Four top female cyclists have put their names to a petition to Tour de France organisers ASO requesting a women’s version of the Tour de France from 2014.
The four represent some serious racing horsepower. Marianne Vos is the most successful female bike racer of all time, and a multiple world and Olympic champion; Emma Pooley is a British Olympian and 2010 time trial world champion; Chrissie Wellington is world Ironman triathlon champion and Kathryn Bertine is a film-maker and Saint Kitts and Nevis national champion.
The Tour de France, they say, is “the pinnacle endurance sports event of the world, watched by and inspiring millions of people.”
But there’s a problem. The Tour has always been an exclusively male race, except for a brief dalliance with a Tour Feminin in the 1980s that lacked parity, media coverage, and sponsorship.
In a letter to Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, they say: “After a century, it is about time women are allowed to race the Tour de France, too. While many women's sports face battles of inequity, road cycling remains one of the worst offenders: fewer race opportunities, no televised coverage, shorter distances, and therefore salary and prize money inequity.”
Women’s cycling has never had a bigger following, and both UCI presidential candidates Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson, have pledged to accelerate the development of women’s racing. One event almost certainly woke the world up to the idea that women’s racing can be just as exciting as men’s, if not more exciting.
“The women's road race at the London Olympics was a showcase for how impressive, exciting, and entertaining women's cycling can be. The Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne hold similar top ranked men's and women's races on the same day, with great success.”
Emma Pooley told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour that she thought there should be a women’s Tour de France in which women rode the same stage routes and distances as the men. She and her three co-campaigners expand on the theme in the petition.
“Having a women's pro field at the Tour de France will also create an equal opportunity to debunk the myths of physical "limitations" placed upon female athletes,” they say. “In the late 1960s people assumed that women couldn't run the marathon. 30 years on we can look back and see how erroneous this was. Hopefully 30 years from now, we will see 2014 as the year that opened people's eyes to true equality in the sport of cycling.”
There’s no word yet from the four as to how they think a parallel women’s race would work commercially and logistically, but the idea is clearly popular. Since the petition went live this morning it has garnered over 2,500 signatures.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.