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 recordWhy 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 InternationaleThere 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 FemminileThe 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 ThingLest 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.