throughout the year to one race that has stages over 200km surely presents physical challenges. I am not saying women are not capable but something that must be remembered is that currently many riders are not full time professionals, so the big jump in race distances would be challenging for some. That may change in the future but for the moment it remains an issue.

Lets take Fleche Wallonne as an example. It is a race organised by ASO (Tour de France organiser) and has both a men's and women's race. The women raced 131.5km and the men 205km in 2013. I don't see anyone arguing about the distance of the women's race.

2 "Women should be on the starting line of the 101st Tour de France in 2014."

The request that a women's edition be held within 12 months is maybe not as realistic as it sounds. Granted the infrastructure and management of the race already exists but to organise it within one year seems a stretch. This is short notice for both the organiser and teams. Even this year at least one of the larger teams was struggling to come up with the funds to be able to race the Giro Rosa. But suddenly teams operating on tight budgets are expected to be prepared for a three week race within a year.

Rushing in to something because people want it without proper preparation could just make the current situation worse. If any aspect were to fail it would only give more ammunition to those who don't support advancing women's cycling.

The general concept of the petition is one I support but I feel there is much to do before it happens.

What I would like to see

The only women's grand tour is the Giro Rosa. The men have three the Tours of France, Italy and Spain. But who says the women have to have the same three? Why not take existing women's events and develop them? With the current situation in women's cycling having a women's Tour de France should be seen as the ultimate goal. However there are steps needed before that can happen.

- The Giro Rosa should be used as a building block.

The prize money was low and there was no live TV coverage but lets look at what was good about the race. At eight days it was the equal longest on the calendar, lots of fans watched and it was well organised with long highlights packages on Italian TV.

Where it was let down was the timing of the race. At the same time as the Tour in another country presents challenges. What if the race was to be moved to run at the same time as the Giro d'Italia (either the first or last week of the race)? This would allow for synergies between the two. Ideally it would allow for at least the final part of the stage to be live on TV. As well as allowing parts of the race route to be used in both races. Using an existing race to demonstrate it can be achieved is an important building block.

- Expanding existing races.

There are a number of existing races that are well supported on the calendar. Specifically I am referring to the Energiewacht Tour (5 days in the Netherlands) and Internationale Thuringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (7 days in Germany). These names may not stand out like the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France or Vuelta a Espana does, but that could be changed with work and development.

At five and seven days the races are not long (although they are for the women's calendar). The next step should be to add an additional stage in 2014. Then 2015 add another, to prove their viability. Sponsorship of both teams and races is vital to progress. Proving smaller races can be expanded will go a long way to proving the viability of a women's Tour de France

- La Route de France

The name even sounds similar to the Tour de France doesn't it? For those not familiar with the race, the 2013 edition will be run over eight days. Down slightly from nine (including a prologue) last year but more than the 2010 edition. Starting on the third of August around two weeks after the Tour de France finishes.

Instead of starting the race two weeks after the Tour when a lot of the excitement has gone by, aim to run the first two or three stages in the final days of the Tour. With the remaining stages following after the Tour de France finishes. It might not be a full race at the same time as the men but it is a further step to build on.

Australian Road Champion Gracie Elvin wrote in a blog this past week "Dream big yes, but start small." Those words are vitally important.

Other things to read:

Gracie Elvin's Blog
Kate Bates' Blog
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