The road has been long, but the Tour de France is catching up with an insane delay. After years of absence, a women’s Grande Boucle is seeing the light of day again. The end of an interminable anomaly, partly linked to old macho prejudices.
In 1987, on the set of “To each his turn”, during a particularly tense start, Marc Madiot declared thus in front of Jeannie Longo that there was “sports that are masculine, sports that are feminine. To see a woman dancing, for me, it’s very pretty. To see a woman playing football, it’s ugly, to see a woman on a bicycle, it’s ugly … “.
Thirty-five years later, the women’s Tour de France finally seems to be able to take its rightful place after several trials. Franceinfo: 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 comes from Jean Leulliot, former journalist of Carthen collaborationist duck feather Socialist France during the Occupation. Organizer of the Circuit de France (a kind of Tour de France bis) during the war, he had also threatened the French champion of the time with a visit from the Gestapo in the event of non-participation in his event.
However, Jean Leulliot was supported by the sports press after the Liberation despite his collaboration. Rehabilitated, he imagines ten years later a women’s event. At the time, the world championships were not even open to women yet (it was not until 1958), and the title of champion of France had only been awarded for four years. Leulliot designs a 400 km event, covered in 5 stages, with around forty starters. We then speak of “courses”conducive to “nervous breakdowns” on their saddle, and less at ease than in their “housework”. The Briton Millie Robinson won in this race without a future in 1955. Jean Leulliot will have more success in his project to relaunch Paris-Nice.
1984-1989: the golden years
It took almost thirty years to see female cyclists return. This time, it was the Société du Tour de France (ASO’s ancestor) that took matters into its own hands, under the impetus of its then president, Félix Levitan. Already at the origin of the polka dot jersey and the arrival on the Champs-Elysées, the journalist wanted to get ahead of the machismo that then reigned in the world of cycling. A year before the creation of his Women’s Tour, he declares, as former Tour director Xavier Louy reminded the magazine Pedal of June 2019, that “women are equal to men, when they are not superior to them. So we thought of organizing something more important than anything that had been done so far for women in cycling. ”
In 1984, Levitan won his showdown. Six teams of six riders embark on the Grande Boucle as a curtain raiser for the men. First snubbed by the two stars of the moment (Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo), the event finds its place with difficulty in a macho environment. Women’s shortened steps are subject to ridicule, including on TV sets. In 1986, a year before the Marc Madiot attacks, Laurent Fignon also attacked Jeannie Longo on 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 when you’re a woman, but I prefer not to. to look at…”, let go of the runner in front of a Longo to whom he would not even have deigned to say hello when he arrived on the set.
Two years after the departure of Félix Lvitan and the takeover of Jacques Chancel, little known for his esteem for women’s cycling, the women’s Tour de France disappeared in 1989. However, the duel between Maria Canins (conquered in 1985 and 1986) and Jeannie Longo (consecrated in 1987, 1988 and 1989) leads a race that is gaining momentum. Pretexting a logistics parallel to that of the unmanageable men, the Société du Tour de France lowers the curtain and sends the women’s peloton back into the shade.
1992-2022: failures and a comeback
To maintain the budding flame, an independent organizer, and therefore a competitor, embarked on the adventure in 1992. Pierre Boué created the International Women’s Big Loop. Unable to use the names “Tour” and “yellow jersey”, properties of ASO, he established the gold jersey. But the sauce did not take, when the Festina affair weighed down the world of cycling in 1998. The recurring criticisms of the riders on the hotels, the long transfers, the neutralizations of the race and the unpaid bonuses undermined the event, to which ASO also dedicates an open war. Downgraded by the UCI in 2005, the event disappeared in 2009 without ever having won.
In 2005, the international federation therefore launched a call for applications for a major stage race in France. The Women’s Route de France sees the light of day, under the direction of Hervé Gérardin, a former ASO now at the head of his own organization. Despite the support of the UCI, it remains under-reported and faces organizational difficulties. Before her disappearance in 2016, she was nevertheless a launching pad for several renowned runners, including Annemiek van Vleuten, winner in 2010.
After years of waiting, and in particular thanks to the pressure of David Lappartient, French president of the UCI, ASO relaunched the machine this summer. After introducing Course by le Tour in recent years, the company behind the Tour de France has set the record straight. A surprise turnaround, if we remember the statements of Christian Prudhomme in 2019 on Europe 1 “The size of the Tour means that we are not able to organize another race during the Tourhe said. Whether it’s a race for the under 6s, the over 80s, right-handers or left-handers, it’s not possible.”. During, no, but afterwards, it is possible. Finally.