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Is the eight-stage course the right balance for first Tour de France Femmes?

Some say it's not enough, others say it's a promising start — our editors take a deeper dive at the route of the Tour de France Femmes.

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The historic revival of the Tour de France Femmes continues to provoke debate across the cycling community.

Many lauded ASO’s commitment for bringing its prestige and organizational skills to create a race that will immediately pack the prestige and renown as the Tour de France and the emblematic yellow jersey.

For some, however, the Tour de France Femmes falls short of what many would consider full parity for the women’s peloton.

VeloNews’ editors Jim Cotton, Andrew Hood, and Sadhbh O’Shea dive into the question: is the eight-stage format the right balance for the first Tour de France Femmes?

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme and race director Marion Rousse during the official presentation of the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes last week in Paris. (Getty Images)

What’s your first impression of the route for Tour de France Femmes, and is eight stages the right balance?

Sadhbh O’Shea: Eight days is a good starting point for this version of the Tour de France Femmes. It is two days shorter than the Giro d’Italia Donne, but it provides plenty of punch and has the longest day of racing in women’s cycling by a substantial margin.

It would be fantastic to see a full-on three-week grand tour for the women’s peloton in the near future, but I don’t think that next year is the right time. I fully believe that there are plenty of women in the current peloton that have the talents to thrive in a three-week race, but the peloton is not yet big enough to handle it.

Also read: Did ASO get it right?

There is a quickly growing WorldTour calendar, but the top teams have rosters that are half the size of most men’s teams. With just two weeks between the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France there’ll be many doing both.

Making it three weeks under the current construct of the women’s peloton would put teams and riders under strain. There need to be bigger teams before we can start thinking about expanding to three-week races.

Jim Cotton: There’s a lot to love in the route, and I think the Paris opener and potentially decisive final climb of the Belles Files are masterstrokes.

While I don’t think the Tour de France Femmes should be three weeks (yet) I’d have liked to see 10 stages to bring it up to the length of the Giro d’Italia Donne, and two more days would have given breathing space for a TT, which is the obvious missing link from Marion Rousse’s route.

Also read: A closer look at the eight stages

That said, I think the race is better off without a time trial. Having eight road stages will guarantee bang-for-the-buck excitement and prevent a dominant rider like van Vleuten from stomping away with yellow too early in the race.

For now, three weeks would be a stretch too far given the size and budgets of a lot of women’s teams, which are commonly just a fraction of the men’s. A three-week race could boil down to which team has the most money and resources – and that shouldn’t be what it’s about. Maybe in the future yes, but now, no.

Andrew Hood: Every time I talk to team managers and riders, almost everyone agrees that a full-on three-week tour is too long for the peloton right now. It’s not a question that the distance is too long, but rather an issue of resources and depth among the peloton, and how such a long(er), three-week format race would impact the rest of the calendar.

There was plenty of discussion among ASO and its contacts about what the right distance and balance of the first edition should be. Eight days is about right. The course is varied, challenging, and interesting, and it should produce a great race.

Also read: A course to make history

Many have criticized the lack of a time trial in the route, but I agree that in race against the clock would likely create a huge advantage to the stage-winner and remove much of the drama of the GC race. Let the road decide who is strongest, not a one-stage specialty.

What’s most important is that the Tour de France Femmes will happen next summer. As Christian Prudhomme said, it’s a race built to last a 100 years. The race can evolve, grow and expand as women’s cycling enters a new, exciting phase.