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The Tour de France Femmes’ Long and Winding Road: A brief history of the women’s Tour de France

The Tour de France Femmes’ Long and Winding Road: A brief history of the women’s Tour de France

On Sunday morning, the peloton will roll out of Clermont-Ferrand for start of the second edition of the relaunched Tour de France Femmes. After the roaring success of the 2022 Tour Femmes, in terms of both the racing and the fervent roadside and television audience (recent data revealed that the race reached a cumulative audience of over 23 million people), expectations are high for an event that is already, just twelve months into its renaissance, an integral part of the women’s cycling calendar.

Not that the Tour de France Femmes is resting on its laurels, however. The 2023 edition appears keen to cast off the shackles of its association with the all-encompassing Tour Hommes – the Paris start, a kind of symbolic ‘handover’ from the men’s race, is already gone, replaced by some tough opening days in the Massif Central: a decision informed, race director Marion Rousse says, partly by a desire for the race to assert its independence, and partly to put together an interesting sporting test.

The groundbreaking narrative of the Tour de France Femmes – rhetoric commonly used throughout 2022’s ‘inaugural’ edition – continues at pace this year. The 2023 Tour de France Femmes, according to the official record, is again one of firsts. A first start away from Paris, a first venture in the Pyrenees (with a summit finish atop the iconic Col du Tourmalet, no less), and a first decisive final day time trial in Pau.

Because, if you were reading the official Tour preview, you’d be fooled into thinking – with the exception of one or two casual references to the 1980s – that everything began in 2022.

Annemiek van Vleuten, stage 8, 2022 Tour de France Femmes (A.S.O./Fabien Boukla)

> History maker: Peerless Annemiek van Vleuten wins first edition of relaunched Tour de France Femmes

But the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (to give it its full title), as all those who fought to secure a stable, successful Tour de France for female riders will attest, forms part of a long history, one even more circuitous and taxing than the route the riders will face through the middle and south of France over the next eight days.

The long, hard fight

Because rather than a historic first, last year’s “inaugural” Tour de France Femmes was something of a rebirth, the culmination of a long fight to get something back, not gain something new.

The first women’s Tour de France was, in fact, held almost seven decades ago, in 1955. The race was the brainchild of journalist and sometime-team manager Jean Leulliot, who organised the infamous Circuit de France stage race in 1942 with the collaboration of the Nazis, and was the race director, and then owner, of Paris-Nice.

The inaugural Tour de France Féminin – only the second women’s stage race of its kind, after the Circuit Feminin Lyonnais-Auvergne was held earlier that year, in July – took place over five days in Normandy in September and October 1955.

Millie Robinson, 1955 women's Tour de France winner

It was won by Irish-born Isle of Man rider Millie Robinson, the winner of the Lyonnais-Auvergne race two months previously, who secured her historic (and largely forgotten) success via a late attack into Elbeuf on stage four and a dominant time trial performance – unsurprisingly, for someone from this part of the world – the following day.

However, despite the race’s apparent success, Leulliot quickly abandoned his experiment after just one edition.

Almost three decades later, in 1984, the idea was eventually revived by the Tour’s co-organiser Félix Lévitan. This time, the event much more closely resembled the men’s race and could properly be described, in the modern parlance, as a ‘grand tour’, and one which actually took the riders on a tour of France.

Two-time Tour Feminin winner Maria Canins climbs the Col d'Izoard during the 1986 race (Wikimedia Commons)

Two-time Tour Féminin winner Maria Canins climbs the Col d'Izoard during the 1986 race

The 1984 edition, held in the same summer as the inaugural women’s road race at the Olympic Games, took place over 18 days, with the women riding shortened versions of the men’s stages, including the iconic Alpine and Pyrenean passes such as the brutal Col de Joux Plane, earlier in the day.

That first-ever Tour de France Féminin, won by American Marianne Martin (two years before Greg LeMond became the country’s first male winner), kickstarted what was arguably the first ever golden age of women’s cycling.

Running concurrently with the men’s race meant that the pioneering women’s peloton were greeted by the same huge crowds, on the same iconic roads, while images of three-time winner Jeannie Longo – who enjoyed a brilliant rivalry with Italian double winner Maria Canins – on the final podium in Paris alongside Stephen Roche and LeMond, are embedded in the psyche of cycling fans of a certain vintage.

Stephen Roche and Jeannie Longo, 1987 Tour de France

However, despite its links to the men’s event, the Tour de France Féminin retained an amateur-style, hard-scrabble feel, and was barely promoted beyond those taking part and the people they passed on the roadside. The ‘grand tour’ aspect of the race was also increasingly diluted as interest struggled to ignite – by 1989, it had been reduced to an 11-day race and was almost 300km shorter than its 1984 equivalent.

Following that 1989 edition, won once again by the dominant rider of her generation Longo, incoming Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc scrapped the race, citing the commercial and financial concerns of running a race with limited media coverage and sponsorship (Leblanc missing the irony, clearly, of who was responsible for drumming up that interest).

Even more crucially, Leblanc and organisers ASO prevented other aspiring race planners from using the Tour de France trademark, ridding subsequent attempts at a women’s grand tour in France, such as the initial Tour of the EEC (first won in 1990 by four-time world champion Catherine Marshal) of much-needed legitimacy and exposure.

The trademark issue became a persistent thorn in the side for the event’s eventual successor, Pierre Boué’s Tour Cycliste Féminin (which later became known in 1998 as the Grande Boucle Féminine, after ASO complained, predictably, about the previous name).

Despite featuring long and tough stages, and some of France’s most iconic climbs (the 1995 edition included a finish on Alpe d’Huez) the Grande Boucle struggled to draw in sponsors and was dogged by organisational difficulties such as poor accommodation and unpaid prize money. The two-week race was missing from the calendar in 2004, and returned in a much-shortened format the following year.

Nicole Cooke, Mont Ventoux

The final edition of the Grande Boucle in 2009, won by Emma Pooley (the third British triumph in four years following Nicole Cooke’s successes in 2006 and 2007) was only four stages and 306.5km-long, prompting Pooley to memorably describe it as “more of a Petite Boucle”.

Not that there was anything “petite” about the riders’ performances, however. The first of Cooke’s back-to-back wins, in 2006, saw the future Olympic and world champion ride away solo in the yellow jersey on Mont Ventoux – a poignant site for British cycling – to secure a dominant victory.

Nevertheless, the demise of the Grande Boucle acted as a catalyst for a rethink – for a women’s Tour de France to be successful and sustainable, it had to have the backing of, you guessed it, the Tour de France.

In the late 2000s, a campaign was launched by pro cyclist, film maker, and writer Kathryn Bertine, who was later joined by Pooley, the sport’s new superstar Marianne Vos, and triathlete Chrissie Wellington, to convince Tour organisers ASO to put their weight behind a real women’s Tour de France.

Lizzie Deignan and Marianne Vos sprint at La Course 2020 Copyright A.S.O. Pauline Ballet

Lizzie Deignan outsprints Marianne Vos at the 2020 La Course

In 2014, the Tour organisers finally relented, to some degree, and came up with La Course by Le Tour de France. Originally held as a crit-style race around Paris on the same day as the final stage of the men’s race, the organisers then tinkered with a few mid-race experiments, while never expanding the event beyond two days.

Though La Course, and especially its first three years on the Champs-Élysées, felt at times like more of a concession than a statement of intent, a bolted-on afterthought rather than a sustainable plan for future growth, it nevertheless galvanised Bertine, Pooley, and Vos’s campaign for a proper, stable stage race under the Tour de France umbrella.

And with some scintillating racing to boot, especially once the race ventured beyond Paris – Annemiek van Vleuten’s stunning, last-ditch duel with Anna van der Breggen in the Alps in 2018 the undoubted highlight of the race’s tenure – even ASO couldn’t resist the hand of history, as well as the expectations of a sport and an audience that was fast outgrowing races seemingly more akin to amuse-bouches or petit fours than the full tasting menu of a grand tour.

In June 2021, ASO announced that a new women’s eight-day stage race, the Tour de France Femmes, would take place the week after the following year’s men’s race. A Tour de France for women was finally, after decades of struggle and frustrations, back.

Cecile Uttrup Ludwig wins stage 3 of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

And, it’s safe to say, the women’s peloton certainly made the most of the opportunity during a frenetic, exhilarating week on the fan-packed roads of France last year.

Stage four’s foray onto gravel brought drama and chaos, while Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s brilliant, come-from-behind sprint in Épernay – after a torrid opening few days for the Dane’s FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope team – reinforced her position as one of the sport’s darlings and its most entertaining interviewee.

2022 Tour de France Femmes, stage 8 (A.S.O., Thomas Maheux)

Meanwhile, Annemiek van Vleuten’s stunning success in the Vosges mountains, after a battle with illness earlier in the week, provided the race with an inspiring, if ultimately predictable, climax.

But it was the success of the greatest rider of all time, Marianne Vos, that perfectly encapsulated what was a week-long celebration of women’s cycling. Vos’s two stage wins and five days in the yellow jersey proved not only fitting for a rider who has given the sport so much during her long, storied career, but for women’s cycling itself.

This was a case of cycling’s most iconic rider finally gracing the stage she has deserved for almost two decades. Vos fought long and hard for her moment at the Tour, and she deserved every second of it.

Marianne Vos, stage 7, 2022 Tour de France Femmes (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

For one of the riders who took part in last year’s relaunched race, British road race champion Pfeiffer Georgi, the 2022 Tour de France Femmes was a “massive moment” for women’s cycling.

“It was a really amazing atmosphere,” the DSM rider told the road.cc Podcast . “We started on the Champs-Élysées and had our team presentation in front of the Eiffel Tower. The crowds were insane.

“Everyone had this feeling that it was a massive moment for women’s cycling. We waited a long time to have the race back, and just the support and the excitement of the racing every day, there was so much to fight for. And I felt very lucky to compete in the first edition of this new format.”

Of course, while we all got carried away with the euphoria of a fourth week of racing in July, the Tour Femmes isn’t perfect, and we should be cautious when evaluating what essentially amounts to a spot of late-stage band wagoning by ASO.

2022 Tour de France Femmes, stage six (A.S.O./Thomas Maheux)

First, inequality still strikes at the heart of the relaunched women’s Tour. For starters, can an eight-day race really be defined as a ‘grand tour’? And even if there are plans in place to eventually expand the race to two, or even three, weeks, money remains an ever-present issue: Van Vleuten received €50,000 in prize money for her career-defining triumph, a tenth of what her male equivalent Jonas Vingegaard earned for winning the men’s Tour.

Despite the efforts of other race organisers, such as Flanders Classics – who this year began to offer equal prize money across its stable of one-day races – that chasm remains painfully intact for this year’s Tours de France.

Another measure of the gulf between how ASO views its male and female events lies most glaringly in the lack of line-to-line television coverage for the Tour Femmes. While the Tour Hommes has been graced with ‘every kilometre counts’ coverage for well over a decade now, the Tour Femmes more closely resembles the mid-2000s approach to watching a bike race on TV.

Last year, arguably the defining moment of the entire race came when Van Vleuten blew the field to shreds on the Petit Ballon, the first of stage seven’s three mammoth climbs – it’s just a shame no-one was able to see it, as the television cameras had yet to start rolling.

Pfeiffer Georgi wins 2023 British national road race championships (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

“I would love to see more TV coverage,” says Georgi. “I think that’s one of the most important things at the moment. People find our racing exciting, they want to watch it, and when it’s there, they do watch it. Some of the women’s classics have more viewers than the men’s.

“The interest and excitement are there, that’s where it all begins. That’s where people see it, that’s where sponsors get their products and name shown. TV coverage is the catalyst for everything, and getting our racing and love for the sport out there more.”

Reflecting on the impact of the Tour Femmes on women’s cycling, the 22-year-old continued: “The Tour is the pinnacle of cycling. And people who don’t know cycling always ask ‘have you raced it?’ I think everyone is so happy to say yes, we finally have it on our calendar.

“The first edition was eight stages, and I can see that growing over the years. It’s nice that it’s after the men’s Tour too, so the focus is on us. The crowds that came out, not just in Paris, but La Planche des Belles Filles was one of the craziest experiences I’ve had.

“It felt like I was on the Tour I’ve always watched on TV.”

It’s clear that women’s cycling, which experienced a great leap forward in terms of the quality of its races and the levels of professionalisation in the period between the last Grande Boucle in 2009 and the ‘inaugural’ Tour Femmes in 2022, deserves it place on cycling’s biggest stage.

It’s now up to ASO to make sure that the curtain doesn’t fall again.

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history of women's tour de france

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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  • Giro d'Italia

Tour de France Femmes: A brief history of the events which paved the way

The story of the women's peloton and the Tour de France

Will Newton

Race news editor.

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Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) won the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) won the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

On June 17th, 2021, history was made when ASO - the organisers of the prestigious Tour de France - announced the launch of a brand-new women’s Grand Tour to sit alongside their flagship men’s race. This brand-new race, named the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift , held its inaugural edition a year later, following the men's race, and kept Tour fever very much alive. A second edition in 2023 provided an even more challenging and dynamic route that delivered an equally as enthralling contest over the eight days.

  • Tour de France Femmes stage 8: Demi Vollering seals title as Marlen Reusser wins final time trial

The reaction to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift before it had even hosted its first edition was very promising, with several former and active pros touting it as the next big thing for women’s cycling. Multiple World Champion Anna van der Breggen said that it had, “long been a dream for many of us to compete in a women’s Tour de France”, a statement echoed by an eventual stage winner at the first ever edition, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig , “this is a day that we’ve waited for, for a long time.”

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig won one of the most exciting stages of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig won one of the most exciting stages of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes

The first women's Tours de France

While the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift may have been the first organised by ASO in their current state, several Tour-associated women’s stage races have been held in France previously. The first took place way back in 1955 in Normandy and saw the Isle of Man’s Millie Robinson emerge victorious. That particular event was a one-off, however, and a consistent, annual stage race wasn’t held until 1984 with the launch of the Tour de France Féminin.

