Why don’t women ride the Tour de France?

Posted on

This is a guest post by Lindsay Kandra, a Portland-based lawyer, bike racer, blogger, and contributor to Our Bodies, Our Bikes. She is one of my fellow Portland Society board members. At our last meeting, the Reve Team effort to ride the famously grueling Tour de France course came up, and someone asked the question that is the title of this post. Lindsay went off into a brilliant tangential rant which I later asked her to set into writing. Here it is.

Okay, so, why don’t women ride the Tour de France?

It comes down to two things that Republicans are fascinated with: Money and vaginas.

Money

Once upon a time, the grand tour to end all grand tours was just a bunch of cigarette-smoking men riding unpaved roads through the Alps. Now, its the Super Bowl on two wheels. We fans are armchair quarterbacks predicting each team’s tour roster before the Spring Classics have even started.

The Tour costs millions of dollars to produce. On top of that, consider the resources that teams put into their grand tour squads during the race: Bikes lighter than my cat, wheels made of of NASA grade materials, team cars, luxury RVs, gas, seigneurs, mechanics, publicists, clothing, housing, food, bags of clean urine.

And this doesn’t even include the years worth of resources needed to develop a Tour-ready team: Competitive salaries, rider development, travel, housing, more gear, more bikes, more publicists.

Where do teams get this money? Sponsors.

And what do sponsors want? The biggest marketing return on their dollar. Like it or not, that return is not found in women’s professional cycling.
Many of us grew up as children of Title IX and it doesn’t sit right with us that professional women’s sports teams are constantly struggling to find the money that they need to survive. Still, well-funded women’s professional sports (across the board, not just with cycling) remain the exception, not the rule.

It’s a systemic problem. If we don’t have the resources to put into young female riders, only a handful of riders get the development support to become professional. Fewer riders, fewer teams, less exposure, less money.

Unless and until the resources are there to feed into rider development, event production, and sponsor coffers, we won’t be seeing a women’s grand tour anytime soon.

Vaginas

When I say that women don’t ride the tour because of vaginas, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that women don’t have the physical talent to compete in that calibar of event. Ever seen Marianne Vos ride a bike? Case closed.

I’m not going to dwell on the cultural baggage that comes with vagina ownership and how girls aren’t encouraged to be be strong and athletic, blah blah blah. I think this is changing, slowly. But this new girl power tends to be concentrated in team sports: Soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball. We want our girls to be athletes, but we also funnel them toward activities where they have to work and play well with others. The so-called individual sports (track and field, cycling, golf) have been slower to embrace and empower younger women.

So what does this mean? Most women come to cycling later in life, in our 20s and 30s. This coincides with a time when many women are using their vaginas for baby-making. While a male cyclist may have his teens, 20s and 30s to develop his talent without interruption, fewer women take that same opportunity. Again, I want to stress that I’m not saying that mothers can’t be bike racers. Kristin Armstrong, anyone? But if the majority of women become mothers, and assuming that the physical and time constraints of motherhood interfere with the consistent development of a bike racer, the pool of pro-level talent becomes yet smaller to choose from.

The solution? Start developing female riders in their teens.

But then you run into the chicken-and-egg problem I alluded to above. You need money to develop talent, but you need talent to attract money.

So if women are ever going to be part of the Tour–or any other race longer than the ten-stage Giro Donne–we all need to start paying attention to women’s racing and putting our money where our good intentions are.

Thanks to Lindsay Kandra for writing this guest post. For more on Taking the Lane about women and bike racing, see our previous post here. For more writing about gender and cycling (including racing), check out back issues of the print zine.

Leave a Reply

Free US shipping on orders over $25