The road has been long, but the Tour de France has reached a crazy delay. After years of absence, a Grande Boucle woman is seeing the light of day again. The end of an eternal anomaly, partly linked to the old macho prejudice.
In 1987, on the set of “To each in his turn”, during a particularly tense beginning, Marc Madiot stated this in front of Jeannie Longo with “Men’s sports, women’s sports. To see a woman dancing, to me, it’s beautiful. To see a woman playing football, it’s ugly, to see a woman riding a bike, it’s ugly…”.
Thirty-five years later, the women’s Tour de France finally seems to be making its rightful place after many attempts. Franceinfo: the sport looks back on 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 came from Jean Leulliot, a former journalist at vehiclesthen collaborationist duck feathers Socialist France during the Occupation. The organizer of the Circuit de France (a kind of Tour de France bis) during the war, he also threatened the French champion at that time with a visit from the Gestapo in the event of not participating in his activity.
However, Jean Leulliot was supported by the sports press after the Liberation despite his collaboration. Rehabilitated, she conceived ten years later a women’s movement. At that time, the world championships were not even open to women (it was until 1958), and the French champion title was only awarded for four years. Leulliot designed a 400 km event, covered in 5 stages, with around forty starters. We talked right away “courses”good for “nervous breakdowns” in their saddle, and less easily than theirs “homework”. The British Millie Robinson won this race without a future in 1955. Jean Leulliot was more successful in his project to relaunch Paris-Nice.
1984-1989: the golden years
It took almost thirty years to see women cyclists make a comeback. This time, the Société du Tour de France (ancestor of the ASO) took matters into its own hands, under the encouragement of the then president, Félix Levitan. Already at the origin of the polka dot jersey and arriving at the Champs-Elysées, the journalist wanted to be ahead of the machismo that once ruled the world of cycling. A year before the creation of his Women’s Tour, he declared, as the former director of the Tour Xavier Louy reminded the magazine Pedal in June 2019, which “Women are equal to men, if not superior to them. That’s why we thought of organizing something more important than anything that has been done for women in cycling.”
In 1984, Levitan won his showdown. Six teams of six riders ride the Grande Boucle as a men’s curtain-raiser. First snubbed by two stars of the moment (Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo), the event found its place with difficulty in a macho environment. Women’s shortened steps are mocked, including TV sets. In 1986, a year before the attack on Marc Madiot, Laurent Fignon also attacked Jeannie Longo in the same show. “I’m not interested in women’s cycling (…) I don’t think it’s an aesthetic sport. I understand that you want to ride a bike if you’re a woman, but I prefer not to.”, release the runner in front of a Longo that he shouldn’t have greeted when he arrived on the set.
Two years after the departure of Félix Lvitan and the acquisition of Jacques Chancel, little known for his respect for women’s cycling, the women’s Tour de France disappeared in 1989. However, the battle between Maria Canins ( conquered in 1985 and 1986) and Jeannie Longo (consecrated in 1987, 1988 and 1989) lead the race that is gaining momentum. Claiming unmanageable logistics on par with the men, the Société du Tour de France brought down the curtain and sent the women’s peloton back into the shadows.
1992-2022: setbacks and comebacks
To keep the flame alive, an independent organizer, and therefore a competitor, started the adventure in 1992. Pierre Boué created the International Women’s Big Loop. The names “Tour” and “yellow jersey” cannot be used, properties of ASO, he established the golden jersey. But the sauce was not taken, when the Festina affair weighed down the world of cycling in 1998. The repeated criticism of the riders in the hotels, the long shifts, the neutralization of the race and the unpaid bonuses undermined the movement, in which the ASO also dedicated an open war. Downgraded by the UCI in 2005, the event disappeared in 2009 without ever winning.
In 2005, the international federation therefore launched a call for applications for a major stage race in France. The Women’s Route de France saw the light of day, under the direction of Hervé Gérardin, a former ASO who now heads his own organization. Despite the support of the UCI, it remains unreported and faces organizational difficulties. Before he lost in 2016, he was nevertheless a launching pad for many famous runners, including Annemiek van Vleuten, who won in 2010.
After years of waiting, and mainly thanks to the pressure of David Lappartient, French president of the UCI, ASO relaunched the machine this summer. After introducing the Course ni le Tour in recent years, the company behind the Tour de France set the record straight. A surprise change, 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 or left, can’t be.. At the time, no, but later, it was possible. Finally.