The Société du Tour de France, an organisation that would later become part of ASO in 1992, organised the Tour de France Féminin and helped it to become one of the most prestigious stage races on the women’s calendar. Due to trademark disputes with ASO in the late 80s though it cut ties with the men’s race, changed its format and calendar position, and took up the new name of Tour de la C.E.E Féminin.

Jeannie Longo (left), a three-time winner of the Tour de France Féminin, cut the ribbon marking the inaugural edition alongside director Marion Rousse (centre)

Jeannie Longo (left), a three-time winner of the Tour de France Féminin, cut the ribbon marking the inaugural edition alongside director Marion Rousse (centre)

This new race ran for a further four editions, through to 1993, before it was completely axed from the calendar. In the meantime, in 1992, a new women’s Tour de France was established under the name Tour Cycliste Féminin. Organised by Pierre Boué, this race didn’t bear any association with ASO either, but unlike the Tour de la C.E.E it stuck around for much longer - from 1992 to 2009.

Several legendary riders won the Tour Cycliste Féminin - or La Grande Boucle as it was more commonly known as - during these years, including Dutch star Leontien van Moorsel who won the first two editions, five-time Giro Donne winner Fabiana Luperini who won three editions in a row, and former GCN presenter Emma Pooley who won the last edition in 2009. Despite having such an illustrious winners list, the race was continually downgraded in its latter years, to the point where the final edition featured just four stages.

La Course and the modern race

La Course put a spotlight on women’s cycling during the busiest time of the cycling season

La Course put a spotlight on women’s cycling during the busiest time of the cycling season

A return of the women’s Tour de France, of sorts, came about in 2014 when ASO launched La Course, but in its one-day format it never really filled the void left by the aforementioned stage races. Now, decades on from the last proper women’s Tour de France, we have a new event that aims to showcase the best of women’s cycling to the world - the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

Instant success isn’t guaranteed, but ASO appear to be much more committed to the project this time around, with the men’s Tour director Christian Prudhomme stating in an interview following the launch, “the goal is to organise a race that will still exist in 100 years, that I can watch when I’m old and using a walker.” There may have only been two editions of the race so far, but already it looks well on its way to achieving that goal.

We’ll be showing live and on-demand coverage of all seven stages the 2024 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift from Monday, August 12 to Sunday, August 18, plus daily expert analysis on The Breakaway. As always, territory restrictions will apply.

Tour de France Femmes

Tour de France Femmes

  • Dates 23 Jul - 30 Jul
  • Race Length 959 kms
  • Race Category Elite Women

Zwift

Zwift is a fitness technology company that allows users to interact, train and race on its virtual online cycling platform. Zwift has approximately one million subscribers and has completely changed how cyclists view training.

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After more than 30 years, a multiday women's Tour de France is back

Tom Goldman

history of women's tour de france

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Team South Africa leads the peloton during the women's road race on the second day of the 2020 Olympic Games at Fuji International Speedway on July 25, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan. Michael Steele/Getty Images hide caption

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Team South Africa leads the peloton during the women's road race on the second day of the 2020 Olympic Games at Fuji International Speedway on July 25, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan.

Bicycle racing's most famous competition, for men, ends Sunday in Paris.

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

And this one is for the world's best female riders.

It's been more than 30 years since women have competed in a viable, multistage Tour de France. Now they finally have another chance, and it's due, in large part, to the pandemic.

Pedaling to victory at home

With COVID-19 surging in 2020, elite cyclists, pretty much like everyone, were on lockdown.

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

The company Zwift , which combines fitness and video gaming for indoor training, put on virtual races worldwide, with separate contests for men and women. Including a virtual Tour de France.

Some pro cyclists rolled their eyes.

"Like, I did not want to ride inside. I thought it was dumb," said American cyclist Lily Williams. "You know it's harder to ride inside because you're just staring at the wall."

Others embraced the chance to break the drudgery of indoor training and maintain a level of competitiveness, albeit virtual.

"I saw the opportunity it presented for us in one of the most challenging years for the world," said Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, a 13-year veteran of women's pro cycling.

It paid off for Moolman-Pasio.

She pedaled to victory in stage five of the 2020 virtual Tour de France, the so-called "queen stage." The toughest stage in a multiday road race.

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

"He's like, 'Well, it's because of the Tour de France,' " Moolman-Pasio said. "You know you were on TV and everyone saw you winning the queen stage."

It was not an isolated incident.

history of women's tour de france

Colombian rider Egan Bernal , the 2019 Tour de France champion, holds a virtual test during a news conference in Bogota on April 2, 2022. JUAN BARRETO/Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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

Turning virtual racing into reality

According to Zwift, more than 16 million people in more than 130 countries saw the virtual races – on television and digital platforms. And viewership was equally split between the men's and women's events.

Longtime Tour de France organizer ASO — the Amaury Sport Organization — saw in those numbers the potential for women's cycling.

"That's how the conversation started," said Moolman-Pasio.

The conversation with Zwift was about launching a real women's Tour, one with heft and sustainability. A top-notch broadcast plan was critical.

"That's the key to the success of the race," said Kate Veronneau from Zwift, "to building that audience, to building future investment and growing the race and keeping it around."

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

After so many other Tours had gone away.

history of women's tour de france

Laurent Fignon, left, of France, and Marianne Martin of Boulder, Colo., hold up their trophies in Paris after winning the men's and women's Tour de France cycling races on July 23, 1984. Steven/AP hide caption

Trials, and lots of errors

In 1955, a five-stage loop from Paris to Normandy marked the first women's Tour de France. But it only lasted a year.

It wasn't until 1984 that organizers tried again.

A multistage event called the Tour de France Feminin ran for six years. It featured three wins for French cycling legend Jeannie Longo .

She won the last event in 1989. That Tour folded, like other versions after, because of uneven media coverage and sponsorship.

Both are there now.

Zwift won't say how much money it's poured into its four-year title sponsorship of the Tour de France femmes avec Zwift . But it's enough for about $250,000 in prize money, with $50,000 to the winner.

Finally seeing women

Moolman-Pasio is one of many veteran riders who've fought for a viable women's Tour de France. She's thrilled about finally getting to race in cycling's most prominent event, and about the girls and young women who'll be watching.

"Instead of sitting on the couch and watching the Tour de France and seeing men race up these epic climbs and fighting for the yellow jersey, finally they will see [women]," Moolman-Pasio said. "And it's the opportunity for them to recognize pro cycling as a career choice."

It's still a challenging choice, though.

Many female pro cyclists have to work as well as race.

Williams, the U.S. rider who thought virtual racing was dumb but now likes it so much she sometimes rides inside intentionally, was one of them. She's spent most of her five years as a pro working another job – as communications director for a bike registration network.

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

"This is the first year I've made a full salary from cycling," she said. "Now I actually have the opportunity to just race my bike, which I can't even tell you goes so far because not only is the training and racing incredibly demanding but the travel and the recovery require so much more of you than it did before."

The sport's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has been raising minimum salaries for women competing on professional teams. Team budgets are growing, as is prize money across the board. After the Tour de France femmes avec Zwift announced its record $250,000 purse, another women's grand tour event, the Giro d'Italia Donne, matched the Tour's prize money amount.

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

A race now for women too.

"I think it's [part of] the general trend we're seeing everywhere," Williams said, "where women are gaining equal opportunity across the board in a lot of different areas of the world. So it's all kind of coming to a head. And I think the Tour de France is going to be such a great opportunity for us to showcase that as well."

history of women's tour de france

Lily Williams celebrates after the Women's Team Pursuit Finals during the second day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships on Feb. 27, 2020, in Berlin. Maja Hitij/Getty Images hide caption

Lily Williams celebrates after the Women's Team Pursuit Finals during the second day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships on Feb. 27, 2020, in Berlin.

Eight, for now

It will be a shorter showcase than the men's Tour.

Women's teams aren't big enough, at least for now, to support a 21-stage Tour de France like the men.

"The top women are more than ready to race three weeks," said Sadhbh O'Shea, a bicycle racing writer for VeloNews. "[But with] a good chunk of these riders working part time to fund their racing, until we can get a full peloton of professional 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 starting Sunday is right for this initial effort.

With so much racing in the men's Tour, "you tend to get these dips in terms of the pace and aggression," O'Shea said. "Whereas with the women's racing, because it's shorter because there are fewer riders, it tends to be a little more gung-ho right from the start and all the way through. You do occasionally get lulls, but it tends to be more action, more of the time."

The women's stages average 80 miles, the men 99.

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

By the end, on July 31, the new women's Tour hopes to finish with new fans, and a promise to be back – year after year.

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Marianne Martin stands alongside Laurent Fignon, the winner of the men’s race, at the end of the 1984 Tour de France

The forgotten story of ... Marianne Martin and the Tour de France Féminin

The US cyclist earned victory in a race many thought women would not be able to complete

W hen Marianne Martin graduated from the University of Colorado, her father offered to give her money as a graduation gift. “I said: ‘Great, because I want to buy a racing bike,’” Martin remembers. Instead, he gave her a camera. “I ended up taking out a loan to buy my first racing bike. It was $600, used.

At first, Martin’s father was not a big fan of the idea of his daughter racing. In the early 1980s, women’s competitive cycling was not a common pursuit. “But my mom was over-the-top amazing about it. When I heard about the first person to ride across America, I wondered if a woman could do that. And she said: ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’”

By 1983, Martin had heard of something she really wanted to put her mind to: the Tour de France .

But that was a long shot. Martin had started racing for fun in college. In Boulder, where she attended college, cycling was a big deal. She first saw a race while working at a hotel and after that she cycled to stay fit. Soon enough someone convinced her to try a race herself. “I ended up doing really well,” Martin says. “It was an uphill climb and I found that cycling came pretty naturally to me.”

That first year, Martin competed in races on weekends. The next year she got a racing license, and a Colorado group added her to a team. That team helped her enter local races, but soon she wanted a bigger stage.

Martin called in sick for the days she’d miss competing in her first national race, the Tour of Texas. But she won the opening time trial, and the news made the Boulder paper. “So I got totally busted,” Martin says. Even though her bosses weren’t happy with her, that taste of victory gave Martin hope that she could get a spot on the national team.

Her timing just happened to intersect with history. In 1984, one of the Tour de France’s organizers, Felix Levitan, decided to hold the Tour de France Féminin. News of women joining the Tour de France in its 71st year was met with opposition by many in France, according to Christopher Thompson in Tour de France: A Cultural History. The 1983 Tour winner, Laurent Fignon, was blunt in his assessment: “I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else.”

Marianne Martin riding in the polka-dot jersey

The culture clash wasn’t on 26-year-old Martin’s radar, though, when she heard that the US team still had a spot open for the women’s Tour. She had failed to place in the top-six during the trials for the 1984 Olympics – she was still coming back from a bout of anemia earlier in the year – and the coaches didn’t name her to the Tour team with the other lower finishers, either. But by the time she was home, one spot for the Tour still remained. Martin’s friend, the cyclist Steve Tilford, drove her to Colorado Springs and told her to talk to Edward Borysewicz, the national cycling coach.

“I don’t know if I would have had the guts to go myself,” Martin remembers. “I had to wait a few hours to see him. I had just started to come into fitness and I felt good about it, but I really didn’t have any proof, so I kind of begged him to let me on the team. The last thing I said to him was, ‘Believe me, Eddie, you won’t be disappointed.’”

She got the last spot on the US team just weeks before the Tour began.

The Tour de France Féminin was over 18 stages compared to the men’s 23. The women riders completed about 1,080km of the 4,000km the men race covered, due to strict UCI rules about how far women could ride in races. In fact, even the shortened version violated UCI rules on rest time for female riders in multi-stage events – the women were granted an exemption and had five rest days over the 23-day race compared to one for the men. Though it was shorter in distance, the women’s course followed the men’s, including all the climbs. Each of the women’s stages ended at the same finish line as the men’s, so that the huge crowds waiting would be there to cheer on the women before the men arrived.

At first, the French press were skeptical of the 36 women, split into six teams, taking part in one of their most beloved cultural institutions. Martin says the media was full of stories questioning whether any of the women would make it to the Champs-Élysées. “It never even occurred to me that we couldn’t finish [the race],” Martin says. “I thought that was crazy the French would even think that.”

Graham Watson, who has been photographing the Tour since 1977, remembers the first women’s race well. The strong Dutch and Italian teams were interesting to the European media. But, he says, “the American team was largely unknown.”

However, Watson happened to have a personal interest in Martin. “I’d met an American couple watching the men’s Tour the year before and went skiing with them in the late winter of 1984. Deborah Martin tipped me off that her sister, Marianne Martin, was in the new women’s race, and to look out for her,” Watson says. He introduced himself before the race began.

Martin finished the first stage in third place, edged out by two Dutch riders, Mieke Havik and Petra de Bruin. But even that result was a surprise. While the press didn’t expect an American to win at all, Martin wasn’t seen as the country’s best rider. “This other woman, Betsy King, she was supposed to be the winner,” says Martin. “I knew I was stronger than her, but I knew if I was going to win, I would have to win by a lot.”

When the Tour got to the 12th stage, the first in the Alps, Martin decided it was her turn to take the lead. “I really wanted that polka dot jersey [for the Tour’s best climber], I wanted to show everyone that I was a good climber. I raced ahead because I wanted that jersey and when I got to the top of the hill, I was 10 minutes ahead of the next riders.”

Martin earned that polka-dot jersey. She won the 45-mile stage that took riders over two mountain passes, one 4,455ft high and the other 3,000ft. She finished the stage 1 minute and 33 seconds ahead of the race leader, the Netherlands’ Helen Hage. After that stage, Hage still had a 1min 4sec lead on Martin overall.

Martin’s stage win stirred media interest. “The women’s race had a tiny media following to begin with, as the men’s race swallowed up everything in its path in terms of news,” says Watson. “But when an American woman started doing well, a lot of the media went from the men’s race to the women’s as much as they could.” After the 12th stage, The New York Times ran its first story on the women’s race since the first stage.

