A brief history of the “Women’s Tour de France”


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There’s been a lot of noise about this year’s “first” Women’s Tour de France with Zwift, but it’s not quite fair to call it the first Women’s Tour de France.

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

We’ll take a look.


The first attempt at a TdF equivalence for the women’s peloton came in 1955, when French sports journalist Jean Leulliot launched the first “Women’s Tour”. Leulliot, who stood out for having led Paris-Nice for 25 years, hoped for seven stages of 80 to 100 km each but had to settle for five.

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

This historical precedent did not bode well for Leulliot’s race – although 41 women entered (with Manx cyclist Millie Robinson winning), the race was unique, with no successor until the 1980s.

1984-1989: Women’s Tour de France

In 1984, there were two Tour de France winners: Frenchman Laurent Fignon and American Marianne Martin. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

In 1984, the Société du Tour de France, then the organizer of the men’s Tour de France, introduced a women’s version of the Tour. For six years, the Women’s Tour de France ran parallel to the men’s event, like a kind 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 fell to 11 in 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 the French phenomenal Jeannie Longo won the last three races.

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

1990–1993: Women’s EWC tour/Women’s EEC Tour

Without the support of the Société du Tour de France, other people intervened to try to bring a “women’s Tour” to life. The The Tour of the EEC Women took place from 1990 to 1993. This race consisted of nine to twelve stages and was won for the first time by French four-time world champion Catherine Marsal.

There isn’t much written in the history books about those racing years, perhaps because the Société du Tour de France – which became part of the ASO in 1992 – chose not to recognize it.

1992–2009: The Pierre Boué races: Women’s Cycling Tour (1992–1997) and International Women’s Grande Boucle (1998–2009)

In 1992, another French journalist, Pierre Boué, launched the Tour Cycliste Féminin to fill the void left by the truncated 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 such as poor accommodations, unnecessarily long neutral starts and unpaid prizes. . Boué struggled to find cities willing to host stages, leading to lengthy transfers and an inconsistent number of stages over the years.

Fabiana Luperini climbed the Col de l’Izoard during the 13th stage of the Grande Boucle in 2001. She finished second overall. (Photo: AFP PHOTO JEAN-LUC LAMAERE)

Then, before the 1998 edition, the ASO claimed that the name of the race – Tour Cycliste Féminin – was a trademark infringement. From 1998, the race took the name of Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale.

During the first 12 years of this stage race, women ran an average of 13 or 14 stages. Then, after a hiatus in 2004, he returned with a smaller size and reach. Only 66 riders lined up for the last edition of the race in 2009 – after a scheduled start and three stops in Britain, the race lasted just four days.

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

Other races

There have been other stage races in France, such as the Tour de l’Aude Cycliste Féminin (1985-2010) and the Route de France Féminine (2006-2015), which were successful for a while but finally succumbed to the same old problems: financial and organizational dysfunction. With no direct relationship to the ASO/Tour de France, it seemed like all races were doomed at some point.

A light in this dark period has been the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche, a week-long stage race that has taken place in southeastern France since 2003.

2014-2020: The Race

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 took place as a one-day circuit race on the Champs-Élysées on the last day of the 2014 Tour de France. Subsequent editions were also short and suitable for sprinters.

In 2017, the race organizers experimented with a two-day event: the first day ended with a summit finish at 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.

Marianne Vos won the first La Course by Le Tour de France race in 2014. Vos also won the race in 2019. (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

In 2018, the race was reduced to one day and remained so for its last editions in 2019 and 2020.

Initially praised for the exposure gained by “sharing the stage” with the Tour de France, La Course has also been criticized for its brevity – both in duration and in the distances of the course.

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

2022: Tour de France Women with Zwift

After more than 30 years and half as many excuses, the ASO offers a women’s Tour de France. Zwift has signed on as title sponsor for four years, and the race has its own eight days on the calendar – starting with a stop on the Champs-Élysées on July 24 before the men travel to Paris on the final day. of their race.

When the course was revealed in October last year, runners were mostly happy with the course. Some BikeNews the editors also agreed: eight days seemed like a promising start given the current situation of the women’s peloton (i.e. its depth and resources, not the riders’ ability to run a longer event ).

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

Long the bane of the women’s professional racing scene, the TdFF’s TV broadcast is locked and loaded. NBC Sports has the rights to broadcast the race in the United States in 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.

Go on !


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