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July 17, 2009

No Women in the Tour de France : Sexism

In men's cycling we have the Grand Tour, consisting of multi-day bicycle races in Spain (the Vuelta a España) (8/29 - 9/29/09), Italy (the Giro d'Italia), and France (the Tour de France). This is the Big Three, and the Tour De France is the pre-eminent of the three.


For the record

Why do corporations sponsor teams for the Grand Tour? Because the media coverage of their logos and team names is a significant marketing value. That's why the winner's photos show the riders pointing to their main sponsor's logos - that's what makes the Tour De France run at the team level.

How does the Tour De France profit? By selling newspapers. The company that "owns" the Tour De France, ASO, is in fact owned by a newspaper syndicate. It's a competition for newspaper circulation.

Why do the papers compete? We discussed the anti-semitism earlier.
Why are all the riders white people? We discussed that earlier.

Why are all the riders guys? Ding, Ding, Topic Du Jour!

There are some reasons why women may not be competitive with the men riding in the Tour De France. Generally, it's a question of strength and body mass. Excellent male collegiate riders are routinely posting times much better than the world's best female riders. Racing one-on-one, the empirical evidence suggests that the women can't compete with men.

Physiologists find that puzzling, because theoretically women should do better at endurance sports than men. Some physiologists feel that the stage lengths on the Tour De France are actually too short to permit the women's physiological advantages to come to play.

In either event, though, if the object is Marketing and Selling Newspapers, why isn't there a female Tour De France? The miracle is: there is one, there has been one, and you just don't hear about it.

The Women's Tour De France : Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale

There is a women's Tour De France, run every year, called the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale. When will it be this year? Is it just after the men's event?

But of course, that would be simple - the courses would be set out, the media would be ready, great advertising value. Actually, the 2009 Grande Boucle, the women's Tour De France, will be held - wait for it, wait for it, in June 2009.

The 2009 Grande Boucle was won by Emma Pooley of the United Kingdom; second place was Cristiane Soeder of Austria; third place was Marianne Vos of the Netherlands.

The image to the right is Emma Pooley's victory portrait. Boy, those French can do wonders with a hat!

The Women's Giro D'Italia : The Giro d'Italia Femminile

The Giro d'Italia Femminile is one of the Grand Tours of women's cycle racing. It is currently called the "Giro Donne". The 2009 edition of the Giro Donne took place from July 3 to July 12, 2009.

Here's American cyclists and team mates Lisa Rachetto and Liz Hatch at the Giro Donne, racing for Team SystemData and McDonalds, after completing a stage race:

For all that the men's Tours are about marketing and newspapers, they're completely ignoring the women. Check out Liz Hatch's Twitter and Facebook. She does Web 2.0 better than Lance Armstrong. Does anybody believe that the pro rider on the left is going to sell more papers and get more "free" media coverage for the Sponsor than the pro rider on the right?


It's the Real Thing

Lest you think she's just a designated spandex model, here's a photo of Liz Hatch sporting some road rash (and her bike with a broken fork) after a January 2009 crash in a California road race.


Why aren't the two women's Grand Tour events supported by Sponsors and Media?

Why aren't the Giro d'Italia Femminile (the Giro Donne) and the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale (the female Tour de France) supported with Money and Media? If it's all about marketing, why aren't they marketing to women? Most research shows that women influence buying more than men. Why the dissonance between the stated business purpose of the sponsors and their apparent behavior?

It comes down to the ASO, the organization that owns the Tour De France. Let's say that three of the companies that sponsor Tour De France teams chose to sponsor full women's teams for the Grand Boucle, and supported a two-week schedule for the Grand Boucle, in addition to their Tour de France men's teams. They've just decided that marketing focused on both genders makes sense.

The ASO would object to those teams attempt to diminish the value of the ASO's property (the TdF), and their men's teams would not be invited back to the next Tour de France as punishment. Those sponsors would be locking themselves out of the biggest on-Continent marketing opportunity of the year. (Soccer's World Cup is bigger, but it moves around.)

The ASO is corrupt. Professional bicycling is corrupt. Women's cycling suffers for it.

Who was Alfonsina Strada?

There has been, in fact, one woman cyclist who participated in a Grand Tour event, racing against men. More on that tomorrow.

The Tour de France : Sexist. Racist. Anti-Semitic. Yellow journalism.


Anonymous said...

I do think, like most sports, there is an unbalanced amount of support and coverage of mens cycling. Still, you're stretching too far to try and make your point.

I mean... of course, people would rather see a sexy Liz Hatch shot to an awkward celebration shot. Sadly, few talented cyclists are as photogenic as Hatch. VeloNews seems to have more competitive women on the cover than most cycling magazines.. I wonder if those women help sell magazines.

Vannevar said...

You're quite right that I stretched to find the photo to show next to Hatch, and - confessing - I had to go to the Tour de Suisse to find one. That fellow's won at least one stage more than I have (none).

I just think that "They" (TDF organizers ASO) should support women's cycling as well as men's. I don't think they should put women on men TdF squads, but I have to believe that there's room for a little bit of a Title IX perspective. For instance, Predictor-Lotto in last year's tour- the Sponsor (Predictor) makes early pregnancy tests.

You're also right that I'm stretching a bit. I'll work on it.