Two stages later, Martin nabbed the yellow jersey. Her team-mate Patty Peoples, a powerhouse triathlete, had taken on the role of team domestique , supporting the leaders. “Once it was established that Marianne was in yellow, it was, OK, keep her in yellow. That was my job and I took my job very seriously,” Peoples says.

“The crowds were very receptive to us,” Peoples remembers. “They’d be yelling, ‘Go US! Go US!’ in French … the volume, the sound, you just never felt tired when people were yelling and cheering. It was just exhilarating. This was the best race in the world and we were winning. Eventually the papers were even saying nice things about us. I don’t remember anyone saying anything nasty, but maybe they said it in French, so I don’t know!”

Watson started focusing on the American riders. “Such images sold very well by the end of the Tour,” he says. “There was nothing very different in the images I was taking of the women and the men — they both climbed the same mountains, and suffered as much as each other in doing so!” The only difference Watson noticed? “I got a sense that the women were having more fun than the men — there was less pressure on them.”

It wasn’t until a photoshoot with Fignon, the reigning men’s champion, that Martin thought she might actually have a chance of winning the Tour. She didn’t speak French, nor did the team have an interpreter, so she was never quite sure why she was told to go anywhere. Though Vincent Barto held the yellow jersey in the men’s race at the time, the photographers asked for photos of just Fignon. “One of the photographers pointed at Fignon and said: ‘He’s going to win.’” Martin remembers. “And I don’t know why, but I just thought to myself at that moment: ‘I’m going to win.’ I guess part of me at that moment realized I actually could.”

With the final stages in her sights, Martin tried calling her father to tell him to watch the end of the race on television. He had started to warm up to the idea of his daughter the cyclist after seeing her race in Colorado. But she couldn’t get hold of him.

Before the final stage, Martin, still in the yellow with a comfortable lead, knew she had all but won the race. “But you never know,” she says. “I could have flatted and I would have been out.”

Marianne Martin and Patty Peoples celebrating Martin’s Tour de France win

Martin kept her lead as she completed the final stage, a 30km ride that ended on the Champs Élysées. When she first passed the finish line under the Arc de Triomphe, she heard an American voice in the crowd yell: “Go Marianne Martin!”

She turned toward the voice and recognized her father. He’d hopped on a last-minute flight to see his daughter win. “He crawled over the fence – and my dad’s one of those people that obeys all the rules. The officials were saying ‘No, no.’ And he’d say ‘Moi, papa! Moi, papa!’ So he was out in the middle with me when I won. It was a fairytale. It was unreal.”

A journalist in the middle told Martin that he didn’t even know there were women racing the Tour. She wasn’t surprised or offended. “I didn’t feel like: ‘You should have known!’ I felt like: ‘Oh! Well I’m going to tell you about it!’”

All but one woman, a rider who dropped out after breaking her collarbone, crossed the finish line. Martin, the first American to ever win a Tour de France, says she was surprised in the end: she expected it to be harder.

Watson couldn’t believe that the rider whose sister he had met randomly had ended up the winner. “Her achievements inspired other American women to give [cycling] a try, so she’s a significant step in the growth of the American women’s cycling that we know of today.”

After the men’s race arrived, the top men and women got on the podium together, Martin stood by Fignon. “I felt very honored to be on the podium with the men,” she says. “For the men it’s such an historic event.”

Though they stood on the same podium, the similarities for the men’s and women’s Tour winners just about ended there. Fignon took home prizes worth more than $225,000 in today’s money. In a post-race interview Fignon said: “My ambition is simply to win a lot of races and make a lot of money. I’m not ashamed to admit that I ride for glory and money.”

Martin, who finished the women’s race in 29 hours, 39 minutes and 2 seconds, just over three minutes ahead of the second-place Hage, brought home much less glory and much less money. “I won a trophy,” Martin says. “And then I won $1,000, but we shared that with our team. Some people think I made a whole lot of money, but, for me, it wasn’t about the money anyway. We did it because we loved it.”

The women’s Tour struggled after that first year. Funding and support for the race dwindled so that there was no event in 1990 or 1991. When it started again, in August instead of alongside the men’s race in July, a legal battle brought by the organizers of the men’s Tour meant the women’s race could not even use the same name. So in 1998 the name was changed to La Grande Boucle Feminine and ran on and off in a much-diminished form until 2009, when it stopped for good.

In 2014, a movement by top women cyclists to reinstate a women’s Tour de France resulted in the creation of La Course, a one-day race held on the last day of the men’s Tour de France, which will be held for the third time this year.

Peoples, the domestique from the inaugural women’s Tour, was thrilled when she heard about La Course, until she read that many were calling it the first time women would ever be a part of the Tour. “I got mad. I spoke up. We were the first,” Peoples says. “Also, I don’t want to take away from the thunder, I’m glad it’s come back, but it needs to come back as the Tour , not one day. We’ve already proven you can do it.”

Martin quit racing in 1986 after struggling with health issues. She worked two jobs for two years to pay off the debt she incurred from riding the Tour de France and the other races she paid her own way to participate in.

But to her, it was all worth it.

“It cost me money to do the Tour de France. But even if I hadn’t won, so what? I got to race my bike every day, I was fed and got massages every day. And I was in France. To me, that was the greatest thing in the world.”

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History made: five talking points from the Tour de France Femmes

Our key takeaways from the women’s Tour de France revival

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2022 Tour de France Femmes

Annemiek van Vleuten is simply next level

Vos in yellow: a destiny everyone wanted to see, the peloton is split on gravel in stage racing, people tuned in and showed up in droves, caravans, tv coverage, iconic climbs: it was the real deal.

Anne-Marije Rook

The first female Tour de France yellow jersey winner in 33 years has been crowned, the fans and riders have gone home, and while the road paint on the Super Planche des Belles Filles will remain for some time, it’s time to look back and reflect on the momentous eight days of racing that was the 2022 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

2022 Tour de France Femmes

We all knew it was coming. Annemiek van Vleuten showed tremendous form in the Giro Donne leading up to the Tour de France Femmes and went into the Tour as the outright race favorite. Still, I don’t think her rivals expected to be quite so completely and utterly out of contention. She’s completely on a level of her own.  

Despite having been struggling with a stomach bug early in the race week, Van Vleuten appeared in top form by the start of the two mountain stages. On stage 7 , the Dutch rider attacked on the ascent of the day’s first classified climb, the (not so) Petit Ballon, and only SD Worx’s Demi Vollering was able to hang in at first. While the rest of the peloton shattered behind her, Vollering held onto Van Vleuten's wheels for as long as she could but when Van Vleuten dug in again on the Col de Platzerwasel, Vollering had nothing left. Van Vleuten arrived at the finish line nearly 4 minutes ahead of her compatriot and over 24 minutes ahead of then yellow jersey wearer Marianne Vos. 

A similar performance followed on the equally mountainous final stage up the Super Planche des Belles Fille. Despite needing to switch bikes five times in the first 60 kilometres of the race, the 39-year-old climbing phenom was again unmatched. Van Vleuten arrived at the base of the iconic Planche climb with a select group of the peloton’s best climbers. On the steep slopes, the Movistar rider attacked and handily rode her rivals off her wheel and soloed to the finish. Vollering gave chase and came in 30 seconds later to claim the runner-up and polka dot jersey honors. 

“I gave my best and that’s it. We all knew that she was the strongest and I didn’t believe for one second that she was not good,” commented Elisa Longo Borghini, who was so wrecked after the Grand Ballon climb that she was in tears.  Same with Vollering who clutched a cramping leg as she came across the finish, stating “it’s not normal.” In congratulating Van Vleuten after the final stage on Sunday, Vos said she had to work hard simply to make the time cut, and Thalita de Jong perhaps said it best:

“Annemiek is in super form. She destroys the entire peloton. We knew she’d be good but when you then come across the line with a three and a half minute lead on your nearest rival, then you can only say a ‘Big Chapeau’. She is the strongest of all.”

Incidentally, Strava reports that Van Vleuten’s Super Planche ride also received the most kudos ever for a ride uploaded by a woman.

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Marianne Vos wins the second stage of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes and sprints into yellow

Seeing Marianne Vos in the iconic Tour de France yellow jersey for five days in July stirred emotions in the entire women’s cycling world. 

The last time a woman stood atop an official Tour de France podium wearing the iconic yellow jersey , Vos was just two years old.  In the 33 years that have passed since, we’ve seen Vos enter the cycling world at the tender age of six and develop into the winningest cyclist the sport has ever seen. 

Two Olympic gold medals, three road world championship titles, eight cyclocross world champion titles, four national road race titles and two national time trial titles, Spring Classics and stage races. In her 16-year professional career, Vos has amassed more than 241 professional victories on the road alone, and well over 400 wins across disciplines. 

Vos said that wearing and winning in the yellow Tour de France jersey was the best memory yet, because it was this trophy that had not only eluded her but women’s cycling as a whole all this time. 

On the day Vos won the yellow jersey a first time, the press room gave her a standing ovation. On Dutch TV, journalist and former pro racer Marijn de Vries broke out in tears of joy, and even Vos' contemporaries had nothing but kind words. 

“When I saw Marianne in yellow, I had the feeling of ‘this is how it should be’,” said Ellen van Dijk, herself a multi-time world champion and both a long-time Dutch national selection teammate and competitor of Vos. “Marianne is an absolute icon of women’s cycling and I think everyone was of the opinion that the story, her story, is complete now, and everyone really thinks she deserves it.”

Jumbo-Visma sports director and former racer Carmen Small echoed Van Dijk’s sentiments, stating: “if anyone should have the jersey it’s Marianne Vos. She put a lot of time and effort to help bring this race back and she’s always pushed really hard for women in cycling. She’s a great role model so to see her on that top step and in yellow, I don’t think she has any single peer that would wish against her. I think every single competitor was more than happy to see her in yellow today.” 

Gravel at the Tour de France Femmes

Stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was arguably the most anticipated stage before the Tour headed into the mountains. After four days of racing, the undulating profile with plenty of sharp, steep climbs alone would put a sting in anyone’s legs. But, adding to the difficulty of the stage were technical, narrow roads on old and rough tarmac as well as four gravel sections. Nearly 13 kilometers were held on the white roads of France’s stunning champagne region — a treat for the fans but dreaded by GC contenders. 

The peloton had to contest gravel again on the final stage up the Super Planche des Belles Filles where the final kilometer of the steep climb is unpaved.  

Fans like gravel because it not only makes for a dramatic backdrop, it also adds excitement and more variables. To succeed, riders need to possess good bike handling skills and team mechanics need to make the right tire choice . And then there’s of course the element of luck and the potential for the GC to get shaken up. All the reasons why some riders aren’t a fan of having gravel part of stage racing at all. 

“I like [gravel] in the Strade Bianche, but I don't like it so much if you have GC ambitions. It's a bit unnecessary, that [the GC] can be decided by bad luck,” said Van Vleuten, who despite being a two-time Strade Bianche winner, was the most vocal about her distaste for the inclusion of gravel in stage races.

There were a host of racers in the peloton that also race cyclocross, including Sanne Cant, Shirin van Anrooi, Alice Arzuffi and, of course, current cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos. For them, it was a stage they looked forward to.

“It’s always hard to tell. If you go through it nicely you might say ‘ah, this was quite nice’,” said Vos. 

“So for me it was OK. We spent a lot of energy to stay in the front with the team and you have to really fight for position before the gravel sections and before the climbs as well. But [equipment] is also important and you need a little luck. 

"So I can imagine for the general classification, for the riders that go for the general it’s a pretty difficult day. And can be stressful as well, but that is part of racing as well."

Tour de France Femmes 2022

“It’s kind of wild how much attention we’ve been getting,” Vos told Cycling Weekly , adding that in her 16-year professional career she’s never seen anything like it. 

Many worried that the timing of the women's event would lessen the fan interest. After all, cycling fans had just finished watching three long weeks of the men's Tour de France. But this wasn't the case at all.

Fans travelled the world over to witness this women’s Tour de France revival. I met fans from nearby Germany, Italy, Spain and the low lands and as far as America and Australia. They crowded the finishes and remote stretches of countryside alike shouting “allez les femmes!”.

Entire schools of kids dressed up in green or yellow lined the streets of starting villages, waving little flags. And the iconic red polka dot LeClerc giveaway t-shirts and caps were ever present. At the finish lines, the cheering and banging on the billboards was simply deafening. I have reported on (women’s) pro cycling going on 11 years now and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was absolutely incredible. 

On social media, fans engaged from the world over, posting on Instagram or analyzing the day’s events on Twitter. Even before the racing started, the Tour de France organizers, the A.S.O, reported that their 12-episode YouTube series had already amassed 700,000 views.  

Two-and-a-half hours of live coverage was aired across five continents and 190 countries, and while complete TV viewership numbers have yet to be released, early reports are encouraging. France Télévisions reported some impressive early numbers, showing that nearly three million viewers tuned in daily to enjoy the 2.5 hours of live coverage. 

Previous attempts of a women's Tour de France failed due to a lack of financial support, public interest and/or recognition. But the Tour de France Femmes seems to be off to a good start, especially thanks to a four-year sponsorship deal with Zwift, which will give the women's Tour some time to grow and drum up continues commercial interest.  

Tour de France Caravan

Eight years ago, cyclists Marianne Vos, Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley and former world triathlon champion Chrissie Wellington led a petition titled Le Tour Entier calling on the Tour de France organizers to create a women’s event. The petition gathered 97,307 signatures, media allies and industry support. Eventually, the call was too loud for the A.S.O to ignore and that following spring, the A.S.O introduced La Course, a one-day women's race held on the Champs-Élysées on the same day as the men’s final stage of the Tour de France.

