The inclusion of women in sports often begins from the bottom and slowly trickles up the ranks to the professional level. For example, women have been playing high school football and baseball for decades, but it’s only in the past few years that individuals have broken out onto the scene, with Becca Longo signing the first female Division 1 football scholarship and Melissa Mayeux becoming the first female added to MLB’s International Registration list. In 2014, cycling joined the ranks with the advent of La Course to coincide with Le Tour de France.
Unfortunately for female cyclists, progress seems to be coming to a halt with the Union Cycliste Internationale and Amaury Sport Organization limiting La Course to a 1 day, 73-mile event in 2018. This is compared to the 2 day, 56-mile La Course held last year and the men’s 2018 Tour de France, which spanned an incredible 2081 miles over 22 days.
While the mileage has increased dramatically over the past several years, many female cyclists are unhappy with the event. Kathryn Bertine, a former cyclist and co-founder of the campaign group Le Tour Entier, says the event is almost like “throwing women a token.”
“It should be a five to 10-day race minimum by now,” Bertine told BBC Sport. “They probably don’t even see it as sexism, but you could also say that it’s just very lazy. The very top of the sport is where sexism is still strongest and that’s what needs to be dismantled.”
This sentiment is recognized by ASO chief executive Yann Le Moenner who says the prolific growth of women’s cycling makes a dedicated, analogous women’s event necessary. He even goes so far to claim, “The sooner the better.”
But other statements by Le Moenner point to appeasement rather than actual change. When told of Rochelle Gilmore’s call for a 10-day event held on the same dates and courses as the men’s race, the ASO executive said, “Logistically, [it’s] just not possible.”
This reluctance stems largely from the steady decline of Le Tour de France Féminine between 1984 and 2009, causing many to criticize ASO for only investing in women’s cycling when and where the company could stand to make a profit. Nonetheless, Bertine and others point to a 2017 report, which shows ASO maintained a net profit of 45.91M euros as recently as 2016, showing the company has the ability to financially support a women’s tour and is simply choosing not to do so.
There is hope, however. Growing viewership of women’s cycling has increased demand for international broadcasting. The 2017 OVO Women’s Tour in the United Kingdom drew 500,000 spectators and 1.4 million UK TV viewers. This, in combination with renewed efforts by current and former women’s riders, promises to bring much-needed change to the world of professional cycling.
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