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Audrey Cordon-Ragot: A generation of young female riders can be inspired by Le Tour de France Femmes

A multiple-time French national champion, an icon, and one of the most respected rider’s in the WWT, Audrey Cordon-Ragot writes exclusively for VeloNews about the Tour de France Femmes and what it means to her.

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I must have been about four years old when I went to see the Tour de France for the first time. I was there for the caravan more than the race, I must admit, and I remember being so excited to see all the colorful vehicles parading through the streets as they threw goodies to us at the side of the road.

I was with my grandparents and my sister and I remember the warmth, how the people were happy, and the noise of the race as it approached from a distance. It’s a happy memory for me on a personal level, and one that I often cherish, but if you ask anyone in France their first memory of the Le Tour is always a happy one.

Ask them about their first Tour memory and it brings a sense of nostalgia, a feeling of family, and a memory of what cycling meant at a young age. Happiness, friendship, holiday, freedom. Let’s go!

Of course, the last edition of the women’s Tour de France was way back 1989, the year I was born. I grew up with no one to identify with as a French cyclist. When I played make-believe on my bike I was Richard Virenque or Laurent Jalabert.

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The problem with not having the Tour for 33 years has meant that women’s cycling has developed at a slow pace. Many generations of cyclists ended their careers too early because they couldn’t make a living or support themselves from cycling. It was like the men’s Tour de France was the only tree hiding in a dead forest.

Thankfully, the situation has changed. That dead forest has shown shoots of life; women’s cycling has been nurtured with care and hard work, and that’s because the women in our sport have taken a stand. It has taken time to reach this point but we never gave up on our dream to breathe life back into the Tour de France Femme.

We had strong women talking on our behalf, Marianne Vos and Marion Clignet in particular. They, and others, lead the way and set us on the right path.

La Course came up as a first step, and I think it was necessary to learn about the women’s peloton and its particularities. ASO tried different races, we proved how good we were, and after eight editions of La Course the Tour de France Femmes is finally here.

When I first found out about the race happening it brought me back to my first memories of the Tour. Holding my grandparents’ hands, the summer, the joy in my sister’s eyes, and the sheer joy that the race can fill your heart with.

I had known for some time that the race was going to come because ASO had asked for our insight and advice but I have to admit, I never let myself truly believe that it was going to happen until the announcement had been made official. I didn’t want to face the disappointment.

The route? I’m really glad that the organizers listened to us, the riders. We have a lot of experience from Giro and the Women’s Tour, and we know what works. Staying in a restricted area of France to limit the transfers and assure the wellbeing of riders and staff members was in my opinion the best option for a first Tour.

East France offers a perfectly complete course, and every rider is going to be able to express herself. The race should be interesting from day one until day eight, and it won’t be over after three stages. It’s going to be special.

I have been asked many times about how it will feel being on the start line for the first stage in Paris. To be honest, I think I’ll only be able to answer that question at the end of day one…

I have no idea how I will feel. At the start of Paris-Roubaix, I felt like I was in another world. I kept telling myself that I had to stay focused but at the same time I was petrified. My biggest fear is to not be at the level people expect from me. I’m so motivated, so excited. I hope all those feelings will help me to be the best of myself. I’m really proud of the way France has stepped up in women’s cycling.

But in a long-term sense, this Tour de France Femmes isn’t about me or about 2022. Instead, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel because after such a long time young riders, young girls, can finally see the opportunity to become professional athletes.

This July they can see that one day they can ride the Tour just like the boys, and one day, when someone asks ‘are they going to ride the Tour de France?’ they can smile, they can feel assured, and they can say YES. That’s a massive step forward for thousands of youngsters.

Now these young girls, they don’t have to pretend to be the boy riders like I used to do. I hope that young female riders can see the race this summer, whether it’s at home or by the roadside, and that they can dream one day of being like us. They can see the race and pretend to be a little Audrey, a little Marianne, or a little Lizzie.

Now young girls can stick posters of us on their walls. They can wear our jerseys, they can share our passion, and one day they can share the feeling of racing in the best women’s event in the world. I feel the responsibility, I feel how amazing sport can be, and the potential for women’s cycling is like never before.

This new exposure will help other races gain attention, and for more teams to benefit too. Honestly, this is the biggest step women’s cycling has made since I started racing.

Now, all we need is a Netflix series. Think of the drama! It’s not a secret, that the members of the women’s peloton show their emotions. we cry, we laugh loud, we scream loud (very loud) but in the end, isn’t it what people love watching? No filter needed…

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.