The Return of the Tour de FemmesPublished on 05/12/2023 · 7 min readCycling Expert Julie B. recaps the history of the female version of the Tour de France, the Tour de France Femmes, and gives the highlights from this year's race!
Graphic courtesy of A.S.O.
On July 24, 2022, the women's Tour de France (TDF) returned. Well, sort of…Technically, there has never really been a lasting official TDF for women, but rather several attempts that fell far short of what the men’s TDF has consistently looked like since 1903. All of the attempts that were made at a women’s tour were abandoned citing cost and lack of support as the main issues. However, the irony of blaming a lack of support is that coverage of the women’s tour has always been lacking. It was the same this year, and even then you had to have a subscription to watch the entire race. Still, maybe after the U.S. Women’s soccer team’s hard-won battle in court for women’s pay equality, it is somewhat fitting to have the return of the TDF Femmes in the same year.
A Brief History
The event that many consider the first attempt at a TDF for women was in 1955. This was a 5-stage race, consisting of 41 riders. It took 29 years for a second attempt which occurred in 1984 when the Tour de France Féminin was introduced alongside the men’s tour and held by the same sponsors. This event had a decent five-year run until 1989 when it was terminated because organizers argued it was too expensive to stage.
After the Tour de France Féminin ended, its history became a bit murky. There were a few races that attempted to be the new Tour for women, but none ever officially held the TDF name or received sponsorship from the same group that sponsored the men’s tour, the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO).
It wasn’t until 2014—after three professional women cyclists and a lone women’s ironman triathlete petitioned the TDF director to let the women ride in the men’s TDF—that a women's event was considered. Enter La Course by Le Tour de France. ASO resolved the issue by holding a one-day event that consisted of mostly short-circuit races. However, La Course ended in 2020.
The ASO decided to announce an official women’s Tour de France for 2022 with Zwift, a virtual cycling program, jumping on as the sponsor for the next four years. Oddly enough, this is one case where the restrictions that COVID-19 placed on athletes from various countries, benefitted the sport of cycling. Zwift decided to hold a virtual five-day Tour and invited the men’s and women’s world tour teams. The viewership was so high for the event (16 million people watched both the men and women) that the ASO took notice. This year's Tour De France Femmes consisted of eight stages, involving 24 teams, 144 riders, and covering a distance of 1,033.6km.
For those not familiar with the TDF, it is not your typical bike race. It is a feat of endurance, strength, and teamwork. Cyclists at the highest level compete over eight days to secure a win either for their team or for an individual rider. The race is a chess match, with each team vying to have their chosen rider (team captain) win. Not every cyclist on the team will have a chance at winning. But, depending on how the race plays out, and what injuries occur, a team may choose another rider as their captain, or may opt to go for the best team classification instead. Some teams are in the race purely to back their best sprinter or climber.
There are several ways to “win” at the Tour de France. These awards are based on different classifications, which are:
- The overall title, or rider with the best time, is awarded the yellow jersey.
- The best overall team, which is an average of the top three team members’ times taken at every stage.
- The fastest rider is the cyclist with the most sprint points accumulated in each stage. This rider is awarded the green jersey.
- The best climber, who is awarded the polka dot jersey, is the rider with the most climbing points.
- The best young rider, that is the cyclist under the age of 26 with the fastest time, is given the white jersey.
- The most combative rider, or rider who spent most of their time in attack mode, and won a lot of sprints or stages, is awarded the combativity award
Jerseys are awarded at the end of every stage, along with the accompanying monetary earnings. The riders get to wear those jerseys at the start of the next stage, and if they continue to be the points leader, they can be awarded the same jersey again. It's pretty typical for the winners of the jerseys at the last stage to have been determined in earlier stages, as they accumulated the most points overall. There is also an award given to the stage winner, or the first person to cross the finish line. Many teams and riders consider it a significant accomplishment just to win one stage.
Each of the 24 teams invited to the tour this year was composed of five to six cyclists. They mostly came from European teams with one team coming from Asia, and three from the United States. While the actual team may be located in a specific country, the team can be comprised of riders from any nation on their roster. A team will have a captain (the chosen rider to win the race), a sprinter that will aim to win the sprint stages, a climber that will aim to win the climbing stages, and the rest of the team are called domestiques. Domestiques become the workhorses who vie to put their riders in the best position for winning. They also run errands like picking up water bottles from the team’s support car and delivering them to their team members—all while racing.
- Canyon//SRAM Racing (Germany)
- EF Education-Tibco-SVB (USA)
- FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope (France)
- Human Powered Health (USA)
- Liv Racing Xstra (Netherlands)
- Movistar Team Women (Spain)
- Roland Cogeas Edelweiss Squad (Switzerland)
- Team BikeExchange-Jayco (Australia)
- Team DSM (Netherlands)
- Team Jumbo-Visma (Netherlands)
- Team SD Worx (Netherlands)
- Trek-Segafredo (USA)
- UAE Team ADQ (United Arab Emirates)
- Uno-X Pro Cycling Team (Norway)
- Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team (Germany)
- Parkhotel Valkenburg (Netherlands)
- Valcar-Travel & Service (Italy)
- AG Insurance-NXTG Team (Netherlands)
- Arkéa Pro Cycling Team (France)
- Cofidis Women Team (France)
- Le Col-Wahoo (Great Britain)
- Plantur-Pura (Belgium)
- Stade Rochelais Charente-Maritime (France)
- St Michel-Auber 93 (France)
This year's tour was separated into eight stages of differing lengths. There were four flat stages, three hilly stages, and two mountain stages (these occurred at the end of the race, making it a true test for the riders). Unlike the men’s tour, there were no team time trials in the women’s tour this year.
- Day 1: Paris Tour Eiffel – Champs-Élysées (81.6km)
- Day 2: Meaux – Provins (136.4km)
- Day 3: Reims – Épernay (133.6km)
- Day 4: Troyes – Bar-sur-Aube (126.8km)
- Day 5: Bar-le-Duc – Saint-Dié-des-Vosges (175.6km)
- Day 6: Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – Rosheim, (129.2km)
- Day 7: Sélestat – Le Markstein (127.1km)
- Day 8: Lure – La Super Planche des Belles Filles (123.3km)
The Overall Winners
- Yellow Jersey: Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands), Movistar Team Women (Spain)
- Green Jersey: Marianne Vos (Netherlands), Team Jumbo-Visma (Netherlands)
- Polka Dot Jersey: Demi Vollering (Netherlands), Team SD Worx (Netherlands)
- White Jersey: Shirin van Anrooij (Netherlands), Trek-Segafredo (USA)
- Combativity Award: Marianne Vos (Netherlands), Team Jumbo-Visma (Netherlands)
- Team: Canyon//SRAM Racing (Germany)
Although still somewhat lacking in its coverage and financing, having a tour this year was huge for women’s cycling. The action was nothing short of exciting, from Vos’ attacks, to a huge tour-defining crash, to van Vleuten overcoming a stomach bug, and 5 bike changes in Stage 8 to win the Tour. and while there is still a huge pay gap—a €250,000 prize pot for the women versus a €2.2 million prize pot for the men—this is a start. So, whether you watched Le Tour de Femmes or not, now is the time to get on social media, and watch and like everything you can about Le Tour de Femmes and other women’s cycling events. The more we support women’s cycling, the better it will become. And, one day, women will be able to earn living wages racing bikes in the same way their men counterparts do.
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