The Women’s Tour de France: Finally here to stay? | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW

Marion Rousse remembers the summer days of her childhood. It was hot, she was on vacation and had only one thing in mind: the Tour de France.

“I didn’t miss a single stage on TV, and when the Tour was going by I would stand on the side of the road and cheer on the riders,” the 30-year-old told DW.

At the time, Round was an exclusively male affair. Now Rousse is playing a key role in efforts to change that.

“We want female role models. With the new Tour de France Women [women], it will become more normal to see women on road bikes and races. In my time, unfortunately, that was not the case.”

Train professionally without being paid

Her time was from 2010 to 2015, when she was a “professional” cyclist.

Marion Rousse has done it all, from active cyclist to TV expert to race director

“There was no salary, so I had to find a job,” she recalls, clarifying the term. “It meant having two jobs. I worked in the city administration in the morning and I trained in the afternoon,” she says of her stint in the saddle, which she capped off by winning the national race on road in 2012.

Three years later she retired from cycling “because I had to make money”. Rousse went on to hold just about every job in the cycling world: TV commentator, race director and even podium hostess, a role that has been widely described as a symbol of inequality in cycling.

“A lot of things have changed since then,” Rousse said in an interview with ROUND cycling magazine in April. Now, she says, people recognize the huge potential for growth in women’s cycling.

The industry is seeing an increase in sales of women’s bicycles, clothing and accessories. Women’s cycling is also attracting more and more sponsors and races such as the women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix draw crowds.

Tony Martin receives his prize for winning the 9th stage of the 2014 Tour

Marion Rousse even worked for a time as a podium hostess

Female riders are now starting to reap the rewards: in women’s cycling top there is now a minimum wage of €27,500 ($28,000). Since this was introduced, rider salaries have doubled or even tripled, reports British rider Elizabeth Banks of the EF Education team. Cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, cites an increase of at least 25%.

“We’re not there yet with women’s cycling, but we’re getting there,” Rousse said.

1,029 kilometers from Paris to the Vosges

With 144 riders spread over 24 teams, the Tour de France Women marks the culmination of this development.

The race begins where the men’s race ends: on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Shortly before the men set off for victory in the final stage on Sunday, the women start their Tour – consisting of eight stages from Paris via Champagne to the Vosges. The course covers 1,029 kilometers (639 miles) and offers opportunities for sprinters, classics specialists and climbers.

The favorite this year is the Dutch Annemiek van Vleuten (Team Movistar), a 39-year-old mountain specialist and winner of the Giro d’Italia. However, she has several major challengers with the Italians Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Marta Cavalli (FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope) as well as the Polish Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram), the South African Ashleigh Moolman and the compatriot Dutch Demi Vollering (both SD Worx).

Male and female riders honored on the same podium at the 1986 Tour

Male and female riders were honored on the same podium in the 1986 Tour

A fraction of the male price

The winner will receive €50,000 in prize money, which is one tenth of what the male winner will receive. The Tour de France is still far from having achieved equal pay, as the Tour of Flanders introduced.

Rousse, however, dismisses criticism of this imbalance: “The important question for our sport is: how can we make sure that wages go up? That’s where we want to get involved.”

A story of false dawns

Rousse is the mother of a one-year-old son and the wife of world cycling champion Julian Alaphilippe. The bike keeps the young family on the road almost all year round. “We are used to it,” smiles Rousse.

His goals for Tour de France Women are as ambitious as they are long-term: she wants to establish the race as an independent event and “not just become an appendage of the men’s Tour”.

Two hours of live coverage per stage will be broadcast around the world, and that television coverage is bound to be essential to the success of the Tour, which follows a number of failed precursors.

The riders set off on the Champs-Elysées of the Tour de France 2016

The Tour de France Women will have the same starting point as the men

The first attempt was a one-day single race in 1955. The first true women’s Tour de France took place in 1984, 81 years after the first men’s race. At that time it was still called Women’s Tour de Francebut was later renamed the International Women’s Grand Loop so what Women’s Route de France. The number of stages has varied greatly, going from 18 daily stages at the start to just four in 2009, the last edition of the race.

In recent years, women’s cycling has seen a revival and Tour ASO organizers first responded with a one-day race (The Race), which is now followed by the Tour de France Women. This happened after around 97,000 people signed a petition titled The Whole Tour (“all the way”) to demand a female race.

“After a century, it is finally time to allow women to also do their Tour de France,” the petition reads.

Still there in 100 years?

Even though he doesn’t have a time trial and doesn’t climb the highest mountains, the Tour de France Women marks the high point of the women’s cycling season. And Marion Rousse emphasizes that her goal is for the race to free itself from the men’s event.

“There will be a promotional caravan, there will be the same security measures as for men, it will be a great event. The women’s Tour de France will be worthy of its name”, she insists.

After previous efforts at a Women’s Tour failed, Rousse is also determined that this time around she’s here to stay.

“We hope the Tour de France Women will still be here in 100 years,” she said. “I will fight and I’m very confident.”

This article was translated from German by Chuck Penfold and edited by Matt Ford.

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