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Mark Cavendish: Tour de France Femmes is ‘the biggest thing’ for growing women’s racing

The Manxman says that he's 'very happy' that his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team is investing in the NXTG women's squad.

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DE PANNE, Belgium (VN) — The Tour de France is often the spark that has lit the passion for the sport for many professional cyclists and Mark Cavendish believes that the revival of the Tour de France Femmes can inspire a generation of young female riders.

This season is the first time in more than 30 years that there will be a women’s Tour de France that is organized by the same people as the men’s event. While there were several races that operated as a de facto women’s Tour, there has not been one since 2009.

Cavendish himself was drawn into cycling partly by the mystique and magic of the Tour de France. He says that the riders who fought for a women’s race have paved the way for the next generation and the iconic French race is a huge part in developing women’s cycling.

“I think that the platform of the Tour de France is the biggest thing,” Cavendish told VeloNews in Bruges, ahead of the one-day Brugge-De Panne race. “Unfortunately, the girls that are coming through now won’t see the benefit of what they’ve fought for, it will be the next generation that will see that but there has to be a platform for girls to aspire to.

“For me, it was something that I aspired to as a male rider and that’s what the most important thing is.”

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Cavendish’s Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl squad is one of the latest men’s outfits to branch into the world of women’s racing. Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere announced in December last year that he would sponsor the NXTG women’s squad through his recruitment agency Experza.

This week, it was announced that the team would get a new title sponsor, AG Insurance, and that it was aiming for WorldTeam status in 2023. The team, which boasts former Belgian champion Jolien D’hoore as a sport director, will operate as a sister team to Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

Cavendish has been a vocal advocate for women’s cycling during his career and he’s pleased to see his own squad finally create a female team. He believes that the team can act as an inspiration for young girls, including his own daughter.

“I’m very happy that as a Wolfpack we have a women’s team now,” Cavendish said. “My female colleagues have been fighting for years for a level playing field between the genders and I think the girls that are in the young team have been aspiring to be like the women when they see what they’ve done to push women’s cycling forward.

“As well as having a team for developing in terms of racing and the sporting side, it’s also good to have a team that keeps that trend moving forward. What the girls have done now, it’s incredible and hopefully, they can keep that going by bringing the sport higher and bringing more girls into the sport. My daughter can look up to them and look for a team that she can grow into.”

The Women’s WorldTeam category is into its third season after it was launched in 2020 with 14 of the 15 available licenses filled. Riders who are contracted to those 14 squads are assured a number of benefits, including a minimum salary, injury insurance, and maternity leave among other things.

Next year will see the women’s minimum salaries rise to match riders on men’s ProTeams — which is €32,100 ($35,000) — and the UCI has announced its intention to increase it to the men’s WorldTour minimum salary as soon as possible.

Cavendish believes that getting right the Women’s WorldTeam category, and the WorldTour series of races, is a process that will need perfecting.

“They’re still chopping and changing with the Women’s WorldTour and it’s going to take time to get that right,” he said.