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Women’s Tour de France will deliver ‘before and after’ moment for sport

FDJ sport director says legendary allure and prestige of yellow jersey will energize women’s racing.

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How big will the women’s Tour de France be when it finally comes to fruition in 2022?

According to insiders, the prestige and high media profile afforded by the Tour de France brand will elevate women’s cycling to the next level.

Stephen Delcourt, manager of FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, suggested the allure of the yellow jersey will energize women’s racing in multiples.

“After the Tour de France, it will not be the same sport,” Delcourt told VeloNews. “It’s a new step and a new direction for all the stakeholders in women’s cycling. There will be a before and after when the women’s Tour arrives.”

After years of dancing around the possibility of producing a women’s version of its marquee grand tour, Tour de France organizers are fully committed to hosting its inaugural edition in 2022.

Why now? It’s a combination of elements, ranging from sponsor support and growing interest in women’s racing to pressure from advocates of women’s sport as well as changes in the political landscape in France.

It all adds up that the time is right for a multi-stage women’s edition of the Tour de France.

So why not next year? The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games into 2021 means the women’s Tour won’t be rolled out until 2022 so the race will not conflict with the Olympic Games. The Tour wants the top cycling stars at its new race and does not want to create an unnecessary choice for athletes next season who will be putting a once-in-a-career shot at the gold medal at the center of their respective calendars.

Officials are still hammering out the details of when and where the race will be held, but it’s expected that a broad outline of the new event will be officially announced in the coming months.

The rough idea is to hold a women’s Tour de France — likely between seven to eight stages — about one week after the men’s Tour concludes in Paris.

Delcourt, who’s been managing the French WorldTour team for more than a decade, said the mystique of the Tour de France and the prestige that comes with the yellow jersey will serve as a huge boon for women’s racing.

“The Tour de France has the big power of its image,” he said in a telephone interview. “You see how important it is for the men’s teams. It will quickly be the same for the women’s teams. It brings the history, the media, and the TV. All the top riders and teams will want to be there. It is a very big step for our sport.”

While other women’s stage races have developed over the years to be important stops on the international calendar, a women’s Tour de France will bring automatic name recognition as well as the media interest that comes with cycling’s marquee stage race.

Delcourt said the image of the yellow jersey and the Tour de France legacy will immediately connect with a global audience.

“When you are a young French rider, you watch the Tour de France on TV and dream of wearing the yellow jersey,” he said. “If you are a girl, you cannot dream that. Now that will change, and now we can all fight for the yellow jersey.

“The Tour is not just any race,” he continued. “It is the same with Paris-Roubaix. These are the races that everyone in the world recognizes, and that it is why it is so important that women can race these races.”

Delcourt said he expects all the biggest stars in women’s cycling and the top teams to immediately put the women’s Tour de France and the women’s Paris-Roubaix, which was canceled in 2020, at the center of their calendars.

The history, allure, and prestige of the races will quickly resonate inside the peloton, he added.

“The first Tour will be writing a new page in history,” he said. “It will be the same for Paris-Roubaix. The women can fight on the cobbles and race the same race as the men. If you win Paris-Roubaix, you can become a legend. If you wear the first yellow jersey, you will be a legend.”

Some fans come out for La Course in Nice in 2020. Photo: Promenade des Anglais