I try not to gripe without offering an alternative, so in two or three days I'll be offering an alternative Tour De France profile. Maybe it'll advance the discussion.

Thanks very much for your thoughts and your comment! Cheers! Vannevar.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help women athletes in the long run if you suggest that they can attract fans primarily because of their hotness instead of their talent.

Anonymous said...

Still, I appreciate that you raised the question. The same one occurred to me yesterday -- why no women?

Vannevar said...

Dear Anony 7/19 5:12 -- I agree, and I did stray into objectification - I'm sorry. The point I wanted to make (and failed to) was: if this is really about marketing and media, it would be all women, or mostly women.

If I may- on the next in the series, "The Heirs of Alfonsina Strada", I hope I've done a decent job of spotlighting women cyclists without resorting to cheesecake. Cheers, Vannevar.

Lyle said...

There is no doubt that *some* top female cyclist could outperform *some* of the male cyclists on the TdF. So, that said, if one of those some female cyclists wanted to ride in the Tour, would she be allowed? The publicity for the team that hired her would be phenomenal. I'll bet that nobody would dare deny her the opportunity.

I'd like to ask Emma Pooley if she's ever considered riding in the Tour as a second-stringer, and if she'd prefer that to the chance to win the GB.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Lyle, but NONE of the top female cyclists in the world would outperform ANY of the male cyclists in the TdF. It wouldn't even be close... In fact, *most* male collegiate riders would beat the top female pros. Just Google some fixed distance courses that have hosted both male and female races.

Anonymous said...

if they can jump as high, run as fast, hit a baseball, catch a pass, etc...why not let women play.

Anonymous said...

Just an observation- the Grande Boucle Feminin, probably ranks below the Women's Tour de L'Aude in terms of prestige if you were seeking a comparative example.

Also you do Women's professional cycling a grave diservice by choosing Liz Hatch as an example. No offense to the young lady but she is third string at best. She is better at marketing than finding the finish line. She has to date no victories of any note (or podiums for that matter) in any of the professional US or European races she's contested.

Better examples might have been Pooley, Cooke, Vos or Susanne Lungskog. If you looking for a result getter to market perhaps Rochelle Gilmore.

But not Liz Hatch. She jsut perpetuates stereotypes of a different sort.

SibaFem said...

A query to Lyle and Anonymous: How do (male) cyclists qualify for the Tour de France? If a female cyclist is competitive, can she qualify? My understanding is that NO, she cannot - the Tour de France EXCLUDES WOMEN FROM PARTICIPATING on the basis of their sex, not their performance. If this is the case, then it is sexist. But if some women have tried to qualify and failed - as equals within the rules of the game - then it is not....more info please!

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, I did some research on how cyclists qualify for the Tour de France. Wasn't able to find much except for this article:

If this article is correct, the Tour de France is open only to invited teams, not invited individuals. Also, the invitations are entirely at the discretion of the ASO, the French organization that runs the Tour.

Since the ASO has never invited an all-woman team to the Tour de France, I suppose you could say they are sexist in that sense. They would probably counter that they are not since they hold a separate event for women only, because they do not believe women can compete on a totally equal level with men because of physiological reasons (body fat levels, testosterone, etc).

My question is: if there was a "co-ed" pro team that included a woman cyclist along with men, would the ASO consider inviting them, or would they automatically be excluded because they have a female member? That would be the real test as to whether or not the Tour de France is sexist.

I don't think we'll ever know the answer, since I do not believe there currently is a top pro cycling team that is co-ed. If there is, I'd love to hear about them.

I think most pro cycling organizations believe that, all other things being equal, women cyclists are simply not as fast and as strong as men because of the physiological and biological reasons aready mentioned, so they therefore keep men's and women's teams separate.

Anonymous said...

It's more about the viewers wanting to see the best. Not enough people watch the LPGA or the WNBA to pay the advertising dollars like the NBA, PGA, and men's Tour de France pays.

Anonymous said...

I also think there should be a women's tour, but more importantly, that Liz Hatch is great looking :-)

Anonymous said...

there are many separate sports event for both the sexes. it is not discrimination. but women's tour should be big and equally challenging. if yelena insinbayeva can do so much in pole vault, so can many more ladies in any field. the having of a tour and encouraging participation is of most important.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem letting the men have thier fun. It's not really that big a deal to have separate races, I prefer competing against those who are just like me. That way someone can show thier true colors against an even background. If it's that big a deal to other people why not just go straight to the ASO? ask them directly and not just automatically assume they are out to get us girls.

Anonymous said...

2 normal pictures would have been better, rather then a picture of a pouting blonde and a picture of Lance pulling the worse expression he practically could and coming across biased.

I agree women should be able to compete in races with men, PROVIDING we can compete competitively with them, against someone who is at the samelevel, if it's just for the sake of being a mixed race it's rediculous. I can understand people want to see the fastest, strongest or most talented "person" in the world at the specific event be it female or male, but with sport, that is in general men, there are a lot of sporting events now where the most famous women get as much recognition as men, but a lot is also to do with business.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... the thing is: sport, in general, is about being the fastest, the strongest, the BEST and in virtually ALL instances women are just unable to compete with men. It's not sexism, it's a fact of life. If you want sporting equality then how about we start making women play best of 5 sets in Grand Slam tennis matches? Can you imagine how dull those games will become? The trouble with equality is that women only want it on their own terms.

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