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The new race will begin in Paris shortly ahead of the final stage of the men’s event this Sunday with a route that takes the riders from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs Élysées.
It will be the first time since the 1980s that there has been an official Tour de France for women. It is a return that has been a long time coming and it has been one of the most hotly anticipated additions to the women’s calendar in recent years.
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“I think it is going to be an epic day, also for the men because the last stage in Paris always very important for the sprinters and is going to be a big thing for us,” Balsamo told VeloNews this week.
“The Tour de France is very famous, and I have been watching the men’s Tour de France, and I really hope that they will be the same crowds on the roads for the women’s one. Everyone knows the Tour de France, even if they’re not a cyclist or a cycling fan. So, I think it’s a big achievement for women’s cycling.”
While it won’t get the same wall-to-wall live coverage that the men’s race has seen, the Tour de France Femmes should get at least two hours of live broadcast each day with worldwide audiences expected.
The draw of the Tour de France name is something that cannot be matched in other events and it is hoped that it will result in a bigger viewership for women’s cycling than its usual fanbase. Balsamo hopes that the event will be given the space it deserves to thrive.
“Every fan can watch from home, and I really hope that in Italy, and in other countries, we will have a lot of space on the media, on the newspaper, and on the TV,” Balsamo said.
“The attention from the media, newspapers, and television is very important for women’s cycling. I’m very happy that everyone is speaking a lot about us. I think that we are on the correct way, of course, and maybe we need some more steps to achieve our best, but I’m sure that we are going to do a good job.”
From the Giro to the Tour
Balsamo will arrive at the Tour de France hot on the heels of completing her first grand tour at the Giro d’Italia Donne earlier this month. The world champion romped home to two stage victories and had a stint in the pink jersey by virtue of the bonus seconds she earned with her stage 2 win.
The new Italian champion has had few chances to race on home soil this season, but when she has it has usually brought success. Of her three Italian races prior to the Giro, she won two, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Italian national road race championships.
“When you race in Italy is always nice, but to do it while wearing the pink jersey it was amazing and it was dream become true,” Balsamo said. “It was awesome and also one stage started from my hometown. It was amazing with a lot of people and a lot of crowds on the roads. Everyone is cheering for the world champion, so I’m very happy about that. It’s one of the best parts of being world champion.
“A lot of people are asking for a picture or an autograph before and after the race. It is not always easy, but I’m trying to do my best to do some of this stuff.”
Balsamo, like others riding both grand tours, will have a quick turnaround time with just two weeks separating the events. Combining track and road throughout the season, she is well used to packing in heavy racing loads but jumping from her first grand tour right into her second is a new experience for the Italian.
She’s relying partly on some of the more experienced heads around her to plot her path correctly, but it’s ultimately an unknown quantity. Keeping herself in top shape for the Tour de France is not only about kilometers on the bike, but time spent in the gym.
“I trust my coach and we are working together a while so he knows me very well,” she said. “It is not easy, because it was also my first Giro, so we don’t know my body’s reaction after 10 days of racing. We are trying to do our best and I rest totally on some days and then I restart training and also do some gym training for the sprints.”
Swapping rainbows for yellow
With the opening stage around Paris a big opportunity for the sprinters, Balsamo will be one of the favorites to have the honor of wearing the first yellow jersey of the race.
On paper, there are plenty of chances for the sprinters in the pack but it will depend on how the stages are ridden. Balsamo is prepared for pretty much any eventuality on any given day, except for the final weekend where the mountains are likely to be dominated by the GC riders.
“It is a dream. I know that it’s very difficult and I think that also a podium is a good goal for the first stage. We will see and I will try my best with my team,” she said.
“Except for the last one and the second last one, which are very hard, the other stages are very open for different scenarios. There could be a breakaway or a small bunch sprint, or also big bunch sprint or for some attack also from the leaders.”
In addition to looking for her own victory opportunities, Balsamo will be in France to help support Elisa Longo Borghini in her GC ambitions. Whatever happens, she wants to soak in the moment.
“I’m ready to help Elisa, I think that is a big goal for the team and so we will support her, of course. We have very strong teammates, and everyone is going to help Elisa and I’m already also for this role,” Balsamo said.
“I think it’s awesome that after a lot of years, there is again, the Tour de France Femmes. It will be a hard race, but I think that is going to be also fun and I really want to enjoy the Tour from the first day to the last one.”