It’s been a long road, but the Tour de France is catching up with a maddening delay. After years of absence, a female Grande Boucle sees the light of day again. The end of an endless anomaly, partly linked to old sexist prejudices.
In 1987, on the set of “To each his turn”, during a particularly tense beginning, Marc Madiot said this to Jeannie Longo. What was there “Sports that are male, female sports. To see a woman dancing, to me, is very beautiful. To see a woman playing football, it’s ugly, to see a woman on a bike, it’s ugly…”.
Thirty-five years later, the women’s Tour de France finally seems to be able to take its rightful place after several trials. Franceinfo: The sport recalls almost 70 years of unsuccessful attempts for runners to have their own Grande Boucle.
1955: a forgotten first edition
It was in France in the 1950s that the first edition of a large women’s loop was launched. The idea comes from Jean Leulliot, former journalist of carthen collaborative duck feather Socialist France during the Occupation. Organizer of the Circuit de France (a sort of Tour de France bis) during the war, he had also threatened the French champion of the time with a visit from the Gestapo if he did not participate in his test.
However, Jean Leulliot received support from the sports press after the Liberation despite his collaboration. Rehabilitated, imagine ten years later a women’s event. At the time, the World Cup was not yet open to women (it wasn’t until 1958), and the title of French champion had only been awarded for four years. Leulliot designs a 400 km test, covered in 5 stages, with forty starters. Then we talk about it “courses”favorable to “nervous attacks” in his saddle, and less at ease than in his “homework”. Britain’s Millie Robinson won this no-future race in 1955. Jean Leulliot would be more successful in his Paris-Nice revival project.
1984-1989: the golden years
It took almost thirty years to see female cyclists return. This time, it was the Société du Tour de France (the forerunner of the ASO) that took matters into its own hands, under the impetus of its then president, Félix Levitan. Already at the origin of the polka dot jersey and the arrival at the Champs Elysées, the journalist wanted to get ahead of the masculinity that then reigned in the world of cycling. A year before the creation of his Women’s Tour, he declares, as the former director of the Tour Xavier Louy recalled to the magazine. pedal of June 2019, this “Women are equal to men, when they are not superior to them. So we thought of organizing something more important than anything that had been done so far for women in cycling.”
In 1984, Levitan won his matchup. Six teams of six riders embark on the Grande Boucle as the curtain raiser for the men. First rejected by the two stars of the moment (Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo), the event finds its place with difficulty in a sexist environment. Women’s shortened strides are the subject of ridicule, even on television. In 1986, a year before Marc Madiot’s attacks, Laurent Fignon also attacked Jeannie Longo on the same show. “I’m not interested in women’s cycling (…) I don’t think it’s an aesthetic sport. I understand that when you’re a woman you want to ride a bike, but I’d rather not. look…”, letting the runner go in front of a Longo who wouldn’t have even deigned to greet him when he arrived on the set.
Two years after the departure of Félix Lvitan and the takeover of Jacques Chancel, little known for his love of women’s cycling, the women’s Tour de France disappeared in 1989. However, the duel between Maria Canins ( conquered in 1985 and 1986) and Jeannie Longo (consecrated in 1987, 1988 and 1989) leads a race that is gathering strength. Claiming unmanageable logistics parallel to that of the men, the Société du Tour de France pulls down the curtain and sends the women’s peloton back into the shadows.
1992-2022: failures and comeback
To keep the incipient flame alive, an independent organizer, and therefore a competitor, embarked on the adventure in 1992. Pierre Boué created the International Women’s Big Loop. Unable to use the names “Tour” and “yellow jersey”, properties of ASO, he established the gold jersey. But the sauce didn’t catch on, when the Festina affair weighed on the cycling world in 1998. Recurring criticism of riders at hotels, long transfers, race cancellations and unpaid bonuses undermined the event, in which ASO also dedicates an open war. Downgraded by the UCI in 2005, the event disappeared in 2009 without ever having won.
In 2005, the international federation therefore launched a call for a large stage race in France. The Women’s Route of France sees the light of day, under the direction of Hervé Gérardin, former ASO who is now head of his own organization. Despite the support of the UCI, it remains poorly informed and faces organizational difficulties. Before its demise in 2016, however, it was a launching pad for several big-name runners, including 2010 winner Annemiek van Vleuten.
After years of waiting, and mainly thanks to pressure from David Lappartient, French president of the UCI, ASO relaunched the machine this summer. After introducing Course by le Tour in recent years, the company behind the Tour de France has set the record. A surprising turn, if we remember the statements of Christian Prudhomme in 2019 in Europe 1 “The size of the Tour means that we cannot organize another race during the Tourhe said Whether it’s a race for under-6s, over-80s, right-handed or left-handed, it’s not possible.”. During, no, but after, it is possible. Finally