There was a fair share of excitement and media attention around the event but it fell a bit flat. The women's race was treated like a bit of an opening act to the day’s main event, the arrival of the men’s peloton, as the crowds trickled in late and weren’t necessarily there in support of the women. 

From then on, La Course continued to be held annually in various and at times, experimental formats and locations. It felt almost gimmicky at times until the A.S.O finally announced its inaugural eight-day Tour de France Femmes, the closest thing to an actual women’s Tour de France in 33 years.

And to their credit, the A.S.O rolled out the works. The infrastructure, the challenging courses, the commercial fanfare, the live broadcasting, the fan festival and caravans. It matched that of the men’s event and was rewarded with droves of fans on site and online.

For their part, the 144-rider peloton put on an incredible show of athleticism, tactics, drama, tension and triumph. With the world watching and a rare yellow jersey on offer, the racing was fast and fierce from the start and never let up. It was top-calibre racing and a fantastic showcasing of what makes women's professional cycling so fun to watch: the non-stop action. 

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Cycling Weekly 's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist. She's now been a cycling journalist for 11 years. 

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history of women's tour de france

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A brief history of the ‘women’s Tour de France’

This year's big dance isn't the first time women have stage raced across france, but organizers and sponsors say this time it will stick..

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! >","name":"in-content-cta","type":"link"}}'>Download the app .

Much ado is being made about this year’s ‘inaugural’ Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift , but it’s not entirely fair to call it the first Tour de France for women.

Yes, this Tour is the first women’s stage race in France produced by the modern-day Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizer of the men’s race. However, other promoters have tried — and regrettably, failed — to bring an equivalent French stage race to the women’s peloton for over half a century.

Let’s take a look.

“1955”

The first attempt at TdF equivalency for the women’s peloton happened in 1955, when French sports journalist Jean Leulliot launched the first ‘women’s Tour.’ Leulliot, who became notable for directing Paris-Nice for 25 years, hoped for seven stages of 80-100km apiece but had to settle for five.

At the time, there was no women’s road world championships, and the French Cycling Federation had only held four national championship races for women.

This historical precedent did not bode well for Leulliot’s race — although 41 women lined up (with Manx cyclist Millie Robinson winning), the race was a one-off, with no successor until the 80s.

1984–1989: Tour de France Féminin

history of women's tour de france

In 1984, the Société du Tour de France, the then-organizer of the men’s Tour de France, introduced a women’s version of the Tour. For six years, the Tour de France Féminin was run alongside the men’s event, as a sort of curtain raiser.

The women’s race featured shorter distances, with both races using the same stage finish locations. The first edition had 18 stages, but dwindled to 11 by its final year in 1989.

American Marianne Martin won the first edition of the race in 1984, Italian Maria Canins won the second and third, and French phenom Jeannie Longo won the final three races.

In 1989, Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, halted the race in its current format, citing — wait for it — the economic cost of organizing the race with limited media coverage and sponsorship.

1990–1993: Tour of the EEC Women/ Tour de la C.E.E. féminin

Without the backing of the Société du Tour de France, other people stepped in to try and keep a ‘women’s Tour’ alive. The Tour of the EEC Women ran from 1990-1993. This race ranged from nine to 12 stages long and was first won by four-time world champion Frenchwoman Catherine Marsal.

Not much is written in the history books about these years of the race, perhaps because the Société du Tour de France — which became part of the ASO in 1992 — chose not to acknowledge it.

1992–2009: The Pierre Boué races: Tour Cycliste Féminin (1992–1997) and Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale (1998–2009)

In 1992, another French journalist, Pierre Boué, launched the Tour Cycliste Féminin to fill the void left by the axed women’s Tour de France.

While the race ran with moderate success for over a decade and a half, it often lacked stable sponsorship and suffered chronically from issues like poor accommodations, unnecessarily long neutral starts, and unpaid prize money. Boué had trouble finding towns willing to host stages, which led to long transfers and an inconsistent number of stages over the years.

history of women's tour de france

Then, before the 1998 edition, the ASO claimed that the name of the race — Tour Cycliste Féminin — was a trademark infringement. From 1998 forward, the race became known as the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale.

For the first 12 years of this stage race, women raced an average of 13 or 14 stages. Then, after a hiatus in 2004, it returned with a smaller size and scope. Only 66 riders lined up for the race’s final edition in 2009 — after a planned race start and three stages in Britain fell through, the race was only four days long.

The Grande Boucle ended after that year, citing insurmountable financial hardship due to lack of sponsorship, interest, and media coverage.

Other races

There were other stage races in France, like the Tour de l’Aude Cycliste Féminin (1985-2010) and the Route de France Féminine (2006-2015), that were successful for a period of time but that ultimately succumbed to the same old issues: financial and organizational dysfunction. Without a direct relationship to the ASO/Tour de France, it seemed that all races were doomed to fail at some point.

One light in that dark period has been the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche , a weeklong stage race that has been held in southeastern France since 2003.

2014-2020: La Course

In 2014, professional cyclists Emma Pooley, Kathryn Bertine, and Marianne Vos, along with Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington, submitted a petition to Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, demanding that women be allowed to race. The ASO responded by launching La Course by Le Tour de France.

The inaugural event was held as a one-day circuit race on the Champs-Élysées on the final day of the 2014 Tour de France. Subsequent editions were also short and sprinter-friendly.

In 2017, race organizers experimented with a two-day event: day one ended with a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard on the same day as stage 18 of the men’s race. It was followed by a time trial in Marseille. Annemiek van Vleuten won both stages and the overall title.

history of women's tour de france

In 2018, the race shrunk back to one day and remained that way for its final editions in 2019 and 2020.

Initially praised for the exposure gained by ‘sharing the stage’ with the Tour de France, La Course was equally criticized for its brevity — both in duration and the distances of the parcours.

The ASO was also criticized for not doing enough to promote the race. The organization repeatedly stated that it would be logistically impossible to stage a women’s stage race at the same time as the men’s.

2022: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

After over 30 years and half as many excuses, the ASO is putting on a women’s Tour de France. Zwift has signed on as a four-year title sponsor, and the race has its own eight days on the calendar — beginning with a stage on the Champs-Élysées on July 24 before the men roll into Paris on the last day of their race.

When the route was revealed in October of last year, riders were mostly pleased with the parcours. A few  VeloNews  editors also agreed: eight days seemed like a promising start given the current situation of the women’s peloton (ie. its depth and resources, not the riders’ ability to race a longer event).

24 teams will ride 1,029 kilometers over the eight stages, and the race ends with a summit finish atop the Super Planche des Belles Filles.

Long the bane of women’s pro racing, TV broadcasting of the TdFF is locked and loaded. NBC Sports has rights to broadcast the race in the U.S. in both 2022 and 2023, and Europeans can watch on Discovery Sports and Eurovision Sport. ESPN will broadcast in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Australians can watch the action on SBS OnDemand.

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Tour de France Femmes: Winners and records

Demi Vollering - Tour de France Femmes: Winners and records

Winner Tour de France Femmes

2024: ? 2023: Demi Vollering (nld) 2022: Annemiek van Vleuten (nld)

Records in the Tour de France Femmes

With the inaugural edition held in 2022, the race is still in its infancy. The Dutch were omnipotent in the 1st edition. Marianne Vos, Lorena Wiebes and Annemiek van Vleuten both won two stages, while they were also the only riders in the maillot jaune.

Wiebes also won a stage in the 2nd edition, so she is record holder with three stage vicories.

Van Vleuten and Vollering are record holder in terms of GC victories. Both won one edition.

Lotte Kopecky is the rider with the most yelow jerseys. She wore the most revered jersey in cycling six days in the 2023 edition.

La Course Tour de France Femmes succeeded La Course, which was a one day race on most occasions. The first three editions were a circuit race on the Champs-Élysées. In 2017 La Course presented a mountain top finish stage at the Col d’Izoard followed by a pursuit race in Marseille, while it was a high altitude race through the Alps in 2018. A hilly circuit-race in Pau was the 2019 incarnation, which was followed by two more hilly editions.

Winners La Course

2021: Demi Vollering (nld) 2020: Lizzie Deignan (gbr) 2019: Marianne Vos (nld) 2018: Annemiek van Vleuten (nld) 2017: Annemiek van Vleuten (nld) 2016: Chloe Hosking (aus) 2015: Anna van der Breggen (nld) 2014: Marianne Vos (nld)

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history of women's tour de france

Tour de France Femmes Is a Women’s Sports Triumph Long in the Making

  • Author: Maggie Mertens

Coryn Labecki credits childhood summer nights staying up late in California watching the Tour de France on television with teaching her how to race.

“I’d watch the climbers and then the sprinters, and then the windier days, and the breakaway days … and I think that’s where I actually learned a lot about what a long stage race would be like.”

Now a professional rider for Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, Labecki was like many Americans in that way. Though countless cycling road races go on each year, most receive only a fraction of the attention and recognition of the Tour de France, which is well known worldwide. But Labecki only ever saw men as part of that prestigious peloton, because for most of the last 120 years, there were only men riding the Tour de France.

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Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

But this year will be different. On July 24, Labecki and her team will be a part of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift—an 8-day stage competition that kicks off in Paris, marking the first time in 33 years there will be an official women’s Tour de France stage race. After years of controversy and stalling about a women’s Tour from the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which organizes the Tour de France, this year’s men’s race will pass a baton of sorts. The day the men’s peloton will ride to the finish line along the Champs-Élysées, the women’s peloton will begin their race on the same road. The women will ride 1,033.6 km total (about 642.2 miles) over the eight diverse stages, ending on the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles on July 31. The prize purse is the highest in all of women’s cycling (€250,000 or about $256,108), the race will be broadcast in 170 countries and Zwift, the cycling video game platform, is on board as a title sponsor.

But the grueling test of endurance riders will need to complete this race will be nothing compared to how long it took to get here—or rather, back to here, with a women’s stage race as part of the pinnacle of professional road cycling.

coryn-labecki-cycling

Bram Berkien

A long, male-dominated history

The Tour de France began in 1903 as a gritty stage race put on by L’Equipe , a French newspaper, in order to inspire the people of France to spend money on bicycles. Historians say that the creators of the race carefully crafted the images of the male riders in the media to highlight their toughness and masculinity, so those following would want to be just like them—and buy and ride bikes of their own. According to Shelley Lucas, a sports historian and professor at Boise State University, competitive cycling’s roots in Europe have been intrinsically tied up with its own version of hypermasculinity, in a way comparable to football in the U.S. And that’s meant that even though women have been riding bicycles just as long as men, getting them opportunities to race—especially in long stage races and marquee cycle events like the Tour—has been more difficult than climbing even the steepest mountain stage.

“The governing bodies of cycling … have historically, and continue to be, run by men, who still today have preconceived notions about women’s physicality and what their bodies can and should do,” says Lucas.

Needless to say, a women’s version of a race defined by masculinity has faced some challenges. There have been women’s Tour de France races before—but they’ve been inconsistent, underfunded and “always felt like a bit of a sideshow,” according to Kate Veronneau, a former professional cyclist and director of women’s strategy at Zwift, the main sponsor for this year’s Tour de Femmes.

In the fall of 1955, for instance, a five-day stage race through Normandy, deemed the Tour de France Féminin, attracted 48 women riders from around Europe. But the media and spectators treated the cyclists as more of a publicity stunt than as true athletes. L’Equipe (still a part of the same company that organizes the Tour de France) would argue that, despite the fact nearly every rider (41) completed the race, women “should settle for cyclo-tourism, more appropriate to their muscular abilities.” Needless to say, the race didn’t continue after that year.

But in 1984, the first year women’s road racing was included in the Olympics, one of ASO’s race coordinators, Félix Lévitan, would add a women’s race yet again. The Tour de France Féminin riders rode (much shorter) portions of 18 of 23 stages in the men’s race, riding through the towns before the men would arrive. The problem was that hardly anyone knew they were coming. Though the crowds of spectators “were amazing,” according to Marianne Martin, the American who won the women’s race that year, media coverage was scant.

“I’ve had more press now than after I won,” Martin says. In fact, back in 2016, Martin told me that even when she crossed the finish line in victory, a journalist present told her he didn’t even know there were women racing the Tour. Those that did know, Martin recalls, “they didn’t think we would finish.”

And they weren’t the only ones—the women’s race covered just 1,080 km of the 4,000 km the men rode because of strict rules by the governing body for international bike racing, the Union Cycliste International (UCI), which limit the length of women’s races to be shorter than men’s. In fact, UCI had to grant the Tour de France Féminin an exemption for the race in the 1980s, because it violated UCI rules about rest time, though the women were given five rest days over the 23-day race, as opposed to one for the men.

ASO put on the Tour de France Féminin for five more years, until 1989. After deciding not to stage it in ’90, the group refused to allow naming rights to other women’s stage races in France. “They held on very dearly to their own naming rights,” says Kathryn Bertine, a former professional cyclist, and activist for gender equality in sport. So while La Grande Boucle Féminine ran as a women’s stage race off and on from ’92 to 2009, it never took on the same prestige, nor investment, as a Tour de France. “ASO could have played a very important and gracious role by letting other race directors use the name Tour de France Féminin, but they did not. And I definitely put that in the category of sexism and/or apathy,” Bertine says.

La Course By Le Tour was a one-day women’s race that took place last summer along the Champs-Élysées on the final day of the men’s Tour.

La Course By Le Tour was a one-day women’s race that took place last summer along the Champs-Élysées on the final day of the men’s Tour.

Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Le Tour Entier

In 2009, Bertine was an aspiring professional cyclist and sports journalist, who couldn’t figure out why there was no Tour de France Féminin anymore. She came up with a business plan of her own for how to incorporate a women’s race into the Tour and independently reached out to ASO about it. She didn’t hear back.

By 2012, as a professional cyclist, she began work on a documentary, Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling . As she interviewed some of the biggest names in women’s professional cycling she realized she wasn’t alone—nearly everyone in women’s cycling was itching for a women’s Tour.

