Women know how to pedal

Tour de France? All very well but why is it men only? The BBC asks.

Former Olympic champion Nicole Cooke says it is a “scandal” there is no longer a Tour de France for women, blaming sexism in cycling.

The men’s race, which starts in Leeds on Saturday, is now an iconic event, but the women’s Tour last ran in 2009.

(Sigh – there’s that dopy use of “iconic” again.)

“It’s a scandal there isn’t a Tour for women at the moment,” the 31-year-old said in an interview with BBC Breakfast.

“In the 1980s, there was a women’s Tour de France. It was held over the same stages as the men’s race. They celebrated with equality.

“Since then, women’s cycling has kind of been swept under the mat.”

The women’s Tour has been staged on and off, in numerous guises, since 1984 and was won by Cooke in 2006 and 2007.

It began life as the Tour de France Feminin and was rebranded the Grande Boucle in 1998, but has slowly dwindled in size.

As Kate Smurthwaite said in a public Facebook post

What channel is the women’s Tour de France on? … Oh … Oh really. Well then FUCK YOU. Seriously how dare these people put all that time and effort into building dreams for our sons and not our daughters? If the race was whites-only there would be uproar. **commences uproar**

On with the uproar, I say.


  1. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    A further irony: Beryl Burton, who has a strong claim to be the greatest cyclist ever- her world record for a 12 hour time trial exceeded the men’s record-, was born in Leeds.

  2. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The Tour de France begins in LEEDS?

    It’s a side-effect of the performance-boosting drugs…

  3. Sili says

    It’s simple biology.

    Women’s bodies just can’t handle as much doping as men’s.

  4. tiko says

    I live in Leeds and and hope you all appreciate what a lovely county Yorkshire is.(I know it was just chance I was born here but Yorkshire people can’t help being a little bit proud of our countryside)
    About the post .I’m waiting for someone to say with a straight face that “women can’t cycle because ovaries or something” or something like “peddling’s to complicated for lady brains”.
    Bloody Hell, this is 2014 isn’t it?

  5. says

    @1: Yes, my cousin warned us against coming over until after it was all over and the bike-fans have gone home. Which is OK, as it means we can now work the World Humanist Congress into our itinerary.

    Which is, um, all very tangential to the subject under discussion.

  6. tiko says

    Oh,I forgot. Apparently having a Tour De France for women will mean that cycling isn’t a proper sport any more.

  7. says

    Oh god yes I appreciate what a beautiful county Yorkshire is. i gawp at photos of it, I walk it via Google Earth, I gawp at it on tv…One of my favorite childhood books was The Secret Garden.

  8. RJW says

    Surely the PC approach would be to allow women to compete against men in the Tour, or any other sporting event.

  9. tiko says

    @9 Ophelia Benson

    And I should think so too (only joking)

    On topic. I have mentioned this before. The photo* from a post from the 22nd April titled “Get the hell out of my race” perfectly sums up how some men feel about women participating in anything they see as their own.

    *Apologies, I have tried but due to a dodgy internet connection/old laptop I can’t seem to link to anything at the moment.

  10. RJW says

    @11 Ophelia,

    OK, a solution commensurate with the principle of the the political and social equality of women and men would be to end segregated sporting events.

  11. says

    Thank you, that is a vast improvement.

    I think it’s fine to have separate events for women and men for most sports, given the average physical differences.

  12. says

    Aha, a topic I actually know something about and can contribute to.

    I love cycling, in all its forms. There’s a beauty in this most simple of machines that changed the world – before the car, it allowed people to easily get to the next village in a fraction of the time it would have taken to walk, and made deliveries and transportation far more efficient. In the developing world the bicycle still serves this function. It’s a great equaliser as it gave women freedom they’d previously been denied.

    I’ll tell you what I think of bicycling, I think it has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.
    – Susan B. Anthony

    At the elite competition level outside of the World Champs, it’s a travesty that women’s cycling isn’t taken way more seriously. Some of the best races I’ve seen in the last few years have been the ladies: Nicole Cooke, Marianne Vos and Anna Meares to name but a few of my favourite racers have catalysed a fantastic resurgence. The Women’s Road Race in the London Olympics 2012 was a fantastic race of grit (literally, it was horrible weather..) and determination, while the Men’s Road Race was a horror show of politicking among the teams to deny Mark Cavendish a chance at the sprint, that in the end embarrassed the sport with an unrepentant drug cheat taking the gold medal.

    It’s nothing like enough though. Le Tour, and so many of the other races, should absolutely have a ladies event and junior/masters events on the same or similar courses at the same time as the men are competing Le Tour. I think the same should happen at the (soccer) World Cup too, for that matter. Why the Women’s World Cup Final is not in the same stadium on the same day as the Men’s is a question that can only be answered with “sexism”.

