La Course - The Race
July 26, 2014 1:50 AM   Subscribe

On Sunday 27 July, history will be made when a group of professional cyclists rides the Champs-Elysées. Among the riders who have never before been allowed in the Tour de France, is an athlete The Guardian has called "the finest cyclist of their generation" and who Bicycling Magazine recently touted as one "who could be the most naturally gifted, hardest-working cyclist who ever lived", Marianne Vos. Also riding will be writer, filmmaker, former figure skater and triathlete Kathryn Bertine. Triathlete and marathoner Emma Pooley described her expectation for the event: "On a scale of one to 10, I'd say that La Course is 11 on the excitement levels." Along with the athlete who holds/held all three Ironman world and championship records (including the overall world record), Chrissie Wellington, they created the campaign Le Tour Entier, whose motto is Liberté, Égalité, Cyclisme, a play on the French national motto.

Le Tour Entier petition gathered nearly 100,000 signatures, which led to the creation of the first women's Tour de France race in history: La Course. Vos remarked about it: "I don't want to feel like they should allow us to do the Tour de France. It's not a charity thing. We have to add value to the race." On a similar note, Australian Criterium champion Sarah Roy remarked, "It is one groundbreaking step forward for our sport, which seems a tad ridiculous in this day and age, to have women still fighting so hard for equality within professions."

In preparation and celebration for the upcoming event, Vos also became the catalyst for a roadtrip to Paris involving 40 women from 13 countries. The all-women peloton set off from Utrecht in the Netherlands on 23 July, and has covered more than 550km in four days to arrive in the French capital today, 26 July.

The Sunday race is likely to be exhilarating: Sarah Roy (who does not – yet? – have a Wikipedia page) explains that "the men have just raced a very big tour. I’m sure they’ll be a bit tired and with the GC already decided, I’d say their race will be very different to ours. The women will race hard, it’s going to be very fast from the word go. Women always race hard but there is a little extra motivation on Sunday; we have an audience, there is money up for grabs and we have a point to prove."

- Kathryn Bertine is behind the documentary Half the Road, about "the passion, pitfalls and power of women's professional cycling."

- Some of "the most badass women in cycling" have also shared what it means for them to ride #LikeAGirl.

- More reading on "the feminist bicycling revolution" can be found at Taking the Lane, a Portland-based outfit run by cyclist and journalist Elly Blue.
posted by fraula (18 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Great post fraula, thank you. Hopefully the race will get the full media coverage that it is due on Sunday. I'll be among those watching.
posted by X4ster at 6:39 AM on July 26, 2014

This is a great post-thank you! I've been really disappointed by the lack of coverage or even mentions by the commentators during the men's tour.
posted by JennyJupiter at 6:42 AM on July 26, 2014

Are women specifically banned from competing in Tour de France or is it just a matter of physical differences that don't allow women to be able to compete with the men?
posted by gyc at 7:03 AM on July 26, 2014

gyc, you're asking in a thread where it's specified in the opening links that the top Ironman triathlete in the world is a woman, and a woman has won more cycling competitions than anyone else (including professional male cyclists) in her generation, whether it's about physical differences? No, it is not about physical differences. Tour de France participation rules are complex and systematically exclude women. Watching the clip at Half the Road is quite enlightening as well – it starts off with a quote from the head of the Union Cycliste International that makes the "reasons" behind systematic exclusion quite clear. It then goes on to dismantle those "reasons" with science and fact.
posted by fraula at 7:53 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a great post! It's something I know nothing about so it's really informative, thank you.
posted by billiebee at 7:59 AM on July 26, 2014

Among the key issues here isn't "let the women race with the men," it's, why won't the organizers and media organize and promote women's events of comparable stature to those of the men's events?

Its a chicken or the egg scenario - oh, it won't attract sponsorship because it won't get media coverage because people won't watch it because it hasn't had any media coverage because its not well sponsored - but too many people involved are way too happy with a super uneven status quo.
posted by entropone at 8:08 AM on July 26, 2014

gyc, you're asking in a thread where it's specified in the opening links that the top Ironman triathlete in the world is a woman, and a woman has won more cycling competitions than anyone else (including professional male cyclists) in her generation, whether it's about physical differences?

