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Several of pro cycling’s top women have sent a letter and online petition to Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme, asking him to include women in the race, starting in 2014.
Spearheading the effort is multiple-discipline world champion Marianne Vos, Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley, three-time St. Kitts and Nevis national champion Kathryn Bertine, and four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington.
There was once a women’s Tour de France — known as La Grande Boucle Féminin, or just Tour Féminin — which ran from 1984 to 2009, though it was not directly associated with the men’s Tour de France, and annually struggled for sponsorship dollars.
The letter and petition, which had gathered over 4,000 signatures by Friday afternoon, “respectfully requests” that a women’s professional field be added to the 2014 Tour de France, which is owned and operated by the Paris-based Amaury Sports Organisation.
“For 100 years, the Tour de France has been the pinnacle endurance sports event of the world, watched by and inspiring millions of people. And for 100 years, it has been an exclusively male race,” the letter states. “After a century, it is about time women are allowed to race the Tour de France, too. 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.
“We seek not to race against the men, but to have our own professional field running in conjunction with the men’s event, at the same time, over the same distances, on the same days, with modifications in start/finish times so neither gender’s race interferes with the other.”
The letter cites last summer’s London Olympics, as well as women’s versions of spring classics the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Flèche Wallonne, as examples of women’s events that can successfully be held in tandem with men’s events.
Current UCI rules limit the distances of women’s races — both in numbers of days and length of stages — which would make it impossible for a women’s Tour de France to be run along the same route as the men; either start or finish lines would need to be altered, or the UCI would need to rewrite its rulebook.
“In the late 1960s people assumed that women couldn’t run the marathon,” the letter states. “[Thirty] 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.”