She banded together with Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos, English cyclist Emma Pooley and triathlete Chrissie Wellington, to form the group Le Tour Entier (“the whole tour”), which petitioned the ASO to take them up on the offer to help get a women’s Tour de France back off the ground. They garnered nearly 100,000 signatures on their 2013 online petition. By October the group had met with ASO and had a promise that a women’s race would be included in the ’14 Tour.

La Course by Le Tour de France, a one-day women’s race, took place that summer along the Champs-Élysées on the final day of the men’s Tour. Bertine was proud of the efforts of Le Tour Entier in getting a women’s race back under the Tour de France name, but hoped it was just the beginning. “We said one day is fine for the first year, if that’s what you need to feel secure, however, it’s imperative that you will stick to the promise of creating growth,” Bertine says.

She says the group suggested adding three to five days to La Course by Le Tour de France each year until it grew to be in line with the men’s 21-day race. “But for eight years [ASO] failed that promise,” Bertine says. Though La Course has changed venues from time to time, it has remained, in essence, a one-day race. (The 2017 race was technically held over two days, but only the first day’s competitive results were considered official.)

Over the years, ASO organizers have said that La Course was not being expanded into a full stage race because a Tour de France for women at the same time as the men’s Tour “ would be logistically impossible .” Later, in 2021, after the announcement of the Tour de Femmes, Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, told The Guardian that ASO wanted to “create a race that will stay the course, that will be set up and stand the test of time. What that means is that the race cannot lose money.” He also said that: “Today, all the women’s races that we organise lose us money.” The ASO did not respond to Sports Illustrated requests for comment.

DC promo May 2022

Enter: Zwift

When the Tour de France seemed threatened altogether by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Zwift, an app which allows you to hook up your bike to a trainer and ride as an avatar through a virtual world, approached ASO about putting on a virtual race. ASO invited all of the world tour teams (men’s and women’s) to race on Zwift for a 5-day virtual event, and at Zwift’s insistence, the broadcast coverage rotated, so that one day the men’s peloton would race first, and the next day the women would start. The prize money and distances were all equal, and Zwift noticed that their viewership didn’t change whether the men or women were racing.

“If anything, the women’s racing was better,” says Veronneau. “The shorter format on Zwift really suited them. They really took advantage of the opportunity to showcase their strength, and it was incredibly exciting.”

That equity in the virtual race paved the way for a conversation with ASO about sponsoring a real women’s Tour de France stage race, according to Veronneau. “Our long history of advocating for more women’s opportunity in cycling and creating more pathways was just a natural fit,” she says. “It’s kind of funny when you think of this historic institution, ASO, and then Zwift, this modern video game company coming together, but that’s what it took to finally launch a multistage modern day Tour de France Femmes.”

A new chapter

And the partnership launching the race is coming at the right time for women’s cycling. Whereas women’s cycling over the past several decades has been defined more by passion and grit than paychecks and professionalism, a shift has taken place just in the last two years.

Lily Williams, a 28-year-old American, only discovered bike racing in 2016. She’d been a college track athlete and started working in a bike shop in Chicago during graduate school. She won her first professional race in ’17 and turned pro the following year. In ’20, when she joined U.S. road racing team Human Powered Health, she says women’s cycling, even at the professional level, had a DIY sheen. “People were coming to races in minivans and had two uniforms and had to buy a lot of their own equipment,” she says.

But two years later, she says, it’s a whole new world. “All of a sudden, I’m making a full salary from the sport. And every team has a huge number of staff and vehicles, and I can finish my race and go into our own personal team camper and take a shower. The whole sport has just grown leaps and bounds.”

And though Williams didn’t even consider herself a cyclist when La Course first brought a women’s race back to the Tour de France, later this month, she’ll be riding in what many hope to be a brand-new chapter of women’s professional cycling—including the premier stage race in the world. “I feel like I’m mostly just a beneficiary of that because there have been people who have been racing at the level I’m at now for a decade or more, and they’ve done it … self-supported on bare-bones resources.”

The recent leveling up in the world of professional women’s cycling has the women’s peloton excited about the potential growth of the Tour de France Femmes, and of the sport in general. Veronica Ewers, a 27-year-old American, will be lining up in Paris with her team EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, despite joining the professional cycling ranks just last year. Ewers senses the growth that she’s a part of. “Because more women have a livable salary and are able to go 100% in on cycling and therefore training harder and more … the women’s peloton is so much stronger,” she says. Now, racers like Ewers and Williams are proof that talented athletes aren’t just finding their way to cycling, they’re making livings off of it, which will only expand the number of athletes, and increase the level of competition in the sport.

Marianne Vos of the Netherlands (far right on podium) took third place in the La Course by Le Tour in 2021 and will compete for Team Jumbo-Visma in this year’s Tour de France Femmes, with Labecki.

Marianne Vos of the Netherlands  (far right on podium) took third place in the La Course by Le Tour in 2021 and will compete for  Team Jumbo-Visma in this year’s Tour de France Femmes, with Labecki.

Thomas Samson/Pool/Getty Images

This isn’t the finish line

For her part, Bertine is thrilled the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will finally enact the promise of growth she was given in 2013. “I challenge anyone to cheer louder than I will be cheering, because I’m gonna win,” she says. At the same time, she says, she hopes there will be more equality to come: in race distances, prize money and media coverage.

Bertine, whose book Stand: A Memoir on Activism. A Manual for Progress. , details the long journey to getting a women’s Tour, says she’s tired of the excuses made for inequality when it comes to investment, marketing and broadcasting of women’s cycling. Instead, she says, the race directors and media should “step up and play a direct role in the advancement of women’s sports,” by promoting, running and covering women’s races in the same manner as the men’s, and see how the finances and viewership numbers change.

And while many in the cycling world agree shorter races on the women’s side actually make for a more entertaining watch (more lead changes and less coasting), Bertine says that doesn’t mean the men’s and women’s races should be so vastly different forever. “If women are continuously given a shorter distance than men, then it denotes that women are not as capable as men,” she says. “Can you imagine if men ran the marathon and then women had to exit the course around mile 19?” She hopes in the future there’s opportunity for longer women’s stages and shorter men’s stages, but that will require more major change in cycling.

This year’s Tour de France Femmes, just like the women’s race in 1984, had to receive an exemption from UCI to be approved as a world tour race for women. That’s because the UCI still has stringent limits on the number of days women’s stage races can be and how long they can be: no more than six days long, and each stage no longer than 160 km. In comparison, UCI allows men’s stages to be as long as 240 km. (The governing body also says men’s grand tour races must be between 15 and 23 days long.) This year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift got an exemption to the six-day rule, and one stage will run 175 km, a bit beyond the women’s limit, but every women’s stage is shorter than every men’s Tour stage.

All of which gives the impression women still just can’t do what the men can. Except they can. Since 2015, a group of French women known as Donnons des Elles au Vélo (Give the girls a bike) have ridden every stage of the Tour a day before the men’s race. In ’19, they invited international women cyclists to join them. Louise Vardeman, a 44-year-old amateur cyclist in London and events manager by day, helped organize the international riders into a team of their own: The Internationelles , 10 riders and four support staff joined the French group in their Tour and call for a women’s stage race. “So many people were interested in our story because they didn’t realize there wasn’t a women’s Tour de France,” Vardeman says. “They thought that maybe there was one, but they hadn’t seen it on TV, or that the men’s just got more coverage, but that there had to be a women’s one. Why wouldn’t there be a women’s one? And we were like, ‘Nope, there isn’t one. They’re not allowed to ride.’”

During the 2019 protest ride, and all the accompanying media coverage, an ASO official told Reuters that a committee was being formed to develop a women’s race that “would be to women’s cycling what the Tour de France is to men’s cycling.”

Vardeman says when the announcement finally came in 2021 announcing the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, she and the other protest riders “were delighted.” While it’s not the same as the men’s 21-day ride, she sees it as an exciting start. “It’s not everything. And it’s not going to be as prestigious as the men’s one yet, but I think it’s a really great start this year.”

Bertine, too, sees this year’s race as one big step forward for women’s cycling—and gives credit to the many women who have been pushing for more gender equality for years, in cycling and in other women’s sports. “Change doesn’t just happen,” she says. “People make change happen.”

For Labecki’s part, after eight years as a professional cyclist, she’s looking forward to riding a real stage race under the historic Tour de France name. But she sees the women’s version of the race she watched growing up as an independent opportunity for women cyclists to “write our own story.” She hopes the race running after the men’s will be a way to grow the women’s cycling audience as its own product. At the same time, she hopes the prestige and renown of the Tour de France will be enough to expand its reach. “I think it’s really cool now that I can do the women’s Tour de France and have an eight-day narrative to show people on TV what we can do,” Labecki says.

Maybe those eight days will be enough for more young future cyclists watching the coverage of the Tour de France Femmes on a late summer night, learning from Labecki not just how to race, but that she can dream of seeing herself in the most famous bike race in the world one day.

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A brief history of the ‘women’s Tour de France’

Much ado is being made about this year’s ‘inaugural’ Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift , but it’s not entirely fair to call it the first Tour de France for women.

Yes, this Tour is the first women’s stage race in France produced by the modern-day Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizer of the men’s race. However, other promoters have tried -- and regrettably, failed -- to bring an equivalent French stage race to the women’s peloton for over half a century.

Let’s take a look.

The first attempt at TdF equivalency for the women’s peloton happened in 1955, when French sports journalist Jean Leulliot launched the first ‘women’s Tour.’ Leulliot, who became notable for directing Paris-Nice for 25 years, hoped for seven stages of 80-100km apiece but had to settle for five.

At the time, there was no women’s road world championships, and the French Cycling Federation had only held four national championship races for women.

This historical precedent did not bode well for Leulliot’s race -- although 41 women lined up (with Manx cyclist Millie Robinson winning), the race was a one-off, with no successor until the 80s.

1984-1989: Tour de France Feminin

In 1984, the Societe du Tour de France, the then-organizer of the men’s Tour de France, introduced a women’s version of the Tour. For six years, the Tour de France Feminin was run alongside the men’s event, as a sort of curtain raiser.

The women’s race featured shorter distances, with both races using the same stage finish locations. The first edition had 18 stages, but dwindled to 11 by its final year in 1989.

American Marianne Martin won the first edition of the race in 1984, Italian Maria Canins won the second and third, and French phenom Jeannie Longo won the final three races.

In 1989, Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, halted the race in its current format, citing -- wait for it -- the economic cost of organizing the race with limited media coverage and sponsorship.

1990-1993: Tour of the EEC Women/ Tour de la C.E.E. feminin

Without the backing of the Societe du Tour de France, other people stepped in to try and keep a ‘women’s Tour’ alive. The Tour of the EEC Women ran from 1990-1993. This race ranged from nine to 12 stages long and was first won by four-time world champion Frenchwoman Catherine Marsal.

Not much is written in the history books about these years of the race, perhaps because the Societe du Tour de France -- which became part of the ASO in 1992 -- chose not to acknowledge it.

1992-2009: The Pierre Boue races: Tour Cycliste Feminin (1992-1997) and Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale (1998-2009)

In 1992, another French journalist, Pierre Boue, launched the Tour Cycliste Feminin to fill the void left by the axed women's Tour de France.

While the race ran with moderate success for over a decade and a half, it often lacked stable sponsorship and suffered chronically from issues like poor accommodations, unnecessarily long neutral starts, and unpaid prize money. Boue had trouble finding towns willing to host stages, which led to long transfers and an inconsistent number of stages over the years.

Then, before the 1998 edition, the ASO claimed that the name of the race -- Tour Cycliste Feminin -- was a trademark infringement. From 1998 forward, the race became known as the Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale.

For the first 12 years of this stage race, women raced an average of 13 or 14 stages. Then, after a hiatus in 2004, it returned with a smaller size and scope. Only 66 riders lined up for the race’s final edition in 2009 -- after a planned race start and three stages in Britain fell through, the race was only four days long.

The Grande Boucle ended after that year, citing insurmountable financial hardship due to lack of sponsorship, interest, and media coverage.

Other races

There were other stage races in France, like the Tour de l’Aude Cycliste Feminin (1985-2010) and the Route de France Feminine (2006-2015), that were successful for a period of time but that ultimately succumbed to the same old issues: financial and organizational dysfunction. Without a direct relationship to the ASO/Tour de France, it seemed that all races were doomed to fail at some point.

One light in that dark period has been the Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche , a weeklong stage race that has been held in southeastern France since 2003.

2014-2020: La Course

In 2014, professional cyclists Emma Pooley, Kathryn Bertine, and Marianne Vos, along with Ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington, submitted a petition to Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, demanding that women be allowed to race. The ASO responded by launching La Course by Le Tour de France.

The inaugural event was held as a one-day circuit race on the Champs-Elysees on the final day of the 2014 Tour de France. Subsequent editions were also short and sprinter-friendly.

In 2017, race organizers experimented with a two-day event: day one ended with a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard on the same day as stage 18 of the men’s race. It was followed by a time trial in Marseille. Annemiek van Vleuten won both stages and the overall title.

In 2018, the race shrunk back to one day and remained that way for its final editions in 2019 and 2020.

Initially praised for the exposure gained by ‘sharing the stage’ with the Tour de France, La Course was equally criticized for its brevity -- both in duration and the distances of the parcours.

The ASO was also criticized for not doing enough to promote the race. The organization repeatedly stated that it would be logistically impossible to stage a women’s stage race at the same time as the men’s.

2022: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

After over 30 years and half as many excuses, the ASO is putting on a women’s Tour de France. Zwift has signed on as a four-year title sponsor, and the race has its own eight days on the calendar -- beginning with a stage on the Champs-Elysees on July 24 before the men roll into Paris on the last day of their race.

When the route was revealed in October of last year, riders were mostly pleased with the parcours. A few VeloNews editors also agreed: eight days seemed like a promising start given the current situation of the women’s peloton (ie. its depth and resources, not the riders’ ability to race a longer event).

24 teams will ride 1,029 kilometers over the eight stages, and the race ends with a summit finish atop the Super Planche des Belles Filles.

