Women's Tour de France: 2022 will be a breakthrough year
June 29, 2022
Photo by Pauline Ballet | Credit: ASO/P.Ballet
Tour de France. The most iconic bike race in the entire world. From the most remote corners of the world to cycling-crazed nations, nearly everyone has heard of this event that has been held since 1903. Although both France and that year’s starting country turn yellow for nearly a month during nearly every summer, one question is asked louder and louder with every edition: where is the women’s Tour de France? At the end of 2021, I published an article reviewing women’s professional cycling in 2021 and briefly presented what the 2022 season will have in store both for spectators and athletes. This time, let’s dig deeper into the problematic history of the Women’s Tour de France and see if the Tour de France Femmes can live up to high expectations.
History of women’s Tour de France
Throughout history, women’s cycling has been trying to adopt many French races as equivalents to men’s Tour, which was and is today the biggest race on the calendar. Many sports enthusiasts and business people dreamt about creating something that would stick and become as successful on the women’s side of the peloton. I’d like to draw a clear line between the early and modern days because I believe that they both focused and were implemented differently while trying to achieve the same result.
In the beginning, women’s equivalent to Tour has seen some decent attempts. Although the majority of the races had no affiliation to the official event, it still packed some punch and challenges.
The Leulliot race in 1955, which was a one-off, never to be seen again.
Tour de France Féminin, which had 6 editions starting in 1984 and ending in 1989 and looked fine, until it was canceled due to nowadays usual reasons on women’s side of cycling- economic cost of organizing the race, limited media coverage, and lack of sponsorship. Classic.
Tour of the EEC Women has been born out of the previously run Tour de France Féminin and with changes to its format, it ran for 4 editions.
Although these were somewhat official and had ties to the early Tour de France, there were more stage races that unofficially look like a women’s equivalent to Tour, but make sure to keep it to yourself, as Société du Tour de France in 1999 claimed infringement of their trademark and race, which was known as Tour Cycliste Féminin, had to become Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale. Over the years, the event received less and less participation, until it was discontinued in 2009. Classic once again.
After so many unsuccessful attempts and constant criticism from both fans of sport and athletes, organizers of the Tour de France launched La Course by Le Tour de France in 2014, which was more of a bandaid than a solution to a lack of women’s Tour de France and had its fair share of controversy. Also, it is worth mentioning that this was not done by an initiative of organizers, but a 4000 signatures petition, which was initiated by professional cyclists of that day- Emma Pooley, Kathryn Bertine, Marianne Vos, and Chrissie Wellington. Although the women’s peloton received a race that had an official affiliation to the Tour de France, it was a one-day race (there were a couple of editions that had 2 stages). Secondly, TV coverage was always lacking as is accustomed to women’s cycling. Nonetheless, La Course has been a great kicker for bringing in attention and in 2022 we will have a first-ever decently looking crack at women’s Tour de France- Tour de France Femmes.
2022 Tour de France Femmes
The first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will take place in France’s east, will cross 3 regions, and will cover 1029 kilometers. We should expect to see 22 teams bringing 6 riders each to the start line making it quite a crowded race, which is not surprising at all. The Women’s Tour de France will not only come with sentimental value to the athletes but with a record €250,000 prize fund, which is a big step forward for the sport itself.
Tour de France Femmes will consist of 8 stages and will take riders through all kinds of challenges. While the first two days will be up for grabs for sprinters, further down the line, the terrain will gradually increase. This is the usual scenario in multi-staged races, allowing teams to warm their legs and ease into a race, which will no doubt become tougher and tougher towards the end. I will quickly go through this year’s route and what we can expect from each day. If you are planning on visiting Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, read my article on how to get the most out of a cycling race as a spectator.
Stage 1: PARIS TOUR EIFFEL > CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES
A fast 82km criterium-like stage in the middle of Paris. Expect a lot of leg-sapping attacks out of the corners, fight for positions, and probably no breakaway. Although in 2015 Anna van der Breggen managed to lay down an attack from a kilometer, which was never brought back, nowadays, with the field being this strong and sentimental value of a first stage, I don’t see it happening.
Stage 2: MEAUX > PROVINS
A second and last 135km “warmup” stage. Flat with a couple of lumps along the way and should not be a problem for anyone. The finish seems to be slightly uphill, therefore more punchy riders might be a better pick than flat-out sprinters.
Stage 3: REIMS > ÉPERNAY
A 133km stage is classified as hilly and should provide a first real chance for a breakaway. If the peloton will not catch it before kilometer 88, there might be a glimpse of hope in the faces that are up the road. On the other hand, if a peloton manages to catch a breakaway, expect the strongest punchers to try and go solo on every lump and bump on the closing kilometers of a stage.
Stage 4: TROYES > BAR-SUR-AUBE
Another hilly 126km stage, but this time riders will be challenged with 4 iconic white road sectors that will play a big part in splitting the bunch. The first sector is quite early, in the 68th kilometer and the last one is on the 106th, so expect full gas racing and favorites trying their best to remain in action during these 40 grueling kilometers. Afterward survivors will have 2 more chances to #rideSoloCauseYolo up the finishing hills and we should witness a reduced bunch sprint, consisting of up to 7-10 strongest riders.
Stage 5: BAR-LE-DUC > SAINT-DIÉ-DES-VOSGES
An on-paper flat 175km stage, that will test riders’ endurance after 2 very demanding days in the hills. Although classified as flat, it will still have 3 climbs, inviting a breakaway to remain in front as long as possible. Nonetheless, it should all come back for a bunch sprint towards the end.
Stage 6: SAINT-DIÉ-DES-VOSGES > ROSHEIM
A rollercoaster 128km stage, which will easily reel athletes into mountains. Couple climbs scattered all over the stage and either a day for a breakaway or those, who will manage to save the most energy thus far and dare to attack on the final climb. Although the profile of stage 6 doesn’t look punchy, it might just be enough to crack those tired legs that gave it their all during the first stages.
Stage 7: SÉLESTAT > LE MARKSTEIN
First of two proper mountain stages and a real general classification decider. Petit Ballon, Col du Platzerwasel, and Grand Ballon are on the menu and will most definitely establish a clear hierarchy in the first edition of women’s Tour de France and favor the strongest climbers.
Stage 8: LURE > LA SUPER PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES
This first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will end with two epic climbs- Ballon d’Alsace and La Super Planche des Belles Filles, both of which have a long history in Tour de France. Once again, we should expect the same faces battling it out as the day before. Those who are in TOP5, depending on how close they are to winning the general classification, will desperately try to drop their competition and move up places.
With the adequate prize money, a 2 hours daily TV coverage, and 8 editions of La Curse to learn from, surely things are bound to improve. Ladies’ races are as exciting as men’s and this was proven by 2 editions of women’s Paris-Roubaix that were held in 2021 and 2022, so it is only fair to have more and more iconic cycling events adapted to women. By the end of the day, solving a lifelong problem of limited media coverage and lack of sponsorship can only be done by bringing more attention, new faces, and races to the calendar.
What do you think about upcoming race? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
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