As the 100th Tour de France winds up, viewers and cyclists celebrate the historic race's legacy of epic climbs, doping scandals, the elusive yellow jersey — and the exclusion of female participants. Now women ask for a Tour of their own, and it's time they got one.
With a few other professional female cyclists, Kathryn Bertine addressed an online petition for a women's race to Tour director Christian Prudhomme. The petition currently has nearly 58,000 supporters and over 3,000 signatures and counting. One supporter comments, young girls "should be able to have the dream of winning the Tour de France and to transform it into reality."
"After a century, it is about time women are allowed to race the Tour de France, too," reads the petition. "While many women's sports face battles of inequity, road cycling remains one of the worst offenders: fewer race opportunities, no televised coverage, shorter distances, and therefore salary and prize money inequity."
The petitioners do not ask to race alongside the men; they call for "our own professional field running in conjunction with the men's event" of the same day, distance, and prize money.
The petition notes the success of the women’s road races at the London Olympics and the Tour of Flanders, which holds separate races for men and women on the same day. Bertine predicts a women's race would challenge the perception of physical limitations of women. She concludes the petition, "In the late 1960s people assumed that women couldn't run the marathon. 30 years on we can look back and see how erroneous this was. Hopefully 30 years from now, we will see 2014 as the year that opened people's eyes to true equality in the sport of cycling."
In response to the petition addressed to his name, Prudhomme swats his hand in the air and tells reporters "We are saying nothing for the moment."
Some resistance to the women's Tour comes from female cyclist Kate Bates. She calls attention to the "indisputable fact" that women are slower than men and regulations prohibit women from racing over 135km. "I am not suggesting our female athletes are inferior in any way, but I do think we need to be realistic about the limitations of athletes, and address the inequalities that are forced upon us, not the natural ones. In theory it is a great idea, but I don’t think the Tour de France is necessarily the best place to start."
This is not the first attempt at a women's Tour; a "Tour Feminin" took place on and off between 1984 and 2009. The race never gained adequate media coverage, sponsorship, or the fan following of the men's race. The petitioners think it's worth another try, despite the logistical challenges.
"Everybody's saying the Tour de France is turning 100, but all female cyclists are saying that the Men's Tour de France is turning 100 and we still haven't been invited yet," says Bertine. "We think that it's sexism and discrimination, whether it's intentional or not is another avenue to explore. But we do think they certainly haven't tried to help."
If you’d like to see women biking in the 101th tour, click here to sign the petition.