A Brief (But Necessary) Primer on The Tour de France Femmes

The inaugural Tour de France women’s event is finally here, and it’s been decades in the making.  

By Alexandra Cadet

After almost seven decades of trial-and-error, a permanent women’s version of the Tour de France has kicked off––and it’s even more action-packed than expected. Let’s dive into how this year’s Tour came to be, what’s happened so far, and what’s next as we cycle down the road to the maillot jaune.

Netherland’s Lorena Wiebes sprints to the finish line to win the first stage of the Tour de France women’s cycling race over 81.7 kilometers (50.8 miles) with start and finish in Paris, France, Sunday, July 24, 2022. Netherland’s Marianne Vos finishes second. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

A Long Time Coming

Despite its status as the biggest cycling event in the world, the Tour de France didn’t have a long-lasting, bona fide women’s competition until this year––though that wasn’t for lack of trying. A five-day women’s Tour that was held in 1955 under independent leadership only lasted for one edition before folding. Then finally, an official women’s Tour de France popped up in 1984 … only to disappear too, this time after about five years. 

A lot of different competitions would sprout for female cyclists in order to fill this gap––the Tour Cycliste Féminin, La Grande Boucle, and the ASO-sponsored La Course, to name a few––but nary a tournament on par with the iconic men’s competition. This lack of progress was disappointing, considering the high amount of demand and advocacy for a women’s Tour among female cyclists.  “They probably don’t even see it as sexism, but you could also say that it’s just very lazy,” said former cyclist Kathryn Bertine to BBC Sport, prior to La Course’s 2018 edition. “The very top of the sport is where sexism is still strongest and that’s what needs to be dismantled.”

That laziness (hopefully) subsides now, because the inaugural version of the new, improved, and here-to-stay Tour de France Femmes is finally here. Of course, its set-up is far from perfect: per Sports Illustrated, the women’s Tour is considerably shorter than its male counterpart. But the major takeaway here should be that the women’s peloton will finally get a permanent international platform––and frankly, it’s been a long time coming. 

What’s Going On

The current wearer of the maillot jaune is Marianne Vos, a cycling titan and rider for Team Jumbo-Visma. One of the major questions surrounding Vos’ Tour campaign concerns her ability to remain competitive during the final mountain stages. “Well, of course you have to be realistic,” she said after her fifth-place finish in stage four (per VeloNews). “With the climbs coming up this weekend, normally there’s the [general classification] riders that are very, very, very strong that will take a lot of time. It’s a different kind of racing in the weekend.” The fact that even Vos herself expects a shake-up in the pecking order come Saturday suggests that this final stretch will be the most intriguing part of the tournament––especially if she manages to hold on to the maillot jaune.  

As for the Tour’s most recent developments, stage five was completed on Thursday and Lorena Wiebes of Team DSM placed first, bringing her amount of stage wins up to two. As expected prior to the tournament, Wiebes has been putting her impressive sprinting ability to good use during the competition, which will undoubtedly mark her as a must-watch cyclist for new fans.  

Unfortunately, Thursday’s proceedings were tainted by a cycling crash that impacted more than 30 riders on the course. The collision resulted in heightened media coverage––and an increase in caution amongst riders. “It’s crazy and it’s really not nice to see. I’m a bit scared in the peloton at times so after things like that, I tend to hold back a bit more,” Le Col-Wahoo’s Lizzie Holden shared with the Guardian

Being shaken after an accident like that is entirely understandable, and the Tour members’ mental and physical health takes priority over a mere sporting competition. Hopefully, every athlete involved will recover swiftly and smoothly––and feel at ease heading into the final arc of the Tour should they choose to continue. 

What’s Next?

Following Thursday’s action will be the final hilly course on Friday––and then, the pair of mountain stages that will cap off the Tour. Fans should pay close attention to these races, as their results will play a huge role in determining the general classification winner. “It will be in the final three stages that the GC contenders get the chance to shine with long climbs and summit finishes aplenty,” wrote Rachel Jary in a Tour prediction for Rouleur. “The [mountain] route is punchy, attritional and will set the stage for exciting and tight-fought racing.” All in all, the final few days of the Tour de France Femmes promise to be absolute nail-biters. Not bad for a tournament over half a century in the making. 

A schedule for the final days of the Tour de France Femmes can be found here.

A glossary for cycling-related terms can be found here

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