The InternationElles – a group of female cyclists who, in recent years, have ridden the entire route of the Tour de France a day ahead of the men to campaign for gender equality in cycling and a women’s version of the event – will this year ride the distance and elevation of the three-week Grand Tour, all without leaving the UK.
It’s no small feat, given that this year’s race, due to start in Nice on Saturday, has an unprecedented amount of climbing – which the InternationElles aim to tackle in large part by Everesting the Bwlch climb in South Wales.
They plan to cover 3,470km over four days in a non-stop relay, starting at the same time as the Tour de France itself does on Saturday.
Then, on Friday 4 September, the plan is to Everest – that is, climb a height of 8,848 metres, equivalent to the elevation of the world’s tallest mountain – in a single day on the Bwlch.
With 339 metres of elevation at an average gradient of 5 per cent, that means that the riders, who will be taken on this challenge individually and not has part of a relay, will have to tackle the climb 26 times.
Drawing their membership from across the UK, Netherlands, US and Australia, the InternationElles are unable to follow the route of the Tour de France itself this year due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Marlow, Buckinghamshire Lou Gibson, a member of the InternationElles who works as a global events manager, said: “We were absolutely gutted when we realised that, despite our best efforts, we were not going to be able to ride the route ahead of the men in France this year.
“But we are a determined bunch and have worked tirelessly with our partners to find a way both to make our challenge even harder, to keep the campaign alive and make our voices heard.”
The relay part of the challenge will be undertaken separately on static bikes – the five UK members doing so from a base in South Wales – staring on Saturday 29 August with the finish planned for Wednesday 2 September to allow for a day’s rets ahead of the Everesting attempt.
Here are the 10 principal areas of inequality that they are aiming to highlight to prompt the sport’s stakeholder’s to address:
Reduce the pay gap in pro cycling – many female team riders still need to hold down jobs to pay their way and the Women’s Tour is the only race that offers financial parity. Minimum wage and paid maternity leave to be introduced as first measure.
Address the lack of sponsorship – there are many fewer women’s team, the teams are smaller, so there are far fewer opportunities. 3. Increase the number of women-only races – both at a professional and amateur level. Every men’s pro race should have a women’s equivalent, starting with the Tour de France.
Introduce more longer women’s races – there appears to be a misconception about what women riders are capable of.
Increase media coverage – more televised races, plus coverage within cycling media.
Greater federation support (both domestic & international) – more women in positions of power.
Greater accessibility of the sport at grassroots level – greater visibility of how to get started.
Eradication of sexism within the sport - being told by teams to look pretty & body shaming.
Make more women-specific race and training data available. 10. Redress the gender balance in bike design e.g. bikes being sold with male saddles as standard.
Their efforts are supported by Skoda, and multiple Paralympic champion Dame Sarah Storey, an ambassador for the car brand, said: “The InternationElles are a collection of talented, amateur riders who all work full-time alongside performing extraordinary feats on their bikes.
“The lack of a women’s Tour de France has been a symbol of the gap that exists between the opportunities for men and women in cycling and I’ve been delighted to work alongside these superb ladies to help shine a light on this issue.
“The determination of the group to work around the necessary pandemic restrictions on travel and group size is truly inspiring and I give them my full support as they work harder and shout louder this year for the cause they are all so passionate about.”
The InternationElles are calling on the worldwide cycling community to support their efforts, including by joining in on their relay ride, and you can find more information on how to do that here.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.