Long the bane of women’s pro racing, TV broadcasting of the TdFF is locked and loaded. NBC Sports has rights to broadcast the race in the U.S. in both 2022 and 2023, and Europeans can watch on Discovery Sports and Eurovision Sport. ESPN will broadcast in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Australians can watch the action on SBS OnDemand.

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The Untold Truth Of The Women's Tour De France

2022 Tour de France Femmes on bikes

It's been a long time coming, but women finally have their own Tour de France — again. Thirty-three years have passed since the inaugural Tour de France Féminin in 1984, but the newly launched Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift looks promising. With a four-year sponsorship from fitness company Zwift and more broadcasting attention than ever before, the 2022 women's Tour is heralding a new era for women athletes. Nearly 20 million viewers in France tuned in to watch coverage of the entire race, while the finale alone attracted five million viewers, per Cycling News . The men's Tour de France is known for being the most-watched sporting event in the world, with a total viewership of 3.5 billion, per Peloton Magazine. Female cyclists can now take a piece of that pie.

The race featured 1,033.6 kilometers — or 642.2 miles — with increasingly challenging terrain and a final leg through the mountains. There were 24 teams competing with six riders each. The winner was Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar, who over $250,000 in prize money, per Le Tour Femmes . Read on for untold truths about the inaugural women's Tour de France.

The first women's Tour de France was a one-off in 1955

The true first women's Tour de France occurred in 1955 when sports journalist Jean Leulliot launched the first world championship for women cyclists. He had experience directing other races, like the Paris-Nice race, which he ran for 25 years, per VeloNews . Leulliot wanted the race to have seven stages that were 80-100 kilometers each — or 49.7 to 62.1 miles — but only five stages were approved. There were 41 participants, and the winner was a cyclist from the Isle of Man, Millie Robinson. She won the race by 35 seconds over British cyclist June Thackeray, per VeloNews .

Many of the contestants were British since they had experience with time trials, according to Rene Herse Cycles . Robinson herself had just won all three stages of the largest cycling race for women at the time — the Circuit Lyonnais-Auvergne. The first few stages of the 1955 women's Tour de France were won by Frenchwoman Lyli Herse until the fourth stage, which was when the race was taken over by Robinson. She dominated the time trial during the fifth stage, cycling at an average speed of 23.6 miles per hour. 

After the race, Leulliot focused his attention onto other projects, and the idea of a Tour de France Féminin was left alone until 1984.

The race has struggled to find support and financial backing

The 1984 inaugural Tour de France Féminin was meant to be the start of a preeminent world championship for women's cycling. According to The Washington Post , it had 18 stages and covered 600 miles, the longest Tour race for women to date, per Rene Herse Cycles . And most importantly, it was being launched by the organization behind the men's Tour de France, Société du Tour de France. But public interest in women's sports hampered the race's success. It lasted only six years before it was shut down due to the lack of financial support. In 1989, the director of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, cited limited media coverage and sponsorship for the race's collapse, per VeloNews .

The race had been on a decline since it started. The number of stages fell from 18 to 11 by its final year, and the women also had to work in order to support themselves. Today, 14 of the 24 teams competing are required to give their members a minimum salary, per The Washington Post . Women cyclists in 1984 also had to compete for attention alongside men since their races were held at the same time, per the New York Times . Additionally, the men had nicer accommodations and meals. To top it all off, the women's prize money was a mere $1,000 while the male winner earned more than $100,000.

The women's Tour de France was replaced by smaller races

To fill the void left by the failed Tour de France Féminin in the '80s, other races for women popped up in its place. As VeloNews  details, from 1990 to 1993, the Tour of the EEC Women had nine to 12 stages. Its first champion was Frenchwoman Catherine Marsal. It received no support or mention from the Société du Tour de France, which later became part of the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) in 1992.

In 1992, French journalist Pierre Boué took it upon himself to bring a new race, the Tour Cycliste Féminin, but it was riddled with problems. Boué struggled to find financial support, as Marion Clignet, who took second place in 1993, remembers the women's race being very unassuming with little fanfare at the time (via Cycling News ). So it's no wonder sponsorships were hard to find. Competitors also had to deal with long neutral starts and long transfers while the number of stages changed by year since towns willing to host were hard to find. Not the mention the fact that there was little to no prize money year to year for the winners. 

But the race wasn't without merit, and it allowed women to feel as if they had their own Tour de France. Boué was set on giving a race to women that was competitively long and that proved to the world that they could handle it, per Cycling News. At its inception, the race had nine stages, which rose to 14 in later years. In 1993, the race covered 1,000 kilometers — or 621.3 miles — and included a dramatic climb up l'Alpe d'Huez, which was unprecedented for women's races.

Only one American has won it

When the Tour de France Féminin debuted in 1984, America made its mark through the race's first champion, Marianne Martin. Both the men's and women's races were held at the same time, so Martin, along with other female cyclists, sometimes benefitted from the attention that the male cyclists usually received. The women raced ahead of the men's peloton as they traversed the same tortuous legs up the Alps and Pyrenees, as per h NPR . They were greeted by the same fans as they toured the same last 37.2 miles. 

Martin was even able to share the podium with the men's champion, Laurent FIgnon. Despite all this, she recalled the stark inequality between the two groups in an interview with NPR . For one, her prize was only around $1,000, while Fignon received more than $100,000. People also didn't expect women to finish the race at all. She said there was a significant difference in their experiences.

But Martin's win was an impressive event to remember, especially since she hadn't prepared. When she first tried out, she wasn't in good physical shape, so she was left off the team. But after doing well in a United States national race, the national team coach relented and gave her a spot. She also had been racing in the Olympic trials for a chance to compete for the national team, but she preferred the Tour de France opportunity. In the end, Martin won by a margin of three minutes.

The rebirth of the women's Tour de France began with a virtual race

When the world was on lockdown in 2020, virtual fitness company Zwift debuted a virtual Tour de France. The in-person race was postponed for August, but it left a void in the month of July, when racing is usually held. The virtual Tour de France gave both men and women a chance to compete with identical stages and distances, along with the same broadcast coverage, per Cycling Weekly . 

While Zwift had a history of promoting women's cycling and making it its mission to provide equal opportunity, the virtual event proved that women's racing was ready for an upgrade. According to NPR , the virtual event was broadcast in 130 countries, and the company found that viewership was evenly split between the men's and women's races. The virtual race's success helped change minds at the ASO, the organization responsible for the Tour de France, and with Zwift's four-year sponsorship, a Tour de France Femmes became a reality.

Women cyclists were initially skeptical about the virtual race. American cyclist Lily Williams said she didn't want to ride inside because it would involve staring at a wall, which could make the experience harder. However, the importance of its total success can't be understated since it nudged the ASO to finally act. Linda Jackson, the owner of EF EDucation-TIBCO-SVB women's cycling team, told the New York Times that ASO wasn't motivated by women's equality but rather the tangible engagement Zwift propelled.

The ASO chief didn't have faith in the Tour's success

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme might have sounded like a hero when he confirmed that a Tour de France Femmes would debut in 2022. But he quickly soured his own moment of glory during a 2021 interview when he told The Guardian that women's races always lose the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) money. After confirming the date of the Tour de France Femmes, Prudhomme stressed that this new race must not repeat the same mistakes as previous women's championships — namely, it must make money. If not, Prudhomme warned, it would go the way of the 1984 Tour de France Féminin. He also emphasized the fact that despite it being a bad investment, the ASO continued to organize women's one-day races.

The reaction was swift. Cyclist Kathryn Bertine called Prudhomme's comments sexist and ignorant, per Cycling News . She argued that women's events do, in fact, make money but lack the promotion and support from the ASO. The organization has the power to make money from any event if they want to. However, she agreed with some of Prudhomme's solutions to strengthen the race's longevity and relevance, such as scheduling the race after the men's. That way, the men's race wouldn't overshadow the women's. Bertine said that the ASO had a responsibility to then promote the Tour de France Femmes extensively on its own.

The prize money is €1.9 million less than the men's Tour de France

Nothing is more emblematic of the disparity between the Tour de France's men's and women's races than their prize money. The men's Tour de France champion receives €2.2 million while the female champion receives a total of €250,000, according to CNN . To make matters worse, women have struggled to make a living while cycling. Many have had to work second jobs or otherwise reimburse their cycling team for expenses they incurred, such as bike maintenance and repair and medical costs.

In 2021, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) mandated that teams in the top tier of cycling, Women's WorldTour teams (WWT), must raise competitor salary to $27,961, more than a $10,000 increase from 2020. By 2023, team members will see about a $5,000 increase in their salary. However, tiers below WWT teams remain unprotected. In a 2022 survey, 60% of non-WWT professional cyclists said they didn't get paid at all.

Financial burdens have hampered the ability for women cyclists to hone their craft. Marianne Martin, the Tour de France Féminin's 1984 world champion, said she had to pay her own way to France. In order to get onto the team, she had to participate in numerous races in America and had to use her credit card to get by. By the time she retired, she was in debt.

The 2022 inaugural race had a huge pile-up

During stage five of the Tour de France Femmes, catastrophe struck. Contact between two cyclists caused a huge pile up with cyclists crashing into each other. People screamed as medics rushed on the scene, and athletes struggled to disentangle themselves and remove their feet from the spokes of competitors' wheels, according to UPI . The incident occurred with 31 miles left in the stage. Half of the women's peloton fell off their bikes, with several minutes passing before the athletes could recover and return to form. Many were left with minor injuries, but Movistar's Emma Norsgaard had to leave in an ambulance, effectively ending her race. In a post on Instagram , the team told its followers that she had hit her head, neck, and left shoulder. Movistar later reported on Twitter that Norsgaard remained under medical observation for 24 hours.

SD Worx's Chantal van den Broek-Blaak was another cyclist who was injured and had her right arm bandaged while riding in the team car. Former British cyclist Dani Christmas attributed the large crash to a false sense of security when riding among the pack, leading cyclists to lose attention. She also noted taht speed they were going only made things worse, per Eurosport .

The 2022 winner suffered a stomach bug and five bike changes

Tour de France Femmes champion Annemiek van Vleuten had a rough journey to her win. Only two hours after stage one ended, van Vleuten was hit with a stomach bug, per VeloNews . She couldn't eat or drink but hinted that the symptoms were fleeting whenever she felt them. The issue lasted for more than a day, and the recovery period was difficult for her, as well. She continued to suffer through stage two, which she lost, but she recovered during stage three — where came in second place. 

Her struggles didn't end there, however. Stage four's gravel tracks were, according to her, "bad luck." During the eighth and final stage of the race, van Vleuten had to change her bike five times, according to Cycling Weekly . The first time was done on purpose. She began the race on an all-yellow bike that was gifted to her moments before. Strange as it might sound, the paint weighed too heavily on the bike. But van Vleuten anticipated this, and she switched to her comfort bike — a black bike with yellow accents. That wasn't the end of it. She ran into mechanical issues with the bike and had to switch again, this time with a teammate. Once her preferred bike was repaired, van Vleuten hopped off, again, and rode to victory.

The race received more support than they ever had

Public engagement with professional women's cycling has come a long way. For one, the devoted backing from Zwift is unprecedented. And then there's all of the publicity and attention. Prior to the race, one of the competing teams, Le Col Wahoo, and its sponsors teamed up with the Global Cycling Network to give away 10,000 subscriptions so that fans could watch the race for free, per CNN . As for everyone else, multiple stations made live coverage available. NBC Sports received the rights to broadcast it in the U.S. for both 2022 and 2023. Fans in Europe could have tuned into Discovery Sports and Eurovision Sports. It was also available on SBS OnDemand in Australia and on ESPN in Latin America and the Caribbean, per VeloNews .

There was two-and-a-half hours of live television coverage of the women's tour each day of the race, which athletes hoped was enough to change interest in the sport and believed the future hinged on the 2022 race's popularity, per the New York Times . Zwift, the fitness company sponsoring the race, agreed to back the Tour de France Femmes if there was a good broadcasting plan behind it. They believed it was the key to its success, per NPR .

The race needs more diversity

Ayesha McGowan is the first African-American woman on a professional cycling team, and although she likes being the first, she doesn't want to be the only one. She created Thee Abundance Project and its 2022 Micro Grant Program to provide women from ethnic minorities funding for expenses related to cycling: housing, transportation, and other fees, reports  CNN . McGowan believes there are common misconceptions when it comes to women from underrepresented communities and their numbers in cycling. People assume that their low numbers are indicative of a lack of interest, but McGowan believes that if opportunities are created, these women will show up, notes NBC Sports . Opportunity generates participation, since it opens a door that women from minority communities wouldn't have otherwise.

McGowan herself only began competitive cycling when she was 26. Acknowledging the progress made for all women in cycling with the inaugural Tour de France Femmes and the new minimum salary requirements, she wishes there was more diversity in the race and hopes to see more progress on that front. McGowan couldn't participate with her team, Liv Racing Xstra, in the Tour because she was recovering from myomectomy surgery. But she hopes to race in it next year.

Cyclists want changes to the women's Tour de France

There's room for the Tour de France Femmes to evolve, and cyclists have called for certain changes. For one, there weren't any time trials included in the race. In the men's Tour de France, cyclists have to race against the clock across 8.1 miles during the first stage. Time trials can be done individually or by team, and there are men's competitions that are solely based on time trials, per Cycling Weekly . Although it's an expected element in stage races, women's championships infamously lack them. There were only two WorldTour races that had time trials, one at the Giro Donne and another at the Simac Tour. Women cyclists felt the Tour de France was incomplete without it since it contained several of the other disciplines common in stage races, per Cycling News .

