an extensive women’s calendar, complicated team management

Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège … In recent weeks, the women’s cycling calendar has been similar to the men’s cycling calendar. A trend that could also be confirmed in the coming years. “More and more World Tour race organizers [le circuit-phare du cyclisme sur route masculin] they want to organize a women’s race. There is a real enthusiasm “Amina Lanaya, Director General of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the governing body of the discipline, is delighted on the sidelines of the second edition of “Inferno del Norte”, on Saturday 16 April.

The day before a countdown was set in motion: less than a hundred days now separate the runners from the start of “their” Tour de France, on July 24 under the Eiffel Tower. Eight stages, 1,029 kilometers, from Paris to Planche-des-Belles-Filles, in the Haute-Saône. The most anticipated event of the 2022 edition of the Women’s World Tour (WWT).

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In 2021, the elite women’s circuit had only seven stage races out of the 24 scheduled for the season, only 18 could be contested due to the health crisis. Above all, none has exceeded six days: the ICU has set this duration so that all competitions can find their place on the calendar without competing with each other. Until then, only one event had benefited from an exemption from this limitation: the Giro Rosa (June 30 to July 10), a female version of the Tour of Italy, which since 2008 offers between eight and ten days of racing.

In the face of the wishes of newcomers to the WWT, there is no doubt that the governing body will penalize the historic organizers. The Tour de Romandia wanted to see its 1D Female edition organized before or after its male counterpart (from April 26 to 1eh May). However, on the 24th, Liège-Bastogne-Liège closed the spring “classics” and, from 13 May, the peloton opened the chapter of stage races with Itzulia in the Basque Country. The Swiss will therefore have to settle for autumn (October 7-9).

“We have to be able to show the best teams, the best drivers, in the best eventsinsists Amina Lanaya. We have to be very strict at this level, because women’s cycling still needs that visibility. »

“It would be almost impossible to be everywhere”

The WWT now has 25 races, twelve of which last more than a day, including two meetings of more than a week, for a cumulative total of seventy-one race days, when the women had played less than forty the previous season. An evolution welcomed by the peloton. “Before, I probably would have said that there weren’t enough stage races on the women’s calendarrecognizes the 2021 French champion, Evita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine). There, we are not bad at all! »

Elite teams, however, have a dozen runners on their roster, while their male counterparts are generally in their thirties. “ If we had more stage races, it would be almost impossible to be everywhere. It’s already tricky to line up girls for the spring classics, the Women’s Tour [au Royaume-Uni, du 5 au 11 juin]the Giro, the Tour de France … ”argues Danny Stam, sporting director of the Dutch team SD Worx, first in the UCI world rankings last season.

“You have to be realistic: there are fewer runners, but it’s especially difficult at the staff level to be on all fronts and keep going.”, continues Avoid Music. Cars, sports directors, technicians … The extension of the calendar also weighs on logistics. “The team goes from 90 to 117 race days this year, which corresponds to 270 days of travel. You have to double everything. Men are usually on three fronts at once. We’ll have two, but we’re not used to it. It’s a bit of Tetris »explains the manager of the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Stephen Delcourt, whose protégés also take part in events other than those of the WWT.

The runners of the Dutch SD Worx team, including the Belgian Lotte Kopecky (second from the left) and the Luxembourg Christine Majerus (center), before the start of the second women's edition of Paris-Roubaix, on 16 April 2022.

Danny Stam estimates a 30% increase in competition days this season. In terms of budget, the curve has not experienced the same growth. And even if you admit that SD Worx has a completely correct global envelope, it’s not unlimited: “In five years, our expenses have almost doubled. We have a good budget, but it doesn’t allow us to do everything we want. » This is also the other challenge of the Grande Boucle for the teams: to get a performance during the most emblematic race with the hope of attracting sponsors.

“There will be a before and an after of the Tour de France”

At the end of July, 24 teams of six runners will start the Tour de France. Stephen Delcourt fears the first big disappointments linked to the selections. Because, in the ranks of the only French elite formation, the test may be the goal of the year for the fourteen girls. “Clearly, ten really have the level to compete in the Tour”, says the manager. Since the resumption of the season in Strade Bianche (Italy) on March 5, not a day has passed without him discussing the matter with his sporting directors. “From the management, it also gives us the opportunity to put ourselves to the test, to get out of our comfort zone, to think longer term, to propose alternatives. Now the calendar is provided enough for everyone to find their account. »

Even before his group returned to the road this year, the SD Worx sporting director already had his list in mind. Finally, “80%”, with some possible adjustments based on their respective fitness states, Danny Stam slides. “The Tour de France will benefit from an important exhibition, it is one of the most beautiful races in the world. Inevitably, everyone wants to participate. But the goal is to get field runners who will have a chance to shine there. “summarizes the Dutch.

The director general of the ICU is convinced that the year 2022 will be a turning point in women’s cycling. “There will be one before and one after the Tour de France. We saw it with Paris-Roubaix [dont la première édition féminine s’est tenue en octobre 2021] : there is so much fervor, so much motivation, so much enthusiasm. I’m sure it will be a success. ” wants to believe Amina Lanaya.

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