Marion Rousse hails the success of the “true women’s Tour de France” | Bike

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Jit was not one, but two historic moments in women’s sport this weekend. The first, as you may know, came at Wembley on a happy night for English football; the other was on top of a mountain in the French Vosges, where Annemiek van Vleuten won the Tour de France Women at the Super Planche des Belles Filles.

The 39-year-old Dutchwoman overcame a stomach ache to completely dominate the mountain stages of the eight-day race. His superiority over the peloton was such that only six riders finished within 10 minutes of his overall time.

In a way, the outcome of the race mattered less than the breakthrough it represented. The various incarnations of the women’s race endured exile, underfunding and mockery, until finally, after years of reluctance, Tour ASO promoters were bullied into launching this year’s event. .

There are other major women’s races – the Women’s Tour in Britain and the Giro Donne in Italy – but the Tour de France is the pinnacle of the sport, the global showcase for elite cycling. Now plans are underway to make the Women’s Tour bigger, better and significantly more competitive.

While the men’s Tour has survived world wars, pandemics and crippling doping scandals, women’s cycling has existed in a sporting hinterland. It is to the great credit of those athletes and activists who lobbied so hard, for so long, that Van Vleuten was able to stand tall, in a yellow jerseyon the final podium.

What started in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe and ended on a gravel track was just the beginning. “I’ve always been sure of one thing with this race,” said Tour Femmes director Marion Rousse. “It was not a gift we were giving to women’s cycling, to create a women’s Tour de France. They simply deserve it and you see proof of that every day, with different racing scenarios. And even if it’s the first year, it’s a real Tour de France, with the caravan, the crowd, the signs, the flags, it’s great. It gives me chills when I see it. »

The Women’s Tour still has three years left on its contract with title sponsor Zwift. “It’s important in this first year to see the reception from the public, the media, the public, the sponsors,” said Rousse. “They don’t know with a new race how it will go, but it’s already impressive on all levels. We make women’s cycling a part of everyday life. We have taken up the challenge and it is clear that this will grow in the coming years.

There are already talks of increasing the number of riders in each team and more race days next year, including an individual time trial and a visit to the Alps and Pyrenees.

“We have already learned a lot,” Rousse said. “There are a few questions that need to be answered – some things we can improve for next year. But given the popular success, the size of the television audience, the interest in the race, the quality of the races, it will increase in the years to come.

Marion Rousse said the Tour de France Women has “risen to the challenge and will clearly grow in the coming years”. Photography: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

But she acknowledges that there are significant issues that need to be addressed to allow the event to grow. It must also establish greater depth in the women’s field and generate a higher level of competition throughout. With some riders taking time off work to compete and others riding for free, there is a need to invest more in the teams themselves.

“Although women’s cycling has evolved, the business model remains fragile,” said Rousse. “It’s still an amateur environment, that’s for sure, and we hope that, thanks to the public, the fact that the race is televised in 190 countries around the world, and because it’s the Tour de France, that sponsors will be encouraged to invest in women’s teams.

In the immediate term, it is clear that from now on the three-week Tour de France will turn into a month-long road racing festival, celebrating both men’s and women’s cycling. As women’s racing grows, the globalization of men’s racing continues unabated with the 2022 podium with a Danish winner, Slovenian runner-up and Welsh veteran Geraint Thomas coming in third.

Jonas Vingaard’s success was celebrated by thousands of fans at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, while Tadej Pogacar headed straight to the Women’s Tour to support partner Urska Zigart, who was racing for Team BikeExchange. Next year, the men’s Grand Départ will take place in Bilbao for two loop stages through the Basque Country before the peloton enters France.

The Women’s Tour meanwhile will start on July 23 as the men’s race concludes in Paris and, according to Rousse, will remain in its current one-week race format. “You can’t build a 10-day or three-week race on the spot,” she said. “It has to be developed gradually. For now, it’s eight days.

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