Cyclist Kathryn Bertine has focused her attention on other changes, including increasing the Tour's length to 21 days to keep it on par with the men's, according to The Guardian . She's concerned that shorter distances convey to the public that women cannot handle the same distances as men. She also finds issue with the prize money, which is only a tenth of what the men's champion earns. Bertine was part of a 2013 lobbying group that pressured the ASO into forming a women's Tour de France, and the resulting product was La Course, a one-day race that ran from 2014 to 2021 and ushered in the current Tour de France Femmes.

clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

The Tour de France finally features women again — after 33 years

After a 33-year hiatus, women have returned to the world’s most-watched sporting event : the Tour de France.

On Sunday, 24 teams of six cyclists each lined up on the Champs-Élysées in Paris to begin the eight-day Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift . The 640-mile stage race features two mountain stages and ends in the Vosges Mountains. In the 119-year existence of the men’s tour, women have competed in the official Tour de France only five times. The women’s tour lasted from 1984 to 1989 — and then was canceled because of a lack of financial backing. A women’s one-day race called La Course emerged recently, but some riders have said that it has been more of an insult than an opportunity.

This year, the women’s race was kick-started by sponsor Zwift, a cycling app, and will be one of the highest prize purses — around 250,000 euros in total — in women’s cycling racing history.

“For the women to take the stage, to be elevated through that platform that they deserve, is really the key to unlocking so much more audience, investment and growth in the sport at all levels,” said Kate Veronneau, Zwift’s director of women’s strategy and a former pro-cyclist. “For little girls growing up and seeing themselves in a variety of sports … that’s powerful.”

When U.S. cyclist Marianne Martin won the first women’s Tour de France in 1984 at 26, things looked a lot different for female cyclists. Notably, she had neither salary nor radio. During one stage race in Grenoble, France, she rode ahead of the pack for over 30 miles, she said.

“I didn’t know where they were, so I just pushed ahead, thinking, ‘They’re gonna catch me,’ ” Martin, now 64, recalled. But they never did. The 10 minutes she gained on the peloton during that pivotal stage race, she says, gave her the confidence to win the entire Tour — which was then an 18-stage race covering just over 600 miles.

When Martin was competing, widespread interest in women’s sports was limited. But that world looks different now.

“Women’s sports is trending hard because the companies that have invested in sports are seeing fabulous returns,” Veronneau said. Indeed, as The Washington Post has reported , female athletes are garnering more attention from fans and marketers — which is leading to a belief that women are one of the best investments in the sports industry.

Women’s sports can do at least one thing men’s can’t, experts say: Get bigger

“Female athletes take their responsibility to be role models extremely seriously because they have to fight for every sponsorship dollar that they have,” Veronneau added. “They know everything they do is going to impact the opportunities that come after them.”

The majority of the 2022 female cyclists riding the Tour are under 35; most have never had the opportunity to watch other women ride this race.

U.S. Human Powered Health team cyclist and Olympic bronze medalist Lily Williams, 28, was inspired to start cycling after watching the men’s Tour de France on TV every summer with her family.

“I think certainly if there had been a women’s Tour de France, I would have started cycling a lot earlier,” Williams said, adding that she only started cycling a couple of years ago. “And I think my career arc would look a lot different.”

Williams said her mom, speed skating Olympian Sarah Docter, was a pro-cyclist in the 1980s who never had the chance to ride the Tour. “She got burned out really early,” Williams said. “A lot of that is probably due to the complete lack of support that women’s sports had back at that time.”

One crucial piece of support is a salary. This is the first year that Williams is riding as a professional cyclist without also having to work. “It’s been huge to have that time to rest and recover. That completely changes the sport when you have 10 or 20 teams of riders who are being paid a living wage,” she said.

But not all female cyclists in the Tour de France receive a salary. Only 14 of the 24 teams competing in the Tour are licensed under the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Women’s WorldTeams Tour, which requires teams to provide a minimum salary of 27,500 euros per year to each rider.

“It’s a very new concept for women professional cyclists to earn a required minimum salary,” Veronneau said. “The best of the best are making good money these days, but for most pro women, it’s still squeaking by and a challenging career choice. Most often have to work secondary jobs alongside their training of 25 to 30 hours per week.”

Zwift is funding a total prize purse for the women’s race of 250,000 euros, with 50,000 going to the winner. The men’s prize purse is 2.3 million euros, with 500,000 going to the winner. Compared with 1984, this is a 10-fold improvement in the women’s to men’s prize winnings ratio. Martin recalls winning less than $1,000 compared with the $100,000 the 1984 male champion, Laurent Fignon, took home.

Race organizers say the goal is to grow women’s cycling to the point where full parity is possible, but they are starting with what is most sustainable first. For now, that means eight stages instead of the 21 stages that men ride. Women’s cycling teams are smaller than men’s, Williams explained, making 21 stages exceptionally more difficult for the women’s teams to commit to from a financial, staffing and physical standpoint.

Williams also says that eight stages with shorter races allows the women’s races to be more dynamic, less predictable, and thus more exciting to watch.

“Every day in the men’s tour, there’s a four-to-six-hour race [in which] a group goes off the front to get media exposure, and then they’re reeled in, and the general classification contenders maintain their position,” she said. “In women’s racing, where races are three to four hours, people are fresher to attack throughout the race; breakaways might have a chance to stick. You have a wide variety of women who could be winning the race.”

Regardless of numbers, riders say the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is a game changer for women’s cycling and will serve as an inspiration for young women and girls worldwide watching the event.

“We need the media to show more women in sports so that girls think about more options,” Martin, the former pro cyclist, said. “I mean, if they only see women in fashion, they’re going to only think about fashion. If they see women in sport, and it’s exciting, they’re going to see that as an option.”

history of women's tour de france

Why the First Women's Tour de France in 33 Years Is a Bittersweet Victory

woman cyclist riding in Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

When Marianne Martin won the first women's Tour de France Féminin in 1984, it seemed that women's cycling had a bright future. It was more than 80 years behind the 21-stage men's race, which had been going strong since 1903, but what mattered was that it was happening at all.

Then, just five years later, Tour de France Féminin was discontinued. Its downfall was attributed to a lack of funding, though that in itself was just indicative of the lack of societal support and belief in women's cycling — and women's sports in general.

"When we started the race, the French didn't think we would finish," Martin tells POPSUGAR. "It shows the mentality that people can have about the capabilities of women. We've got to break that barrier."

Now, 33 years later, the sport is trying, again, to show exactly what women athletes can do. This year marks the first Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift , another try at matching the legendary men's competition. It's being celebrated — and rightfully so — as a victory for women's cycling. But the win is bittersweet. In some ways, it only throws into relief how unequal the cycling world's treatment of women and men athletes really is.

The Turbulent History of the Women's Tour de France

The women's tour has had a fraught history and many false starts. Though you may be hearing the 2022 event pegged as the "first women's Tour de France," it's actually one of many attempts at such a race. The real first-ever women's Tour launched in 1955, almost 30 years prior to Martin's win. The race was put on by French sports journalist Jean Leulliot; 41 women raced and finished five stages, but unfortunately, it didn't see another year due to lack of financial backing, according to VeloNews .

Then there were the five years of the Tour de France Féminin in the 1980s, the first of which Martin won. The cyclists rode 18 stages in the first, but was reduced down to 11 by the last run in 1989. Again, funding fell short, and the race disappeared.

In the following decades, there were a slew of other races that didn't measure up to the men's Tour de France in mileage, sponsorship, prize money, or logistical support. Take, for example, Le Course by Le Tour de France , which ran from 2014 to 2020 and consisted of just one- or two-day races timed to legs of the men's event — an opportunity that some cyclists have regarded as more of an insult .

Tour de France winners Frenchman Laurent Fignon and Marianne Martin of the United States smile on the podium on July 22, 1984 in Paris, surrounded by Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac (L) and Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. Fignon reveals, on June 11, 2009 in Par

Image Source: AFP via Getty Images

Mind the Gaps — In Pay and Riding

This year's race is finally possible with major backing from title sponsor Zwift , an indoor cycling training app. It's back! It's sponsored! It's being broadcast all over the world! All in all, it's a win.

But when you look closer, you'll notice the glaring inequalities that make Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift feel a bit disappointing. The 2022 prize money from the women's tour is about 10 percent of the men's Tour prize money — 250,000 Euro compared to 2.3 million Euro. (And mind you, this is split between the riders and staff on each team.)

I quit probably sooner than I would've because of the financial burden.You can only go so long without making any income.

The unequal pay issue is not new (or specific to cycling ). Back in 1984, Martin won a mere $1,000, while the men's winner took home at least $225,000. She was completely self-funded and going into debt to pursue cycling. Even after winning the Tour, she wasn't making enough to maintain her career: "I quit probably sooner than I would've because of the financial burden," she says. "You can only go so long without making any income."

Pay aside, women cyclists aren't even given the opportunity to prove that they can ride just as long and hard as the men. The 2022 women's race totals 1,033.6 km across eight stages, while the men's race logs 3,349.8 km across 21.

"Women can do so much, and we've got to get past [the idea that they can't]," Martin says. (In fact, some science suggests women may be better than men at endurance activities.) "To me personally, [the Tour de France Féminin] was something that let me strive to be the best, because there was a race 'beyond all races.' Without that, there's still a lot of opportunity . . . but when there's something so significant to strive for, I think we come to the plate with more."

Why the Tour Is Still Huge for Women's Cycling

As an onlooker (and, frankly, someone who's fired up about other inequalities threatening women right now, particularly in the US), it's easy to feel frustrated that it's not enough. But the cyclists racing the event are excited to be there — and rightfully so.

"I'm really proud to be at the starting line of Le Tour de France Femmes," says Demi Vollering , who's riding with Specialized's Team SD Worx . "We have a younger generation that looks up to us and that will be inspired by us to get on a bike themselves."

Even though this inaugural Tour de France Femmes may not be perfect, it's at least a step in the right direction — and with the right attention and success, supporters and sponsors can help grow the race into what it should be.

"This is a huge milestone for the sport," says Olympic gold medalist Anna van der Breggen , SD Worx coach and a sports director for the race. "Le Tour de France femmes will give the sport new supporters who will discover how nice it is to watch women's cycling, and that will only increase the interest of sponsors to invest in this sport. And as a result, with more money, we can further professionalize the sport."

Luckily, initiatives like Strava's Strive for More (a commitment to funding, endorsement, and mentorship programming to promote equity in professional sport) are helping to push the needle forward. Because arguably the biggest impact of the resuscitation of the women's Tour is that it helps prove to future women riders that they, too, can do something as epic and difficult as riding in this iconic race.

"It feels like we're part of a historic moment," says Magdeleine Vallieres , WHOOP ambassador riding with the EF Education-Tibco-SVB team . "I already had a message from a woman who told me her daughter watched the Tour and now she wants to start cycling. It made my heart melt."

"The next generation are the girls that are watching the Tour now, they're going to believe that it's possible," Vallieres continues. "I remember when I watched the men's Tour growing up, I wanted to race and I thought I was going to race with the men . . . now girls can see that it's actually possible to get here."

And seeing yourself reflected in sport is everything. "We can't do anything we can't visualize, so by having the Tour de France for women, it's going to let women say, 'Oh, I want to do that,' or 'I can do that,'" Martin says. "Even if it just gets them on a bike, it's going to be best for women's cycling. We need more women in sport and women need sport."

"It's so easy to think, 'Oh, I can't do this,' or 'I can't do that,'" she continues. "I'm from a small town of Michigan, and if somebody would've asked me when I was in high school or if I would've said to somebody, 'Oh, I want to win the Tour de France when I'm older,' everybody would've laughed at me. But we can't do that to ourselves. We have to keep our minds open and let our dreams happen and fully support those dreams because that's what it was for me. It was a dream come true."

  • Gender Equality

history of women's tour de france

2024 Could Be a Make-Or-Break Year for the Tour de France Femmes

I f there’s one depressing fact I’ve learned in nearly two decades of covering women’s cycling, it’s that, sadly, there’s rarely a moment to rest on one’s laurels in this sport—and that’s particularly true for race organizers, and team owners.

Just because a race does fantastically well one year in terms of unprecedented levels of viewership and media coverage or because a team is arguably the absolute best in the world doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s all easy come, easy go. That’s why I’m nervous about the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and why I believe that this year could be the most pivotal year for the race.

But why am I worried about the Tour de France Femmes in year three? After all, viewership numbers have been high, enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and sports bars are full of fans screaming for Demi Vollering and Kasia Niewiadoma. And yet... There are a few important factors to consider.

Last year, Zwift’s Kate Verroneau told me that the second year of the TDFF was scary for her: The first year, you’re riding a wave of hype. In the second year, the race has to stand as a great race, not just a “first.” What about the third year?

“There’s no kind of resting on the fact that last year was really successful,” Veronneau said then. “I look at it and think, ‘Last year was pretty easy sell: It was the first women’s Tour de France in over 30 years. That was easy to get the media on board, easy to get sponsors on board. It was the first time that that huge of an audience watched women’s racing.”

Year two was hugely successful, but what about year three?

The sponsorship dynamics at play

First, there’s the simple fact that this is year three of Zwift’s four-year commitment to the Tour de France Femmes in partnership with ASO. That means if Zwift isn’t planning to continue its support or is going to cut back its sponsorship budget, this is the year the race needs to look for a new sponsor.

Leaving it entirely to next year, the final year in their contract, is foolhardy. So I have to imagine that there’s some buzz happening behind the scenes already. I haven’t heard any scuttlebutt about them giving up their title sponsorship position, to be clear, but considering Zwift just had a round of layoffs and a shuffle in their C-suite , who knows where they’re heading? Hopefully into another lengthy contract, but it’s unclear. My fingers are crossed.

Viewership challenges

Viewership this year will also be more important than ever. High viewership numbers mean a better chance of securing new or renewed sponsorship dollars, and TdFF viewership has been undeniably impressive. But this year is going to make that tricky. The men’s Tour de France and the Tour de France Femmes are separated this year by the Olympics. That means three weeks between the races, rather than the men’s race ending on the day the women’s race began.

In the past two years, it was easy to just continue tuning in if you’d been watching the men’s race. This year, viewers will have to actively seek it out starting August 12—the day after the Olympics finish. That is a lot of TV watching for cycling/sports fans to contend with. While serious fans will still tune in, those ‘medium’ fans may not.

