One of the most talked about cycling events of the year is the ‘Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift’, which takes place between July 24-31. Here is our lowdown on the event.
What is it?
The Tour de France Femmes is billed as the first women’s Tour de France. However, that is not quite the whole story, as there has been a previous women’s Tour de France, which took place alongside the men’s race from 1984 until its demise, due to financial problems in 1989. The women’s race was over 18 stages and each stage followed around 80km of the men’s route, finishing on the same finish line, two hours ahead of the men.
In the years that followed, there was the Tour Cycliste Féminin and then the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale. Neither were an official women’s Tour de France but as they were one of the biggest women’s stage races during that time, they were regarded as the women’s equivalent until the Grand Boucle ended in 2009.
You could say then, that Tour de France Femmes is the first official women’s Tour de France in 33 years. The official title of the race is ‘Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift’, as the virtual cycling platform Zwift has agreed to be the title sponsor for four years.
Why is it significant?
For years, women cyclists and fans have criticised the Tour de France organizer, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), for not having a women’s version of Le Tour. Since 2014, ASO organised La Course, which was either a one or a two-day race, to coincide with the men’s Tour de France. However, some complained that the race wasn’t challenging enough and that the ASO failed to promote the race properly, for example there was no mention of the women on the Tour de France official platforms. The fact that the ASO has now introduced this women’s race is huge for women’s cycling and although there has been some criticism of the fact that it is only eight days long, it has been received positively by both fans, cyclists and campaigners for equality in women’s sport. It is certainly a step in the right direction and if successful can be built upon in future years.
Although billed as the Tour de France for women, the stages are all actually in the North East of France, traversing the three regions; Île-de-France, Grand Est and Bourgogne–Franche-Comté.
The race is 1,029km long and has eight stages, which offer a mixture of distances and terrain. There are four flat, two hilly and two mountain stages. Surprisingly the UCI (cycling’s governing body) limits women’s stage racing to six days, but some, including the Giro Rosa – the women’s version of the Giro d’italia – apply for dispensation to host longer races. So, eight days is an improvement on most current women’s stage races.
The shortest stage is on day one in Paris. At 82km, it will stay within the French capital, starting at the Eiffel Tower and finishing at the Champs-Élysées. It will take place on the same day as the final stage of the men’s Tour de France and as with the men’s stage, will probably be fast and end in a sprint. The longest stage is on day five where the riders will have to tackle 175km, which is 15km further than the maximum distance that women are allowed to ride at the World Tour level, without special dispensation.
The highest point of the Tour is the Grand Ballon (1,336m), which riders will traverse on the 7th stage from Sélestat to Le Markstein.
Much to the excitement of the fans, stage 4 contains gravel and unpaved sections otherwise known as ‘white roads’. There will be a total of 12.9km of white road across four different sectors on the stage.
Unlike the men’s race, there are no time trials, neither an individual nor a team time trial, which is disappointing for fans of the pure ‘race of truth’ against the clock.
Stage 1: Tour Eiffel – Champs Elysees 82km
Stage 2: Meaux – Provins 135km
Stage 3: Reims – Epernay 133km
Stage 4: Troyes – Bar-sur-Aube 126km
Stage 5: Bar-le-Duc – Saint-die-des-Vosges 175km
Stage 6: Saint-die-des-Vosges – Rosheim 128km
Stage 7: Selestat – Le Markstein 127km
Stage 8: Lure – La Super Planche des Belles Filles 123km
How to watch
For Brits, the easiest place to get to watch in person is Paris. Eurostar from London to Paris takes just over 2 hours, which means that for many, it is feasible to watch the stage in the capital and get back home in a single day. Of course, as it is on the same day as the final stage of the men’s race, fans will get to watch two competitions. As the women’s Tour is compact in its geography, it is fairly easy to then travel by train or car to reach the other stages. If you do go to France to watch the race, get your travel insurance from SportsCover Direct to give you peace of mind, so you can concentrate on enjoying the action!
If you can’t watch the race in person, the Tour will be broadcast in the UK on Eurosport, GCN+ and Discovery +. There will be live coverage but this will only be for the final two hours of each of the stages and not the entire stage.
Who to look out for
There are 24 teams made up of six riders. Not all of the team lists have been announced yet, so we don’t know exactly who will be on the start line but all the big names will want to be part of this historical race.
The team that is most stacked in terms of big names is the Italian team, Trek Segafredo. This team includes the current World and Italian road cycling champion, Elisa Balsamo and also the Italian time trial champion Elisa Longo Borghini, boosted by her victory at this year’s prestigious Paris Roubaix in April and the Women’s Tour in the UK in June. It would be interesting to see the odds you would get for placing a bet on someone named ‘Elisa’ to win a stage or the General Classification title! The team also has European road and World time trial champion Ellen van Dijk, who broke the hour world record in May. In fact, the problem for Trek Segafredo, may be deciding who their team leader will be.
SD Worx is also a team to watch. Although still fairly new to cycling, Dutch rider, Demi Vollering, won last year’s edition of La Course, the forerunner of the Tour de France and this year finished third in the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. In terms of stage wins, Belgian time trial champion, Lotte Kopecky, also racing for SD Worx, will be one to watch, especially on the sprint stages. Again, the problem for this team may be deciding whom the leader is, a problem highlighted at this year’s Paris Roubaix, where Kopecky was apparently told by her team directors, to ease off whilst in the breakaway, in order to allow teammates Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak and Christine Majerus to catch up. Sadly, the team will miss former Dutch national road race champion, Amy Pieters, who is still in rehab and partially paralysed on her right side, following a devastating head injury following a crash during a winter training camp in Spain.
Of course, there is also the legend Marianne Vos, racing for Jumbo Visma. With 238 career wins to her name, you wouldn’t bet against her for at least some stage wins, if not the General Classification!
About the author
Helen Russell is the former British Quadrathlon (swim/kayak/bike/run) Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner. She was also the 2019 middle distance World Quadrathlon champion in her age group and the 2018 age group World Cup Series winner and sprint distance World Champion. Before turning to quadrathlon, Helen was age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 she was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. This year she is turning her attention to Stand Up Paddleboard racing. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.