As we watch a victorious Annemiek van Vleuten secure the overall victory on the inaugural TDF Femmes, we wanted to take a look back at the convoluted history of this race and see exactly how far we have come for women’s racing.
In 1955, 41 women set off, just outside Paris for the first ever women’s edition of the Tour de France. Five days and 373 kilometers later, Millie Robinson of the Isle of Man had won the race.
She was to be the reigning champion for twenty-nine years as, despite the race’s apparent success, it was abandoned after just one edition.
Almost three decades later, in 1984, the womens race was to take place again. This time, more closely resembling the men’s race and could now be described, as a ‘grand tour’.
The 1984 edition, was held over 18 days, with the women riding shortened versions of the men’s stages, including the iconic Alpine and Pyrenean passes. Marianne Martin was the last rider named to the American team’s roster and went on to win the general classification by over 3 minutes. Despite the impressive racing put on by the women’s peloton, the organiser abandoned the race due to financial reasons and this version of the race ended in 1989.
Professional women cyclists had to wait another three years to race a grand tour, when the Tour Cycliste Féminin was introduced.
This version took place in August and now was not linked to the men’s race. Because of this, the new women’s tour, was renamed La Grande Boucle in 1998.
Initially, riders raced up to 16 stages including double days and had a rest day. The 1995 edition, concluded with a mountaintop finish on the Alpe d’Huez.
‘It was such a thrill to get to race a lot of the same mountains that the men raced.’ said Canadian Linda Jackson, who finished second that day.
By the time Emma Pooley won the last edition of the Grand Boucle in 2009, the race had now been shortened to only four stages from the original two weeks. Prompting Pooley to describe it as ‘more of a Petite Boucle’.
Over the next few years, the push for a women’s Tour de France grew.
2013 saw professional cyclists Kathryn Bertine, Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley and professional triathlete Chrissie Wellington form an activist group called Le Tour Entier (‘the whole tour’).
They launched a petition that gathered over 97,000 signatures from women and men, cyclists and fans alike.
The following year saw the inaugural edition of La Course. This was a one day, crit-style event, raced along the Champs Élysées. For three years, the course remained the same. Though eventually the race began to travel around France and include mountains, it essentially remained a one-day race and not the stage race that the petition had called for.
In June 2021, ASO announced that the Tour de France Femmes would take place for the first time in 2022. Set over 8 stages and traveling from Paris to La Super Planche des Belles Filles, it would take place following the Tour de France and replace La Course.
It has been truly amazing to see Women cyclists finally have a grand Tour and what a fitting finish it has been. These women will be an inspiration to many generations to come and finally have their own stage to shine.
Vive le Tour de France Femmes!