From 1955 to 2022: the history of the women’s Tour

The drive for a women’s stage race through France has spanned generations

July 24, 2022

In September of 1955, 41 women rolled out from Rambouillet just outside of Paris for the first ever women’s edition of the Tour de France. Five days and 373 kilometers later, Millie Robinson of the Isle of Man had won the race.

Though she never raced the Tour de France again, she was the reigning champion for twenty-nine years. That’s how long it was until the next edition of the race was held.

Fast forward to 1984 when ASO, the organizer of the men’s race, reintroduced the women’s event. The race’s revival included 18 stages, each about 80 kilometers long, including an ascent of the infamous Alpe d’Huez. The Tour was raced by six national teams from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and two from France. Marianne Martin was the last rider named to the American team’s roster. It paid off. She won the general classification by over 3 minutes.

Italy’s Maria Canins and France’s Jeannie Longo ruled the next five editions of the Tour de France Féminin until its cancellation after 1989. The pair were so dominant that Canins placed first in 1985 and 1986 with Longo the runner up both years before the podium order switched for the last three runnings of the race. Despite the impressive racing put on by the women’s peloton, the organizer abandoned the race due to financial reasons.

The sport felt the absence of the women’s race. Just three years later, 1992 saw the launch of another stage race across France, this time in the form of the Tour Cycliste Féminin. The race varied in length from year to year between nine and 14 stages.

Linda Jackson, founder and owner of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, raced the Tour Cyclist Féminin, and still recalls its challenging parcours and the tough race conditions. The 1997 edition lasted 12 days but featured two days with double stages. The Canadian headed into the final day of racing in third place on the general classification but that was in jeopardy when she crashed during the morning stage. She finished the stage and maintained her podium spot but soreness set in ahead of the afternoon’s stage. Knowing how hard she and her teammates had worked throughout the race and the season, Jackson emptied herself on the stage, and crossed the finish line, unsure if she had managed to hang onto her podium spot. She had, indeed, by a margin of just seven seconds.

The one constant? The hunger for a women’s stage race across France has never subsided.

The following year, the race changed its name and became La Grande Boucle. In its prime, riders raced up to 16 stages including double days and had a rest day. By 2009, the final running of La Grande Boucle, the race had been shortened to just four stages.

Over the next few years, the push for a women’s Tour de France grew into a petition that gathered over 97,000 signatures from women and men, cyclists and fans alike. The inaugural edition of La Course, a one day event to be raced up and down the Champs Élysées, launched in 2014. For the first three years, the course remained the same: an 89 kilometer route circling Paris’s most celebrated boulevard. The peloton and fans were disappointed to see that although La Course began to travel around France and include mountains, it essentially remained a one-day race and not the stage race that petitioners had called for.

Which brings us to today, quite literally.

The Tour de France Femmes, an eight day stage race traveling from Paris to La Super Planche des Belles Filles, gets underway for the first time since 1989. A generation of women who have long been denied the opportunity to race on the sport’s most renowned stage now have their opportunity.

From our roster, Emily Newsom was in kindergarten when the women’s Tour was last raced. Teammates Kathrin Hammes and Krista Doebel-Hickok were just a few months old. Veronica Ewers, Letizia Borghesi, and Magdeleine Vallieres Mill would not be born until the following decades.

All told, 67 years have passed since the first ever edition of a women’s Tour de France. Since then, the race has experienced cycle after cycle of transformations and cancellations.

The one constant? The hunger for a women’s stage race across France has never subsided.

Vive le Tour de France Femmes.

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