I don't think that's what the link says about Wellington. The "overall" is, I think, referring to all ironman-level distances (not just Ironman-branded or the championship course in Hawaii), not overall between men and women. Wellington is an amazing athlete but is not faster than the top men. I do not think the female cyclists here are asking that they literally be placed in direct head-to-head competition with the men.
posted by dsfan at 8:13 AM on July 26, 2014

I'm really looking forward to digging into these links a bit later when I can focus more attention on them. Thanks so much for posting.
posted by dorkydancer at 8:22 AM on July 26, 2014

I don't know much about straight-up cycling as opposed to triathlon, but I am super-excited for this.

In triathlon, Wellington holds or held the overall women's records -- last year she was edged out by Mirinda Carfrae for the Kona course record. To give a sense of the time differences, Carfrae was 40 minutes behind the men's winner (van Lierde) on the overall time. 30 minutes of that was in the bike leg, but her run split was faster than his (it was a glorious run to watch), so she may have been strategically holding back on the bike -- I would totally believe Carfrae could give the male cyclists a serious run for their money if she could focus solely on the bike. I haven't seen Wellington race -- she retired just as I was getting into triathlon -- but this part of her Wikipedia article gives me chills:

Beating all but one of the men at Alpe d'Huez: Later that month [July 2008], she retained her title at the long-distance Alpe d'Huez Triathlon, finishing second overall, more than 25 minutes ahead of second-placed Aléxandra Louison and only 1 minute 23 seconds behind the winning man, Marcus Ornellas. She recorded the fastest overall time for the ascent of les 21 virages.

The Alpe d'Huez bike course uses part of the TdF route and it is seriously no joke.
posted by dorque at 8:35 AM on July 26, 2014

In the '80s, Connie Carpenter raced in men's events, since she had very little competition among the women.
posted by Repack Rider at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2014

Mod note: A few comments removed. Please do not intentionally doom a thread by skipping to the worst part on purpose.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:25 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

My daughter (24 years old) is working hard to break into cycling. Every UCI series she races reduces the length of the women's races, even though nearly all of the women in the Pro/Cat 1/2 field could kick the asses of the men in the Cat 3/4 races. In cycling - I don't know, I guess I'll call it a misogynistic bias - women are treated as second-class at best, while they consistently perform at ridiculous levels, like Marianne Vos or Canada's Leah Kirchmann. I can't explain the many levels of sexist shittiness involved in the UCI. Even this Sunday's race is tokenism. It's great because they get the world stage, but the whole thing is on par with the back in the day maleist bullshit that said that a woman couldn't complete a full marathon. We'll get over it eventually, but god (al)mighty some (old) men hang on tenaciously to really bad thinking for a very long time.
posted by kneecapped at 4:27 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why no attention for the Tour de France Feminin? This was a completely separate version of the Tour, which petered out in 2009 due to sponsorship drying up (which is the specter hanging over all bike races). There still exists a women's version of the Giro d'Italia, the Giro Rosa, and was held earlier this month.

Also, I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the U.S.'s biggest stage race, the Women's Challenge, held in Idaho, and which ended in 2002. I never did the race, but I know of at least two NYC-area women who did and loved it. Hilarious that the UCI never saw fit to endorse it, as it was considered too hard. It was as long as two weeks, though by the last year, it was 8 stages.

This dovetails with my experience, watching women's road racing dwindle in the last 15 years. Fields that used to be 50-plus-riders now bring in a dozen women. Promoters pare down the women's fields to only one choice, while increasing the number of fields for masters (i.e., for people 35 and older). Cyclocross seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. What is USA Cycling doing to promote women's racing? That is, providing monetary incentives for promoters?