    There’s hope. I’m noticing more and more women out on the roads riding. Among the lycra set, I’m seeing ladies groups out on the main training routes in my area (Melbourne, Australia), and more women in the mixed bunches too. There are a number of women-only sportives (one-day non-competitive medium-to-long distance rides) now, to encourage a safe and hassle free development of women’s cycling. The appointment of Tracy Gaudry as VP of the UCI is another positive step – she’s a great voice for cycling, and I hope that when her term there is done, she’s replaced with another woman. Long way to go, but the roots are there for serious change in the sport.

  13. RJWt says

    Ophelia @ 14

    I presume your comment was addressed to me. So, sport is a special and exempt category.

  14. Rik van says

    Of course, it’s simply a question of money: the “Tour feminin” as it used to be called simply didn’t earn enough money to make it worthwile, so it stopped after 2009.

  15. Minnow says

    I can appreciate the frustration in this for women cyclists, but it is hard to see what would be in it for cycling spectators. Women’s cycling is, basically, for the sofa-bound sports fan just slow cycling.

  16. says

    Looking at the Wiki, I see that it was a different organization running the women’s version, so it sounds like couldn’t support itself financially, sadly.

    @15 Trikabout – I don’t really see a big issue with the women’s world cup being on a different year. Do you really think that people would stay for the women’s World Cup final simply because it was in the same stadium? (Assuming they would sell tickets in a way that a person could stay for both matches…like a “buy one, get one free” type of thing.) I don’t. When I was in college, we had a setup where the women’s basketball games were right before the men’s games. (And it had the one admission fee so people could attend both.) Guess what? Most people didn’t bother to show up until the men’s game. No, it’s probably actually for the best to separate the two because that gives those who want to watch the women’s games a better opportunity to do so. (Disclaimer: I’m one of those people who does want to watch the women’s World Cup.)

  17. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Women’s cycling is, basically, for the sofa-bound sports fan just slow cycling.

    Not necessarily, Minnow. I mentioned Beryl Burton, who broke both the men’s and women’s record for a 12-hour time trial. In addition, women’s cycling is also amateur and ethical. It never relied on drugs and medical fixes the way men’s professional cycling, especially in the Tour de France, has for most of its history.

  18. John Horstman says

    Re: RJW #13 and Ophelia Benson #14, I think it’s ridiculous to have gender-segregated sports on the basis of average differences in bodies, since the in-group range is greater than the difference between the averages. Also, professional athletes are not physically-average examples of men or women. While I think the emphasis on sports in societies in which people no longer need to hunt/run from lions (or other critters) is absolutely absurd, if we’re going to throw massive amounts of time and money and social capital at the top ten or hundred or whatever people who can do X set of activities the best, I’m not sure why we should care about gender at all. Desegregate all sports, completely – this also avoids irreconcilable debates about what to do with trans*, intersex, or genderqueer athletes who simply do not and cannot fit into the normative binary gender construct that you (Ophelia) are proposing define how athletes are matched against competitors.

  19. RJW says

    @22 John Horstman

    Yes, indeed, I don’t understand how gender-segregated sporting events can be defended on feminist principles.
    I agree with your comments on modern ‘sports’ which are, in reality, public entertainments, just another day at the arena. Sport is a participatory exercise, anyone who watches sporting events is not a ‘sports fan’ but a spectator.
    The expenditure of taxpayers’ funds on the production of elite athletes is a scandalous waste of money, however there are obvious social and health benefits in encouraging public participation in sports.

  20. Minnow says

    Desegregate all sports, completely

    This wouldn’t be possible for elite level professional sports. They would self-segregate to exclude women. There would be no women tennis champions for example. I remember Martina Navratilova, a fantastic athlete, remarking that she would not be able to compete against any of the top 100 male seeds, for example.

  21. says

    Leo, I take your point about double headers, and you’re right, people do tend to turn up for “the main event”. I watched a brilliant Australia vs England Ladies T20 match at the MCG in front of about 40 people. Couple of hours later there were nearly 65 thousand in there for the men’s match. Sad.

    But maybe running the other versions at the same time in the same country would signal that all facets of the sport are valued the same. The tennis majors manage it… (arguments about why the organisers won’t allow the ladies to play 5 sets at the four majors notwithstanding…). Imagine a Men’s and Women’s Olympics in different years…

    All I know is that women’s sport is just as exciting and skilful as men’s, and it doesn’t get anything like the funding and profile, and the segregation of many events exacerbates this. And that’s wrong.

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