How the women’s Tour de France rose from the ashes and conquered the public

For its great comeback, the Women’s Tour de France was crowned with success, both on the roads and on television. However, this comeback in this great cycling competition was not obvious. Not to mention that sexism is never far away when it comes to showing athletes in the media.

were 144 to start for 8 days of racing. The Women’s Tour de France and its 1033 kilometers ended on July 30, with the victory of the Dutch Annemiek van Vleuten.

Absent for a long time, it was a huge success both in terms of its presence on the side of the roads to cheer on the runners, and in front of the small screen: France Télévisions can boast an impressive and unexpected audience, with 2.1 million viewers on average in the afternoon and a total of 19.8 million French people who have seen this first edition.

What to expect for other editions? How to explain this success that gives hope to runners, but also to all women’s sports? Some answers with Marion Philippe, sports historian and specialist in the place of women in sport.

Eurosport (YouTube screenshot

The long absence of the Tour de France

A return froma competition we hadn’t seen on the roads since 1989.

“There were women’s races in France after 1989 that sought to thwart this stoppage of the Tour de France brand. The sauce didn’t take and therefore there were financial difficulties”explains Marion Philippe to Lady.

A common argument when it comes to restricting the presence of women in sports competitions: “A bit like Coubertin in 1912 who had used, among other things, economic arguments to justify the impossibility of offering Games for women. »

Since the 1990s, we have therefore seen several similar races, whose organizers were unable to use the “Tour de France” brand: the Women’s CEE Tourso the big loop until 2009. Between 2014 and 2021, the relay is taken over by The Tour de France race, which is then held during the men’s Tour de France. Therefore, it is difficult to capture the media attention that already monopolizes the event.

Therefore, it was only this year that the Women’s Tour de France officially returned.

Big disparities between the men’s and women’s Tour

On many levels, the women’s Tour de France lacks the resources of the men’s Tour. A reflection of the disparities between men and women in cycling :

“There is already a distinction in the fact that the women’s Tour de France cyclists were few to be professionals, while in the men’s Tour de France all the men were professionals”underlines Marion Philippe. “Then there is quite a significant difference in treatment in terms of financial gains at the end of the different careers. »

Female participants, like their male counterparts, receive bonuses. While the 176 male riders in the 2022 Tour de France split €2.3 million over a 23-day race over 21 stages, the women had to decide between themselves… €274,530.

“In the Tour de France, the participation bonuses and the victory bonus for the winner are 10 times less important than in the men’s Tour de France”confirms Marion Philippe.

“The most plausible explanation could be that the women’s Tour de France has fewer sponsors than the men’s Tour de France. However, I believe that the media success and the mass of spectators on the side of the road will quickly allow the arrival of several sponsors that will allow the premiums of the athletes to increase. At least, I hope so.

In several other competitions, the premium has gradually increased over the years, so I expect it to be the same for the women’s Tour de France. »

A not so surprising craze

For Marion Philippe, the media and popular growth of this first edition of the Women’s Tour de France is not so surprising and is part of a global evolution around women’s sportwhich the public seems increasingly fond of, and its media coverage:

“I think the Women’s Tour de France benefits from the general enthusiasm for the Tour de France brand, which has been a real popular event for over a century, but also from the media coverage of women’s sport.

On the roads, it seems that there were a lot of people, and when we look at the audience of France Télévisions, we can be just as satisfied considering that there were more than 19 million viewers in the whole tour and that the last event brought together more than 3 million viewers. This is clearly not ridiculous in the face of the so-called men’s Tour de France. »

On the heels of the Women’s Tour de France is also Euro 2022 which, although it did not match the audience record of the Women’s World Cup in France 2019, had a strong following, in particular with 7 million people in front of your screen to watch France’s semi-final against Germany. Proof that the performances of female athletes are being followed more and more:

“We see more and more women’s sport and women dare, if I may say so, to watch women’s sport, but so do men and not all of them are necessarily critical”says Marion Philippe.

A success not spared by sexism

A Brut video recently showed the treatment of multiple world champion cyclist Jeannie Longo in front of male cyclists, including Marc Madiot, now head of the Groupama-FDJ team.

One would be tempted to see in it a sequence from a bygone era. However, this is far from the case.

When Jeannie Longo responded to misogynist criticism of cyclists

“Marc Madiot’s words have been echoing on social networks for a few days, but this is a global thought”makes a point of specifying Marion Philippe.

“There’s no point in blaming one man when thousands of others are thinking the same thing right now. Of course, that didn’t help matters for women cyclists who have long suffered from stereotypes related to cycling first and then cycling. »

During the July 28 stage that linked Bar-le-Duc to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, a collective fall created a pile of bikes on the other side of the road. A crowding as we often see in cycling races. except here it is the women who hold the handlebars and inevitably, jokes about small wheels, or the supposed dangerousness of women’s driving went down well.

Nothing really surprising, says Marion Philippe: “These are things you eventually get used to seeing when you work in women’s sports and look at social media. Women’s football, widely publicized at the same time as the Tour de France, suffered the same earthquakes. »

Sexist comments and so subversive and stinging (no), including from of a former sports journalist like Pierre Salviacwondering if “Women are ready for this level of competition. »

Cyclists themselves were ready to respond to these misogynistic attacks:

“Wow, men seem to have a lot of accidents when they ride bikes. Maybe they’re just not ready for this level of competition?”

“For the haters…should I continue?”

If the speech of a Marc Madiot remains sadly topical and despite the persistence of this type of comment, there is also an impulse towards women’s sport in general, which goes beyond these sexist clichés:

“The comments are incredibly violent, but they seem to come from people who don’t know much about cycling”tempera Marion Philippe.

“Finally, accidents are part of the sport and prove once again that there is no distinction between what might be called women’s cycling and men’s cycling, but there is cycling practiced by both men and women. »

Despite some unfortunately very predictable sexism, this first edition delighted both sports commentators and the public. In addition, it is Marion Rousse, the director of the Women’s Tour, who speaks best Blue France :

“People have realized that it is a real Tour, it doesn’t matter if they are men or women. There are a lot of people at the departures and arrivals, but also along the route. And seeing children on the side of the road come to cheer on the athletes, or people who dress up and make signs as we are used to seeing on the roads in July, is a good bet. »

See you in 2023?


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Photo credit: Eurosport (capture from YouTube)

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