Of the subject at hand, I'm not terribly enthused about a one-day race for the women. I understand that this comes on the heels of a lot of work by some very prominent people, but the tokenism rankles. This reminds me of what some U.S. promoters do here, offer a smaller race for which women are supposed to act exceedingly grateful. For example, the Housatonic Valley Classic was a fantastic road race in Connecticut, and I was fortunate enough to be able to participate the year the women were given a 60-mile version of the road race, full road closure and everything. The following year, the promoter scaled the women's race back to a fucking crit, while the men still got to do their epic road race. Blech.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:13 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

yeah this is a thing that goes back a long long way. I would blame it on the general narrow-minded sexist attitudes of the UCI in general and the leadership of European cycling in specific, had I not seen its exact doppelgänger played out many many times in the USA.

when I started racing bikes in 1987 there were big national and regional women's events for the pros, but the little known secret is that they got their bump from the general popularity of cycling during that timeframe - Connie Carpenter in the '84 Olympics followed closely by LeMond winning the Tour made bike racing a pop culture phenomenon in the mid to late-80's for exactly one hot minute.

one of the major issues that I have rarely seen addressed up until recently (and believe me we have been fighting for this tooth and nail in our neck of the woods) is coherent women's development at the grassroots and midrange amateur levels. Good bike racers don't grow on trees, and bike racing is not a friendly sport if you're a woman. I'm not very talented, and too stubborn to quit. Back when I was young and sorta fast I wound up racing most of the local training series with the men's Cat 4-5 fields. While this is an okay way to do things, it's really not all that welcoming an environment. Criterium racing is the main bread and butter of US racing, and it's not for the faint of heart. It's comparable to roller derby on bikes and crashes are part of doing business. In a men's crit field, the guys are rough, their fields are big, they have a physical advantage, they're fast, and they're inclined to be assholes simply because bike racers are kind of aggro anyhow and a girl in a men's field is generally assumed to be the sort of rider who's easy to bully out of the pace line or leadout train, steal wheels from, etc. So what I learned (rightfully or no) was to be twice as big of a prick as anyone who actually HAD one, simply to be able to protect my position in the field.

If I had a daughter I would really hesitate to subject her to that. I have lots of skin that won't ever grow back right and a few crooked lumps on my collarbones and so on.

And the worst part of it is that in local series races this shit still goes on to this day. It's been a 3-year battle to get our local training series crit to even hold a separate women's field.

Part of the issue is giving women a space to grow and develop without being overwhelmed. Throwing midrange amateurs in with the upper-level elite pros here in the Front Range is a bad, bad idea but they did it for decades, and it rendered Women's 3 effectively a "dead" category. Girls who got force upgraded and couldn't hang would quit racing within a year. We've fought long and hard in the Colorado racing association just to get them to separate the Women's 3 from the Pro/1/2 field. Because they were getting fields of up to 40 Cat 4 (beginner) women, and no one would upgrade. They finally implemented it, and this past year we've seen fields of Women's 3 that were sometimes bigger than the Men's 3 even.

Fast forward to 2014 Cyclocross Nationals in Boulder last January. The Elite Women's field was not only larger than the Elite Men's field they also finished more riders on the lead lap AND get this, it was the biggest turnout for any UCI Cyclocross field, anywhere, EVER. A world record.

If you build it, they will come.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:54 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

A great post, and what a great race that was. I hope it's a start of a deserved resurgence in women's racing. All that TV coverage has got to make sponsors happy. Let's aim for a proper French grand tour again.
posted by milkb0at at 6:48 AM on July 27, 2014

I have nothing to add to the meat of this post, but this is 2 minutes of awesome bikecam from Vos' perspective. She is really, really fast.
posted by god hates math at 5:31 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

jesus christ ghm I hadn't seen that onboard cam from Vos until you posted it. Vos proves there that she's not just fast as hell, she is a supremely good bike handler and tactical genius. The move she makes at 1K just... oh man. She sees the gap, avoids being pinched at the barriers and winds up on just the right wheel.

damn. There is so much good in that video I can't even describe it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:33 AM on July 29, 2014

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