Whilst watching the Tour de France on the TV last night, Kate asked a question that I had not previously considered: Why are there no women competing?
Looking into it, I discovered the following:
· Although lot of sports previously considered off limits to women now allow women to compete – for example, the marathon and, more recently, boxing and weightlifting – the cycling world has so far resisted such change.
- Women have never competed on an equal footing with men in the Tour de France.
- From 1984 to 1989, a women’s stage race was held, and in 2014, the last men's stage was preceded by a women's race, called La Course by Le Tour de France, which was won by Marianne Vos (pictured below).
- The reasons that women aren’t allowed to compete are:
- Riders compete not by country but as sponsored teams, the sponsors providing the money. Big money.
- According to one female commentator, Lindsay Kandra, a female American lawyer and cyclist:
The Tour costs millions of dollars to produce. On top of that, consider the resources that teams put into their grand tour squads during the race: Bikes lighter than my cat, wheels made of NASA grade materials, team cars, luxury RVs, gas, seigneurs, mechanics, publicists, clothing, housing, food, bags of clean urine. And this doesn’t even include the years worth of resources needed to develop a Tour-ready team: Competitive salaries, rider development, travel, housing, more gear, more bikes, more publicists. Where do teams get this money? Sponsors. And what do sponsors want? The biggest marketing return on their dollar. Like it or not, that return is not found in women’s professional cycling.
- Kandra points out that women’s cycling gets less money because it is less prominent and less developed than men’s cycling, a consequence of receiving less money. It’s a vicious cycle (no pun intended).
- Women riders also have constraints that men don’t: child bearing and motherhood. This happens mostly in their teens, 20’s and 30’s, optimum time for cycling talent development.
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Some Tour trivia:
· The first Tour de France event was held in 1903.
· The Tour de France was won in 1990 by Greg LeMond, without winning any individual stages.
· The record number of wins was seven by Lance Armstrong of the United States (1999-2005) - however after being found guilty of doping by the USADA in 2012, he has lost all of these titles.
· Four riders have managed to win the Tour five times:
o Jacques Anquetil of France (1957, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964)
o Eddy Merckx of Belgium (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974)
o Bernard Hinault of France (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985)
o Miguel Induráin of Spain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995)
· The oldest Tour de France cyclist is Henri Paret, who was 50 years when he competed in 1904. The oldest winner was Firmin Lambot (Belgium) who was 36 years old in 1922
· The youngest winner was Henri Cornet (France) in 1904 who was 20 years old at the time.
· Gino Bartali holds the record of longest time span between titles, having earned his first and last Tour victories 10 years apart (in 1938 and 1948 respectively).
· The most career Yellow Jerseys is 111 by Eddy Merckx of Belgium. He also holds the record for the most career stage wins with 33.
· The Tour de France inspired the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, to write the song "Bicycle Race" in 1978.
· The longest Tour was in 1926 with 5,745 km.
· At least a few of times in the history of the race has the rider awarded the win been disqualified at a later date.
- The first time was in 1904 when the leader was found to have caught a train for part of the event.
- After the 2006 race the initial winner Floyd Landis of USA was disqualified for elevated testosterone levels found in a urine sample taken after one of his stage wins.
- In 2010 Alberto Contador was later stripped of his win following a lengthy investigation into his drug use during the event.
- In 2012, Lance Armstrong was found guilty of doping by the USADA, and all of his titles were taken off him.
· During WWII, the Tour organisers of the time refused to cooperate with a Tour proposed by the collaborationist Vichy government that ran occupied France in WWII. A faux Tour de France - called the Circuit de France - was run, but the real thing didn't return until 1947.
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Links to past Bytes items about the Tour: