Women racing in Le Tour de France: It’s not an option

20140201535_La Course by le Tour de France_1000-bI’m not an avid viewer of Le Tour de France, but I believe it’s important to acknowledge the athletic skill competitors deliver while facing the race’s obstacles.A little background on the race: it is comprised of teams (usually between 20 to 22 teams) with 9 members to each team; facing 21 stages of mountains, hills and high-altitudes over 23 days; covering 2,200 miles.It’s an event to emphasize the bonds of camaraderie, perseverance, strength and belief in one’s self and one’s team.With such strong ties of unity aligning kin and country, it is easy to think that the gender gap subsides into nothing but understanding and goodwill.  Yet since its beginning in 1903, Le Tour de France has failed to consistently permit female cyclists’ participation in the race.In the 1980’s women were racing alongside male cyclists in stages of the race; not every stage but nevertheless holding attention.imgres-1As time passed, women became marginalized for the male cyclists. Like squires to their knights, they carried water, cheered with boards and streamers, waiting at the finish-line with supplies in tow. For those female cyclists that did compete, fewer events appeared on the calendars and prize money amounts were considerably less than the male cyclists’ winnings.When these things became apparent to a former ESPN senior editor and columnist Kathryn Bertine (http://kathrynbertine.com/), she teamed with other professional female cyclists to do something about it.Bertine wrote and directed a documentary film, raising over $77,000 for the cause to bring women into Le Tour de France, addressing the competition’s owner Amaury Sport Organization.  When she received no reply, Bertine, Marianne Vos, Chrissie Wellington and Emma Pooley formed the Le Tour Entier or L.T.E for ‘Liberté’, ‘Egalité’ and ‘Cyclisme’. The cyclists drafted a petition online and urged others to sign in order to promote women’s racing in Le Tour de France.The response was overwhelming, reaching 10,000 signatures in two days and about 100,000 in three weeks.imgresThe result: La Course by Le Tour de France.On Sunday, July 27, 120 women raced 56 miles in Paris before the last stage of Le Tour de France.In a press release from Amaury Sport Organization about La Course, Marianne Vos said, “I am delighted that A.S.O. has decided to organize a women’s race this year, to accompany the Tour de France. I am very excited to be taking part, especially with the majestic finish on the Champs-Elysées. The launch of this race is a revolutionary development in our sport. The Tour is the pinnacle of professional cycling, and I have no doubt that La Course by Le Tour identifies a new era for women’s cycling and will significantly contribute to the growth of road racing.“While the gender gap in the professional athletic world is nowhere near closed, it is nonetheless a step towards bringing that gap closer together.