A women's Tour de France? A great idea, but..

Kate Bates

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Emma Pooley leads the peloton at the 2011 British National Championships. The Brit is one of four women leading a petition to ASO seeking for the organisation to create a women's Tour de France. (Getty Images)

Small steps before giant leaps. With the women's professional circuit in a state where but a handful of the top riders can even make a living, Kate Bates writes from Bourg d'Oisans that recent calls for a women's Tour de France are admirable in their ambition, but still need to be realistic.

A way to start this process could certainly be to piggy back some of the men's racing, but it comes with some real limitations.

As the Tour rolls through France, thousands of female cyclists and supporters are petitioning ASO for a women's edition of the great race.
The plan is very ambitious, and asks for parity between the genders for all aspects of the race, with the proposal suggesting equity in race distance and prize money.
When our governing body has been dragging its feet to promote the women's side of the sport, it is out of frustration that the attention has turned toward race promoters in order to push the agenda.
It's abundantly clear the women's side of the sport needs some serious weight thrown behind it in order to grow. It seems each year that instead of the race program growing, it dwindles, and the opportunities for women to ply their trade are becoming fewer.
The number of women who can legitimately make money from the sport - well you could probably count them on two hands. The conditions within the sport make it such an ugly stepsister to the men's WorldTour, that it is almost hard to know where to start to address the problems.
A way to start this process could certainly be to piggy back some of the men's racing, but it comes with some real limitations.
Firstly, the International Cycling Union (UCI) limit for women's racing is capped at 135km. This means that the push for equal distances is not a realistic one.
It is an indisputable fact that the women's field averages speeds are well below that of the men's, and over shorter distances. Realistically we would see the women's field racing for up to 8-9 hours in stages such as last Sunday's epic to Mont Ventoux.
I am not suggesting our female athletes are inferior in any way, but I do think we need to be realistic about the limitations of athletes, and address the inequalities that are forced upon us, not the natural ones.
In theory it is a great idea, but I don’t think the Tour de France is necessarily the best place to start. Instead of petitioning for equality based around passion and frustration, I would like to see a business model built, where women's cycling is asking for equality based around commercial viability. Let's use this passion to fuel thought leadership, and a sustainable model for the future of the sport.
It is important not to put the cart before the horse. There are many issues in the women's side of cycling that need addressing, and need to be done so in a somewhat orderly fashion.
Of course passion stirs emotion, and conversations around the progression of the sport often ignore the fact that sport is business. With some luck, ASO will take this petition back to the UCI, and work together on a commercially viable way to make a women's TDF happen. This model can then be used with race promoters the world around.
There is no doubt that women's cycling deserves the respect and attention that the men's does, but I believe we must be pragmatic. Dream big, but start small.

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