The state of the cycling industry

Then, there’s the cycling industry landscape. Brands like Trek and Specialized are slashing budgets , and Shimano is reporting quarter after quarter of losses . To blithely assume that there’s a cycling company capable of taking Zwift’s place as title sponsor in the current landscape is a mistake.

I say all this not to be discouraging. It’s meant to be a rallying cry. What does this all mean for you, the person reading this?

I want to believe that this race will survive and thrive in the same way that Le Tour has for over a century. But I also know that it takes more than love to keep a race of this magnitude running. It takes cold, hard cash. It takes commitment from big businesses that often see women’s cycling as a line item that they can scrap when it’s time to tighten up their belts. It took decades to get back to a point where we have this race. It’s happened before, it’s been lost before. Let’s not let it happen again.

It’s time to get fired up and ensure that the Tour de France Femmes isn’t just a blip in the cycling history books. Mark your calendars, set a Google alert for the Tour de France Femmes, follow racers on social media, and plan watch parties—let’s make this the loudest Tour de France Femmes yet.

Amidst sponsorship concerns and viewing challenges, Molly Hurford writes about how 2024 may be the Tour de France Femmes make-or-break year.

Itzulia Women 2024: Route, How to Watch, and Favorites

As the three-day stage race kicks off in Spain, top contenders Demi Vollering and Marlen Reusser face off against fierce competition on a challenging mountainous route.

2nd itzulia women 2023 stage 1

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How to Watch Itzulia Women in the U.S. and Canada

How to watch itzulia women in the uk, riders to watch, iztulia women startlist, race history.

Itzulia Women is only in its third year, but already it’s attracted a star-studded field. Past winners include Demi Vollering and Marlen Reusser (SD Worx-Protime), both of whom will be racing again this year. Last year, Reusser and Vollering went 1-2, with Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) in third overall.

This year, the three-day race comes at a great time: On the heels of the Vuelta Feminina, it’s a good chance for riders to add extra race days in sunny Spain. And with the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas coming up next week (May 16th through 19th), also in Spain, the race ensures that riders keep their legs sharp for a long racing block.

This year marks the most mountainous edition of the course, with nine mountain passes: one Category 1, two Category 2, and six Category 3 climbs.

Stage 1: Vitoria-Gasteiz to Elgoibar (140 km)

The first stage is also the longest—tough for racers who just finished the Vuelta Feminina just a few days ago! The 1473 meters of climbing over the 140 km includes the Olaeta pass climb, where the race organizers anticipate seeing a breakaway or solo attack go.

itzulia women 2024 route

Stage 2: Basauri to Basauri (104 km)

Stage 1 might be the longest, but the elevation gain ramps up in the final two stages: Over 104 km, the racers will climb 1547 meters.

itzulia women 2024 route

Stage 3: Donostia to Donostia (114.9 km)

The biggest climbing day of the race, Stage 3 boasts almost 1800 meters of elevation gain. The route simulates the San Sebastian Classic, a one-day men’s race in August, and finishes with a climb up the Murgil wall to Mendizorrotz, followed by a blistering descent and a final slog to the finish—make sure you’re tuned in to watch the finale, especially if there’s still a group together.

itzulia women 2024 route

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the race will be live-streamed in North America. Check the Itzulia Women YouTube for race highlights after each stage.

In the UK, you can catch live coverage of the 2024 Itzulia Women on Discovery+ . A standard Discovery+ subscription costs £6.99 per month or £59.99 annually and grants access to Eurosport’s cycling coverage and a wide range of other live sports.

The race will also be streamed live on Amazon with a Discovery+ subscription.

This race is very likely going to be SD Worx-Protime’s race to lose since many of the other teams are holding back some of their stronger riders and race leaders, likely to give them a break before next week’s Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. Still, nothing is guaranteed.

7th liege bastogne liege 2023 women's elite

Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) - Vollering won the race in 2022 and was second to her teammate last year. She had a fantastic ride at the Vuelta Feminina earlier this week, and assuming she’s not exhausted, it’s a safe bet that she’ll be up at the front of this race.

8th setmana ciclista volta comunitat valenciana femines 2024 stage 2

Marlen Reusser (SD Worx-Protime) - Reusser won last year and has said she’s ready to go for a second win at this race. She had a rough early season due to illness and injury, but she rode well in the Vuelta Feminina and is clearly back in fighting form.

27th la fleche wallonne feminine 2024

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) - After finally taking a Classics win at La Flèche Wallonne , Niewiadoma would normally be the rider to watch in terms of women who stand a chance against the SD Worx behemoth. But she had a rough Vuelta Feminina and pulled out of the last stage, citing illness, so it’s TBD if she’ll be fully recovered by tomorrow.

4th navarra women's elite classics 2024

Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek) - Van Anrooij is still looking for a win this season despite hitting the podium several times. Unlike Vollering, Reusser, or Niewiadoma, she didn’t race the Vuelta Feminina last week, so she has a bit more recovery in her legs. Will that help or hinder?

10th la vuelta femenina 2024 ndash stage 7

Juliette LaBous (dsm–Firmenich PostNL) - Finally, LaBous has been in quite a few breakaways this season and was fourth at the Vuelta Feminina. She’s always a podium contender, but has yet to have that breakaway ride that puts her in true contention for the overall.

A few notables mentions:

  • Keep an eye on the Holmgren sisters (Lidl-Trek): Isabella Holmgren has two junior world championship titles to her name (MTB and cyclocross), and her sister Ava is just as skilled on the bike. The twins are in their first year of WorldTour level racing but have already had some impressive results, and we won’t be surprised if one of them snags a stage win or podium.
  • A glance at the roster shows no EF Education First-Cannondale team on the start line. That’s a bummer since watching Alison Jackson and Kristen Faulkner crush it at the Vuelta Feminina last week was a real treat.

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Tour de France Femmes 2024

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2024 Tour de France Femmes Information

The route for the 2024 Tour de France Femmes  was officially presented in Paris on October 25 by race director Marion Rousse. 

The third edition of the modern incarnation of the women's Tour de France will be held after the Paris Olympic Games with eight stages across seven days between Monday, August 12 and Sunday, August 18.

Organisers offer a total of 946.3km of racing that includes three flat stages for the sprinters, one individual time trial, two hilly stages, two mountain stages and a crowning conclusion atop the iconic Alpe d'Huez.

Cyclingnews will have live coverage of all eight stages of the 2024 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, along with race reports, galleries, results, and exclusive features and news.

2024 Tour de France Femmes Route

The map of the 2024 Tour de France Femmes

The route for the 2024 Tour de France Femmes includes a Grand Départ in the Netherlands from August 12 to August 14, and takes place in host cities Rotterdam, The Hague, Dordrecht, and Valkenburg.

The route then crosses into the Ardennes Classics iconic cities of Liège and Bastogne before entering France and travelling into the Alps for two final mountain stages in Le Grand Bornand and Alpe d'Huez.

  • Stage 1: Rotterdam to The Hague, 124km
  • Stage 2: Dordrecht to Rotterdam, 67km
  • Stage 3: Rotterdam to Rotterdam, 6.3km
  • Stage 4: Valkenburg to Liège, 122km
  • Stage 5: Bastogne to Amnéville, 150km
  • Stage 6: Remiremont to Morteau, 160km
  • Stage 7: Champagnole to Le Grand-Bornand, 167km
  • Stage 8: Le Grand-Bornand to Alpe d'Huez, 150km

2024 Tour de France Femmes Schedule

2024 tour de france femmes contenders.

Tour de France Femmes

Defending champion Demi Vollering (SD Worx) is likely to return to the 2024 Tour de France Femmes to try and win a second consecutive overall title after securing the yellow jersey in the 2023 edition.

Annemiek van Vleuten , the winner of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes and fourth in 2023, has retired from professional cycling after a sparkling 16-year career and so will not be competing in the third edition of the event.

Two-time podium finisher Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), gravel world champion, will line up as one of the main contenders for the overall title.

Road race world champion Lotte Kopecky (also SD Worx) won the opening stage last year and wore the yellow jersey for six days, climbed with the best to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, and then stormed to third place in the time trial in Pau. She closed out the eight-day race by winning the green points jersey and taking second overall behind her teammate Vollering. She will be one to watch in the 2024 edition of the Tour de France Femmes.

Juliette Labous (Team dsm-firmenich) was the top French rider in last year's Tour de France Femmes, and other riders to watch will be Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal-QuickStep) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ).

Tour de France Femmes History

Tour de France winners Frenchman Laurent Fignon and Marianne Martin of the United States smile on the podium on July 22 1984 in Paris

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Cyclingnews  has assembled a full list of champions dating back to the first version in 1955 and the original women's Tour de France stage race held from 1984-1989 to the modern Tour de France Femmes.

The women's peloton raced their  first official launch of the women's Tour de France  until  1984 won by American Marianne Martin . It was an 18-day race held simultaneously as the men's event and along much of the same but shortened routes with shared finish lines. The Société du Tour de France, which later became part of ASO in 1992, managed both men's and women's events. 

The women's Tour de France ended in 1989, and while ASO went on to organise women's one-day races like La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes (in 2021), the women's peloton had not been included as part of the official Tour de France for the past 30 years.

Other women's stage races in France, not run by ASO, took place, including the Tour Cycliste Féminin, which had started in 1992, and the re-named Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, until it came to an end in 2009. 

La Course by La Tour de France was then created in 2014 following a petition to ASO calling for a women's Tour de France. Le Tour Entier's petition was led by Kathryn Bertine, Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington and secured 97,307 signatures. The event was held across various platforms, from a one-day to a multi-day event between 2014 and 2021. 

Champions included  Marianne Vos ,  Anna van der Breggen  and  Chloe Hosking  in the first three editions from 2014 to 2016.  Annemiek van Vleuten  won in 2017 and 2018, followed by Vos in 2019,  Lizzie Deignan  in 2020 and  Demi Vollering  in 2021.

Despite its controversy, La Course had become one of the most showcased events in the Women's WorldTour, and although the wait was longer than anyone anticipated, it finally became the stepping stone to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

Tour de France men's race director Christian Prudhomme made a  long-awaited confirmation  that Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) would launch a women's  Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2022  with Marion Rousse as the event's race director.

Zwift announced that it would become the title sponsor of the  Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift  on a five-year deal through 2026.

The first edition of the rebirth of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes was an eight-day race that began on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in conjunction with the final stage 21 of the men's Tour de France and ended on La Super Planche des Belles Filles, where  Annemiek van Vleuten  (Movistar) was crowned the overall champion.

The 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift route hit new heights with 956 kilometres and a grand finale in the Pyrenees with a mountaintop finish on the iconic Tourmalet on stage 7 and a final stage 8 time trial in Pau, with Demi Vollering winning the overall title.

The 2024 Tour de France Femmes will showcase back-to-back summit finishes at Le Grand Bornand and Alpe d'Huez where the overall champion will be crowned.

Tour de France Femmes 2024

  • Tour de France Femmes past winners
  • Tour de France Femmes 2024 route

Stage 1 - Tour de France Femmes 2024 - Stage 1 preview

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Demi Vollering excited for Alpe d'Huez at Tour de France Femmes

Demi Vollering excited for Alpe d'Huez at Tour de France Femmes

Demi Vollering and Jonas Vingegaard win 2023 Velo d'Or awards

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L'Alpe d'Huez expected to decide 2024 Tour de France Femmes

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history of women's tour de france

Saturday, May 18, 2024 9:23 pm (Paris)

  • French Justice

Two women charged in France over graffiti on 'The Origin of the World' painting

Two women were charged in France on Tuesday over the spraying of the words 'MeToo' on five artworks including a famous 19th-century painting of a woman's vulva, a prosecutor said.

Le Monde with AFP

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French painter and sculptor Gustave Courbet's famous

Two women were charged in France on Tuesday, May 7, over the spraying of the words "MeToo" on five artworks including a famous 19 th -century painting of a woman's vulva, a prosecutor said. The women, born in 1986 and 1993, were arrested on Monday afternoon after targeting L'Origine du Monde ( The Origin of the World ), a nude painted by French artist Gustave Courbet. The 1866 artwork on display at the Centre Pompidou-Metz was protected by a "glass pane," the museum in the northeastern city of Metz said.

French-Luxembourgish performance artist Deborah de Robertis told Agence France-Presse (AFP) she had organized the spray painting in red of the nude and another painting, carried out by two other people, as part of a performance titled: "You Don't Separate the Woman from the Artist."

Metz prosecutor Yves Badorc said five works had been sprayed with the words "MeToo" and one stolen. The two women were charged with degrading and stealing cultural property, he said. In a video sent to AFP by de Robertis, one woman tags Courbet's famous painting with red paint, and then a second sprays another one. They then chant "MeToo" before being dragged away by security guards.

'Reappropriation'

In an open letter, de Robertis denounced the behavior of six men in the art world, describing them as "predators" and "censors." De Robertis said they had also seized an embroidery work by French artist Annette Messager as "reappropriation." The prosecutor said a third person – who was not arrested – could have been behind the theft of the 1991 work titled I Think Therefore I Suck . De Robertis said the work belonged to an art critic.

"I recognized it straight away, I wanted to throw up as it's the one hanging over his marital bed. I remembered the numerous blow-jobs that he allowed himself to ask me as if it was his due," when she was 26, she said.

De Robertis already had work on display at the venue in Metz – a photograph of a 2014 performance at the Musee d'Orsay in which she posed showing her vulva underneath Courbet's painting. The Origin of the World is in Metz on loan from the Musée d'Orsay.

A French court in 2020 sentenced de Robertis to pay a €2,000 fine for appearing naked in 2018 in front of a cave in the town of Lourdes in southwest France, a Catholic pilgrimage site for those who believe the Virgin Mary appeared there.

A case against her was dropped in 2017 after she showed her vulva in front of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in the French capital.

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