The Tour de France, the world's most prestigious pro cycling race, is no longer just for men. The Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the owners of the annual three-week-long event that started in 1903, announced this weekend that they will be offering a one-day women's race called La Course on July 27, the final day of this year's Tour de France. The big gender-barrier-breaking news came on the heels of receiving a petition with nearly 100,000 online signatures from Le Tour Entier, an organization of women racers, including Olympic gold medalist Marianne Vos and retired Ironman triathlon champion Chrissie Wellington, who launched a campaign for a women’s Tour de France last September.
Finally pro women's cycling will share the much-needed spotlight on the world's biggest stage for cycling. “The tour is televised in more than a 190 countries. It's a race that not only cycling fans all around the world tune into but also people who don't normally watch cycling, so it's a great way to give women's cycling some awareness,” says two-time Australian national champion Kristy Scrymgeour, owner and director of the world's fastest pro women's cycling team Specialized-lululemon.
Echoing her sentiments is Specialized-lululemon cyclist and 2012 Olympian Evie Stevens. “I have always watched the Tour and the final stage," she says. "The event transcends cycling and is a global inspiration. As a cyclist, it is something you dream about (even as a woman), and to finally have the chance to participate in one stage and to be a small part of it is so thrilling. The thought of it gives me goosebumps. I know that all of the racers will be so motivated to show the world how beautiful and exciting our sport is.”
Details of the women's course will not be revealed until April or May, but Stevens (who who the 2012 Route de France Feminine—the only major women's stage race in France) is crossing her fingers that it will be a flat and fast circuit. For now we know the one-day race will end on Paris' world-famous Champs-Élysées, a wide avenue that draws spectacularly large crowds (picture Times Square on New Year's Eve) and features the iconic Arc de Triomphe. The kicker: The ladies will get to cross the finish line just hours ahead of the men.
Truth be told, this is not the Tour's first time inviting women to play. From 1984 to 1989, women had their own Tour de France (with shorter stages) named Tour de Feminin, which later got changed to Grand Boucle. It was eventually cancelled due to low media interest and sponsorship.
“At the time, cycling was traditionally a men's sport and the women didn't get enough media attention to sustain sponsorship interest, so there weren't many established women's teams,” Scrymgeour explains. “I think now women's cycling has grown to such a level that it makes sense to bring it back. There is a really positive vibe around women's cycling right now with some great initiatives in place to grow the sport on both a top level and sport or recreation one."
If all goes well, this one-day event may evolve into something more. “There will be a big push for ASO to grow the women's race and make it a multi-day event,” Scrymgeour says. “It would be great to see that happen, but regardless, the one-day event—on the day that everyone tunes in to see the finale of the men's race—will be a great boost for women's cycling.”