In part one of a two-part interview, Tour de France Fan Park Ambassador Laura Stewart speaks to multiple Ironman world champ Chrissie Wellington about La Course, the women’s race on the Champs-Élysées on the Tour’s final day
This year the Tour de France is opening up to the women’s peloton, writes Laura. On Sunday 27 July, the world’s elite women cyclists will complete a 90km circuit on the Champs-Élysées.
‘La Course’ came about through the work of four athletes: Chrissie Wellington, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos and Kathryn Bertine. As Le Tour Entier (The Undivided Tour), they petitioned the Tour de France organiser ASO to raise the profile of women’s racing.
Here’s what Chrissie had to say about La Course.
Q. What’s your involvement in La Course?
Chrissie: “After our petition in July 2012, a few others came aboard and we created Le Tour Entier – a small group of passionate people who want to push for improvements in women’s cycling, so that these female athletes can fully realise their potential. The work opened the door to discussions with many different organisations, of which ASO is one.
“We realised that ASO were committed to helping promote and support the women’s side of the sport. I guess you could say that the time was right – all the stars aligned and there was a meeting of minds – and that led to action! It really is fantastic to have the chance to be a part of something so special, and pave a positive future path for women’s cycling.”
Q. How do you plan to keep the momentum up and get more high-profile events for professional women cyclists?
Chrissie: “We hope that La Course by Le Tour 2014 marks the beginning of a long-term and very exciting strategy for women’s cycling. Of course, I and others would be keen to see a race through France with many stages. However, we must accept that small steps climb big mountains.
“There’s been a shift in international governance through the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s governing body), which will help. ‘Developing women’s cycling’ was one of five high-priority recommendations of the 2012-2013 UCI Stakeholder Review, which soon established the first UCI female vice-president and the UCI Women’s Commission.
“This was followed by investment in the television production of Women’s World Cup events, and the difference is tangible. The UCI is in a powerful position to enforce change and they’re pushing on an open door of public, media and political support to accelerate progress.
“Women’s races at grand tours present an opportunity to elevate women’s cycling. Just like the success of women’s tennis owes much to the grand slams, the grand tours can be the key moments when female competition is brought under the same event structure in front of large global audiences.
“Women’s pro cycling has the potential to be different and in many ways better than men’s. The WTA, or even my sport of triathlon, are a shining example of promoting female athletes as positive role models, delivering commercial value for sponsors and sporting entertainment value for audiences. The same can be achieved for women’s cycling.”
Q. Can events like La Course and a women’s Tour translate into getting more women on bikes?
Chrissie: “La Course is a huge step in the right direction, and we’re really hopeful that the race will increase interest in cycling, and specifically women’s cycling. It will help with attempts to bring the female pro cyclists to the world stage – especially with the widespread publicity and the live TV broadcasting of the event.
“The athletes and teams will be able to demonstrate to the world that women’s cycling is compelling, combative, entertaining and that there is a strength in depth like never before. Most importantly, it creates a platform for the women to truly realise their potential, and shows the world that women’s cycling is on the rise.
“We’re confident this high-profile event will help encourage everyone to get on their bikes and take to the roads and trails on two wheels. Women (and men!) will see the likes of Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Laura Trott, Lizzie Armistead and more fight it out live on their TV screens – and, as with the Olympics, they can’t fail to inspire through their competitiveness, excitement, strength and passion.”
Keep an eye out for part two of Laura’s interview with Chrissie Wellington, in which she talks about women in sport and her next big challenge, the Trois Etapes