Vive Le Tour de France … Femmes!
Foreign Policy Brief #139 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | June 23, 2022
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The Tour de France is the pinnacle of professional cycling. It is the highest level of competition on the biggest stage , in one of the toughest endurance sports out there. Until now, it has been strictly for men. This 21-day stage race has taken place almost every summer since 1903 – with some breaks in competition for the two world wars which devastated much of France.
Like many other major sporting competitions, the Tour de France is a 21-day period of time for France to show off its many glorious features. TV viewers and spectators alike are treated to dazzling images of the Alps and Pyrennees mountains, views over the Atlantic and Mediterranean, mass celebrations and French heroics on Bastille Day, and to end it all – a massive sprint finish down the Champs Elysees in the heart of Paris at dusk with views of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. The pageantry of the event is similar to that of the Olympics, or the FIFA World Cup; and the global reach that the event has is certainly similar. Not only are many of the teams and athletes from many different countries; the fans and spectators come to France from all over the world to view this race from the side of the road.
The sport of cycling, and the Tour de France, have come under scrutiny for a very long time for its history of performance enhancing drug use (à la Lance Armstrong). The sport has also been a foreign policy pain in the neck for France and many European countries as there have been many multi-national law enforcement operations to curb doping. This summer, however, the Tour de France will be making headlines for a positive event rather than the negative events associated with its history. For the first time, the Tour will be welcoming a female version of the Tour de France. Historically, the women’s professional peloton has had a one-day race while the men enjoy the benefits (and struggles) of a 21-day stage race; this year, the women will race an eight-day stage race at the end of July.
The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), the governing body of global cycling, has staged races for the women’s peloton outside of this new Tour de France Femmes; however, these stage races have long been under criticism for not having the same three weeks of racing that the men are provided. This is not only an issue of gender equality in sports, but also an economic issue as well.
Female professional cycling teams, due to the lack of these long stage races and the lack of television coverage, are oftentimes in greater financial danger and risk than the men’s teams (which are also under a fair amount of risk, as well).
The Tour de France Femmes will be presented by NBC Sports on apps such as Peacock and CNBC, according to VeloNews. This television coverage is unusual for female cycling, especially in the United States. Many cycling races are not televised, especially in the United States, which allows sponsors that create these teams to have much exposure to the global economy which in turn means that many teams fold after a few years and riders are often left scrambling for new teams to ride on every few seasons.
NBC Sports presenting the eight-day stage race on American television should be helpful in allowing these teams to have more exposure and be able to provide a more stable outlook for their athletes.
Many current female professional cyclists, according to a survey produced by Cyclists’ Alliance, make less than $12,000 per year and many female cyclists do not even get paid or have to work a second job.
Photo taken from: Cycling News / Getty Images
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These financial burdens are also on top of long training hours, travel to get to races during the season, and also the high physical risk and danger associated with professional cycling. According to Canadian Cycling Magazine, in December 2021, WorldTour male cyclists made a minimum salary of $60,000 per year. The pay disparity between the two sets of elite professional cyclists leaves much to be desired, especially for female athletes.
There have been several attempts at hosting a female Tour de France that dates back to the mid-1980s, but nothing stuck. Christian Prudhomme, the race director of the Tour de France, claims that this is because female racing is a quick way to lose money. While many female riders and team directors have blamed race organizers and other governmental bodies for not supporting, and investing in female cycling for decades.
Le Tour de France Femmes is an opportunity that is not often given to the female peloton; an eight-day stage race on global television, particularly American television, at the same time as the hype and excitement of the Tour de France.
The potential for teams and riders to showcase their talents on the world’s biggest cycling stage, and with high potential for sponsors and investors to see their achievements is entirely game changing. Let’s hope that this type of investment continues and that we start to see more coverage of women’s professional cycling.
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