Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift: Shaping the Future of Women’s Sports

The tour de france femmes avec zwift watch the femmes cap

This piece has been a long-time coming. Ever since watching the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift last year. The strides that this event takes to start to equalize cycling are great and measurable! After last year’s event, Zwift put out a report that outlines the increased viewership, engagement, and reach of Le Tour Femmes.

  • 23.2 million cumulative live audience
  • 2.9 million average live audience
  • +8.6% increase in Facebook & Instagram followers for the top 35 female riders competing during the tour
  • 115 million women’s cycling following, ranking it the 4th most followed women’s sport

However, there is still work to be done. I told a male co-worker I was watching the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and he said, “oh is that some sort of online contest?” The Tour is an important driver for getting more women riding, and shining a spotlight on women’s sports. My hope is one day we can call it the Tour de France Hommes to differentiate from the Femmes. A girl can dream, can’t she?

History of Women’s Cycling

Back in 1893, Kittie Knox joined the League of American Wheelman as the first Black women and one of only a couple of women. The League then changed their rules in 1894 to allow only white men (not retroactively so Kittie could remain) to eliminate any more women (or people of color) joining their club. She was a strong racer and showed up over and over again to race even when she wasn’t allowed. Her example set the groundwork for later riders, but it hasn’t been an easy road. It wasn’t until 1965, that the league would even consider changing it’s name to League of American Bicyclists in order to be more inclusive.

Looking forward to the the 1960s, there was a long standing myth that endurance sports were damaging to women’s health and femininity. I believe some literal doctor claimed that your uterus could fall out, which is just wild. Looking back at the example that came before them, new pioneers like Kathrine Switzer, who was the first women to run the Boston Marathon before it was allowed, proved people wrong by entering long-distance races in the 60s to show that women were strong enough for endurance sports. Women must prove they are capable to move forward an inch, instead of being given the benefit of the doubt.

Women’s Cycling Inches Forward

In 2014, after long petitioning the ASO (directors of the Tour de France) they announced the inclusion of a women’s one-day event at the 2014 Tour de France. In a historic moment in women’s cycling, there was a one-day criterium on the Champs-Élysées. Marianna Vos, who you may know from the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift pulled out a spectacular win that day. And while this race is considered hugely successful, it still took almost 10 more years for the first official women’s Tour de France. Not to mention the continued stigma that women are not strong enough for a 3-week version of the tour.

If you are really interested in digging in further to the full history of women’s professional cycling, I highly recommend the documentary from 2014, Half the Road. I still think about it all of the time!

Of course, the success of Le Tour Femmes is great and measurable, it is having a little bit of trouble branching out into the rest of cycling. I don’t know if part of it is the fact that Zwift as the main sponsor, who has a huge audience of both male and female riders in their platform, really helps push more people to view? But we are still seeing things like the 2023 edition of the five-day British stage race (not to be confused with the Tour de France Femmes 2023) cancelled a month out from the event. There may be a chicken and an egg issue: they don’t cover it because no one is watching OR no one is watching because they don’t cover it…

Why Do I Care so Much About the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift?

The Tour de France Femmes isn’t just about supporting women’s cycling, but showcasing to a whole new group of women than they can do it to. As someone who has been the only women at a ride, or treated differently in a bike shop, or just subjected to conversations that I wish I couldn’t hear, it is thrilling to see a platform that gets more women on bikes. And provides more space and pathways for women to ride. We don’t have to do what Kittie Knox had to, and join men’s leagues because they aren’t the only thing that exists anymore. Companies like Zwift and Liv have developed a framework around supporting women.

The best example I can give is the difference between the Facebook groups for Zwift Riders and Zwift Ladies Only. When I first joined Zwift I was looking for a community with others who ride on their trainers. The Zwift Riders group was full of people complaining about “cheaters” and “repeat questions that had already been answered”. I found the group to be bullying and unwelcoming. As someone who had just joined and was really just looking for some base-level fitness and motivation it was extremely disheartening to see a who group of dudes putting everyone down. Then someone invited me to the Zwift Ladies Only group and I found a welcoming environment with people who wanted to be helpful and supportive. “Climbing the Alpe du Zwift today, please send ride ons!” was followed with “done” and “good luck” and “you got this!”.

If we want to get more people on bikes, we need to create a space where they can come and learn. You won’t know everything on day one, and gatekeeping only hurts the greater sport.

It’s GD Inspiring

Congrats to this year’s Tour de France winner, Demi Vollering, coming away with the yellow jersey (maillot jaune). Seeing her on the stand holding up her Lion and flowers is inspirational. It’s also the start of a movement. I am seeing more and more women in my life take on racing. Honestly it pumps me up and makes me want to ride more too!

Last year, I interviewed two Boston-area women who picked up racing in the last year. The same episode featured riders from the local Boston female-expansive mountain biking team, Hustle Hive.

I also see new requests everyday in the Zwift Ladies Only group for teams seeking more racers, and women looking to try out racing both virtually and outside.

The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift not only brought in a new audience for women’s cycling. It proves the model that people watch. Cover women’s sports! Combine it with the U.S. Women’s Team playing in the World Cup again this summer, there is a springboard for women’s sports. Let’s build on this momentum!

Not Everyone is Equal

After the tour ended, it came to light that the Tour de France Femmes winner takes home a tenth of the prize money of the Tour de France (Hommes) winner. As the highest paying prize in all of women’s racing this is just difficult to find out. This is a problem across women’s sports (see U.S. Women’s soccer team pay disparity lawsuit) and means that women cannot always live off of being a pro athlete and have to abandon the sport or find ways to work and race.

If addition, equality isn’t really equal until everyone has opportunity. I want to acknowledge that as much as I love le Tour Femmes this year, there was only one Black women, Teniel Campbell. She crushed all 8 days and is now taking a much earned break with family. This is also an issue in men’s cycling. As we continue to make room for more people in this sport, we need to make it accessible to all. Which leads to my next point.

Finally, in the days leading up to the tour, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body of cycling, overturned their own guidelines and has banned transgender women from competing in women’s races. You must be UCI certified to race, so this completely limits these athletes. The UCI is using the very incorrect idea that they are “protecting women” with this ruling. Transgender women are women. I hope that they reconsider this position and change their ruling for the sake of the sport.

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