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Women’s Tour de France revival is reminder that ‘the fight for equality is far from over’

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Former professional cyclist and filmmaker. Katherine Bertin careful when choosing how to describe 2022 Tour de France Womenwhich ended on Sunday with a Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten cruising victory.

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“Too many headlines say first,” says Bertin.

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Other stories have used the word “inauguration”, which is a more accurate definition of “the first in a series of planned events”, but still misleading. “I think the general public is just equating ‘inauguration’ with ‘first’,” she says.

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For Bertin, this distinction is not just about semantics. It’s about not erasing history.

Progress in women’s cycling is not a straight line

If you want to talk about the “first” women’s Tour de France, you’ll have to go back to 1955. That year, 41 athletes competed in a five-stage one-off race that was held separately from the men’s competition.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1984, the organizers of the Tour de France held a women’s race alongside a men’s race, marking the first official women’s Tour de France. The female cyclists competed on the same, albeit shorter, tracks as the male riders.

“It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t go on like this,” says the American. Marianne Martinwho won the 1984 Women’s Tour de France. “It definitely felt like a start. And so it should have been from now on.”

This is not true.

The women’s Tour de France was held five more times until the organizers of the race removed the athletes from the program after 1988. other attempts were made to revive the event in the coming decades, the official name “Tour de France” was banned.

“We had to fight for women to have access to the Tour de France name. Because that’s what ASO took in 1989,” Bertine explains.

1984 Tour de France winners Laurent Fignon of France and Marianne Martin of the United States celebrate their victory on the podium. (AFP via Getty Images)

In 2013, Bertina – together with Emma Pooley, Marianne Vosas well as Chrissy Wellington – launched “Le Tour Entier” (French for “the whole tour”).

They submitted a petition, signed by over 98,000 people, to the director of the Tour de France. Christian Prudhomme demanding that women be allowed to race in the Tour de France. “While many women’s sports face injustice, road cycling remains one of the worst offenders: fewer opportunities to race, lack of television coverage, shorter distances and thus wage and prize inequality,” petition. read.

Bertin, whose film “Halfway” explores gender disparity in professional cycling, says she has heard from some athletes who supported the petition but are concerned about retaliation if they go public.

“A lot of people were afraid to rock the boat because they were nervous that their own contracts with their teams might be (under threat),” she says. “Several women contacted us and said: “I support you 100%, but I must remain silent because I am worried about my work.”

Tour de France organizer ASO – after initially ignoring the petition – eventually created “La Course by Le Tour de France”, a one- or two-day women’s race that ran annually between 2014 and 2021.

It was this story that got Bertine thinking when she heard the words “first” or “inaugural” used to describe the 2022 Women’s Tour de France.

“I want Marianne Martin to be recognized. I want to make sure we don’t forget the women in the 1955 Tour de France. And the women from La Course. Because that’s a huge part of understanding how long it took for this race to actually come to fruition.”

In response to the Women’s Tour de France, reminders that the job isn’t done yet

While this year’s eight-stage women’s Tour de France was more than just a symbolic gesture, the full mission of Le Tour Entier has yet to be accomplished.

“I think being grateful is one of the worst things we could be,” says Lizzie Deignan, professional Trek-Segafredo cyclist. “This is a trap that many women fall into… sometimes you have to be brave, bold and outspoken. It’s not always convenient.”

One of the most glaring differences between the women’s and the (men’s) Tour de France is the number of stages in the race: eight for women, 21 for men. This is particularly striking when one considers the fact that when Martin won in 1984—the summer that cyclists and marathon runners made their Olympic debuts—women were racing 18 stages of the Tour de France (compared to 23 for men).

The peloton passes through the Avize vineyards during the 2022 Women's Tour de France.
EPERNET, FRANCE – JULY 26: The peloton passes through the vineyards of Avize during the 2022 Women’s Tour de France. (Photo by Dario Belingeri/Getty Images)

Many female cyclists also want to add a time trial. This year’s (men’s) Tour de France included two.

“I think it would make the race more dynamic and help bring out a more versatile winner.” Christian Faulkner told VeloNews.

But equality isn’t as easy as just adding 13 racing stages.

“There are complex questions about why the women’s Tour de France is not yet three weeks old,” says Deignan. “It’s not about our physical ability to complete three weeks… Thirty-seven percent of the women’s peloton doesn’t get a living wage, so expecting them to compete for three weeks while keeping a job is just unrealistic.”

Which leads to the prize money issue: For the win, van Vleuten took home €50,000 (about $52,487) of the total women’s prize pool of €250,000 (about $262,437). In comparison, the winner among men is Denmark Jonas Wingegaard received over $500,000 for his win last month, while the men’s purse topped $2 million.

When you control the number of race days, women earn 29 cents per dollar of prize money compared to their male counterparts.

This problem is not unique to the Tour de France. Cycling lags far behind most sports when it comes to fair pay, although corporate sponsorships, including from spokesperson sponsor Zwift, are a plus. recent pledge from Strava began to fill in the gap.

“It’s about having more professional women on the starting line,” Deinan said of Strava’s promise. “And that’s what we’re missing: the next generation. These barriers to participation at the professional level are still formidable.”

Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrates victory after the eighth and final leg of the 2022 Women’s Tour de France. (Photo by JEFF PACHUD/AFP via Getty Images)

There is also the issue of race coverage. “They only give (women) two, two and a half hours of coverage from the middle of the race,” Bertin said of the Women’s Tour de France broadcast. “It’s not normal…especially if men get a full six hours of coverage.”

This is a known issue in women’s sports where it’s a long history of investing less money and time in coverage and marketing and then blaming the players and the product for not attracting a large audience.

Deignan, who is currently pregnant with her second child, had something of an epiphany as she watched the UK Nationals at home from her sofa.

“(Broadcast) was conducted with the help of on-board motorcycle cameras. Here it is. There was no helicopter footage… it was a very simple package and not very pleasant to watch. And it was like “wow, this is what women’s cycling is like to watch a lot of time because we just don’t have the same level of production and production makes a huge difference.” Sport is fun.”

Deignan, born five months after hosting the last women’s Tour de France in 1988, says she was inspired by Billie Jean Kingthe message is not to settle for breadcrumbs.

“It took us my whole life to be safe again in this race…” she says. “We have to keep fighting because once we rest and take these small steps, progress will stop again.

“The fight for equality is far from over.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Other women’s sports news

AIG Women’s Open 2022: how to see who will play in the historic major… Women’s Tour de France 2022: results, highlights, history, milestones… Video: Annemiek van Vleuten wins the 2022 Women’s Tour de France

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