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

For its great comeback, the Tour de France Women was crowned with success, both on the roads and on TV. However, this comeback of this major cycling competition was far from obvious. Not to mention that sexism is never far away when it comes to the portrayal of sportswomen in the media.

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

Absent for a long time, he was a great success both in terms of his presence on the sides of the road to encourage the runners, and in front of the small screen: France Télévisions boasts impressive and unexpected audiences, 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 can we expect from other editions? How to explain this success, which gives hope to the runners, but also to women’s sports as a whole? Some answers with Marion Philippe, sports historian and specialist in the place of women in sport.

Eurosport (YouTube screenshot

The long absence from the Tour de France

A comeback ofa competition that we hadn’t seen on the roads since 1989.

“There were women’s races in France after 1989 which tried to counter this stoppage of the Tour de France brand. The sauce did not take and therefore there were financial difficulties”explains Marion Philippe to miss.

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

Since the 1990s, therefore, we have seen several similar races whose organizers were unable to use the “Tour de France” brand: Women’s EEC Tourthereafter the big loop until 2009. Between 2014 and 2021 the baton will be taken over by The race of Le Tour de France, which is then held during the men’s Tour de France. It is therefore difficult to capture the media attention already monopolized by the event.

It was therefore only this year that the Tour de France Women made its official comeback.

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

At many levels, the women’s Tour de France does not have the resources of the men’s Tour. A reflection of the differences between men and women in cycling :

“There is already a difference in the fact that the cyclists in the Tour de France women were few to be professionals, while the men in the Tour de France were professionals.”emphasizes Marion Philippe. “Then there is a fairly significant difference in the treatment in terms of financial gains at the end of the various races. »

The female participants receive bonuses, just like their male colleagues. While the 176 male riders in the 2022 Tour de France shared 2.3 million euros over a 23-day race in 21 stages, the women had to settle between them… 274,530 euros.

“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 various sponsors, which will make it possible to increase the prizes for the sportsmen. At least I hope so.

In various other competitions, the prize has seen a gradual increase over the years, so I hope it will 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 Tour de France Women is not so surprising and is part of a global development around women’s sportswhich the public seems increasingly fond of, and its media coverage:

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

On the roads there seems to have been a lot of people and when we look at the audience in France Télévisions we can be equally satisfied as there were more than 19 million viewers for the entire tour and that the last event brought together more than 3 million viewers. It is clearly not ridiculous compared to the so-called Tour de France for men. »

In the wake of the Tour de France Women is also Euro 2022, which, while not matching the record crowd of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, was still widely followed, notably with 7 million people in front of their screens to watch France’s semi-final against Germany. Evidence that the performance of female athletes is increasingly followed:

“We are watching more and more women’s sports, and women dare, if I may say so, to watch women’s sports, but men do as well and without necessarily all being critical.”says Marion Philippe.

A success that does not skimp on sexism

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

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

When Jeannie Longo responded to misogynist criticism of cyclists

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

“It’s no use blaming one man when thousands of others think the same at this point. Of course, it didn’t help the relationship of female cyclists, who have long suffered from stereotypes attached to cycling in the beginning and then to cycling afterwards. »

During the July 28 stage connecting Bar-le-Duc to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, a collective fall created a pile of bikes across the road. A pileup that we often see in bike races. Except here, it is women who hold the reins and inevitably the jokes about the small wheels or the alleged danger of women’s driving went down well.

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

Sexist and oh so subversive and sharp remarks (no), including from by a former sports journalist like Pierre Salviacwanted to know about “The women are ready for this level of competition. »

Cyclists themselves were eager to respond to these misogynistic attacks:

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

“For the haters…should I continue?”

If a Marc Madiot’s speech remains unfortunately current and despite the persistence of this type of comment, there is also a momentum towards women’s sports in general which goes beyond these sexist clichés:

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

“Finally, crashing is part of the sport and shows once again that there is no distinction between what you can call women’s cycling and men’s cycling, but there is cycling that is practiced by both men and women. »

Despite an unfortunately very predictable sexism, this first edition delighted sports commentators as much as the public. It is also Marion Rousse, the director of the Women’s Tour, who explains it best France blue :

“People have realized that it’s a real Tour, it doesn’t matter if it’s men or women. There are many people at departures and arrivals, but also along the entire route. And to see children on the side of the road coming to cheer on female athletes or people dressing up and making signs that we are used to seeing on the roads in July, it is a successful bet. »

See you in 2023?

Also read:

Trans inclusion in sport: why FINA’s new policy is far from good news

Image credit: Eurosport (Youtube recording)

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