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Women Will Race In Their Own Tour De France Next Summer

Annemiek Van Vleuten, left, and Anna Van Der Breggen are among the elite cyclists who are expected to race in next summer's Tour de France Femmes, a one-week race for women.
Luc Claessen
Getty Images
Annemiek Van Vleuten, left, and Anna Van Der Breggen are among the elite cyclists who are expected to race in next summer's Tour de France Femmes, a one-week race for women.

Elite female cyclists will be part of the world's most famous bike race next summer, when the Tour de France will hold a women's stage race for the first time since the 1980s.

Women have been riding the men's route in recent years, urging race officials to include them in cycling's crown jewel. Now they'll get a shot at their own yellow jersey.

"This is a huge moment for professional women's cycling," said pro rider Anna van der Breggen, in a statement about the plans. Noting the Tour's status as a marquee event, she added, "It's long been a dream for many of us to compete in a women's Tour de France."

The Tour de France Femmes will follow the men's race, with riders embarking from the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 24, 2022. Unlike the La Course by Le Tour de France — a one-day race that the Tour's organizers have put on for women since 2014 — the new event will be a multi-stage race lasting roughly one week.

It's at least the third time a women's event has been associated with the Tour de France. Earlier iterations in the 1950s and 1980s collapsed due to a range of problems, from a lack of sponsorship to clashes with organizers of the men's event.

Both of the earlier races were called the Tour de France Féminin. The '80s event was "two weeks long, really tough, with proper mountain stages," the accomplished British cyclist Emma Pooley said in 2013.

The Tour de France Femmes is now listed on the official calendar of cycling's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale.

The new women's race is the result of a partnership between the Tour's organizers, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), and Zwift — a gaming and interactives company that helped put on a virtual version of the race after it was canceled last summer due to the pandemic.

"I've long been a fan of the attacking style of women's racing," said Eric Min, Zwift CEO. "I really believe the women's peloton puts on some of the most exciting bike racing to watch and it deserves a much bigger platform to exhibit these talents and skills."

Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme has previously come under scrutiny for comments in which he called women's races "more simple" and said they lose money.

But Kathryn Bertine, a cyclist and writer who helped lead the push for women to participate in the Tour de France, has publicly disagreed with those assertions.

"It's not that the women's Tour de France lost money in the eighties, it's that ASO didn't choose to invest in the women's race," Bertine said in 2018. "They treated it as a secondary sideshow. While it was very apparent that the fans loved it, ASO didn't include the women's race in the broadcast rights and negotiations. They canceled it instead."

As news spread of the upcoming women's race at the Tour de France, Bertine told NPR, "I am, of course, thrilled at the announcement of a 2022 Women's Tour de France. We've been fighting for — and working toward — this for a long time."

Bertine's petition for a women's Tour garnered nearly 100,000 signatures in support of the proposal, in 2013. It was "a game changer," she says, for women to be included the next year in La Course by Tour de France. But she adds that she'll keep pushing for the women's event to be the same length as the men's.

"At the end of the day, a Women's Tour de France is so much bigger than a bike race. It's a beacon of progress for society that men & women are valued equally at the top," Bertine says. "So yes, I applaud the eight days coming in 2022. I'll be cheering the loudest! And behind the scenes, I'll still keep pushing for two more weeks to be added in the coming years.

"Or, perhaps we can cut the men's race from three weeks to eight days."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.