The Roar
The Roar



How 2022 brought us the inaugural 'women’s' Tour de France

(Photo credit JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Roar Rookie
28th December, 2022

Women are not allowed to compete in the Tour de France.

However you choose to re-read that sentence, the fact remains: the most famous cycling event in the world excludes women from its participation.

It is not an event that was started for women or by women but this year’s inaugural event certainly was.

There is a famous saying: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It was said by Margaret Mead – an American anthropologist, author, cultural commentator and woman.

Her words hold true for this particular story, because it does in fact start with a small group of women.

In 2013, four female cyclists – Kathryn Bertine, Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington – formed a group called Le Tour Entier. As professional cyclists (or in Wellington’s case, Ironman champion) who had competed and won at the most elite levels of cycling, they came together to petition for a women’s Tour de France.

They were not “nobodies”, but a group of Olympians, national and world championship title holders. And they were pleading for signatures.


“Women should have the opportunity to compete at the same cycling events as men” is the statement that appeared at the bottom of their petition.

“Women should be on the starting line of the 101st Tour de France.”

In July 2013 the petition appeared on and was directed at the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), a private company owned and run by the Amaury family, that has been organising the Tour de France since 1965.

At the top of the petition, Kathryn Bertine directly addressed The Tour’s director, Christian Prudhomme. Prudhomme would eventually become the person to publicly launch the inaugural women’s Tour nine years later, but not before lamenting to the media over its economic viability, stating in his announcement: “All the women’s races that we organise lose us money.”

He made that statement in 2021.

Meanwhile back in 2013 the petition received 50,000 signatures in less than a week. By the time it closed it had garnered 96,298 supporters.

In January 2014, Le Tour Entier – which had since been rebranded as an activist group and the athletes who had formed it as feminists – declared their first victory. A women’s race was to be held that year.


What makes the Tour de France so iconic is a number of factors: the steep and scenic climbs, the gruelling 21 stages, the three-week duration, the huge amount of prize money, the coveted yellow jersey awarded to the winner and of course, the fact that it is broadcast live to countries around the world.

Fans cheering at the event or watching at home have a unique buy-in to the race and it is this coverage and their interest which make the Tour de France so hugely popular and singularly successful – the two are entirely related.

ASO has trademarked the use of the word “Tour” and previous attempts to hold a women’s stage race on the scale of the Tour de France were seen as an infringement on their trademark and were thus renamed.

“La Course” therefore emerged in 2014. Officially it was launched by ASO and was to be held before the final stage of the men’s Tour de France race, utilising both the race infrastructure and the media coverage that was already in place for the actual Tour.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

La Course was a single-stage, one-day race that lasted just over two hours in total. The prize money came to $35,000 – equivalent to the men’s prize money for winning one stage of the Tour. It was, however, broadcast live and watched by millions of viewers in 150 countries.

Although it was intended for La Course to grow to a multi-stage, multi-day tour it was repeated as a one-day-only event the following two years.


In 2017, ASO added a second day to the race. Day one included a mountain stage and a climb, which matched the men’s final mountain stage in their own Tour.

It was decided that only the top twenty finishers would go on to participate in day two, which was a pursuit-style individual time trial. Kathryn Bertine said of the set-up, “If you follow cycling, that’s ridiculous! Why would you take the top twenty climbers and put them in a time trial? It’s a totally different event!”

In 2018, the event was shortened again to one day, but the course was extended to a 118-kilometre route that included two mountain climbs. The high-speed descent was said to have been a thrilling show, a neck and neck race that had Annemiek van Vleuten win by one second.

Bertine said later that in the United States only the last kilometre of the race had been televised.

La Course remained a one-day event for the next three years. Bertine had since retired from professional racing but continued to campaign for a cause that had far eclipsed the small group of women who had initiated it.

A Tour de France for women was and had always been about parity in cycling and equality as a whole.

2021 saw change at last. It was announced that La Course would be replaced by the 2022 Tour de France Femmes. It was to be an eight-stage, eight-day race, a 1,030 kilometre route from Paris across north-eastern France and would include flat stages, back-to-back mountain climbing stages, gravel stages, a summit finish, a yellow jersey for the winner and a total prize-pot of €250,000. Zwift, the virtual indoor cycling platform, committed to a four-year sponsorship of the event.


This year, from 21 to 24 July, the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift took place. 24 teams participated in the race. It was won by Annemiek van Vleuten.

The second edition has already been announced for 2023. On the event’s official website, the course description of next year’s race contains a quote by retired cyclist and recently appointed event director, Marion Rousse:

“Even higher.”

This year was a ground-breaking one for women’s cycling. It did not bring absolute parity to the sport but it did bring it several steps closer.

The story, hopefully, does not end there but this chapter at least proves that change initiated by a small group of women can indeed stand to benefit each and every one of them.