Stephen Delcourt built FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope on a dream of one day winning the women’s Tour de France. The France-based Women’s WorldTour squad will have that opportunity at the newly-launched Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, that will replace La Course next year, and according to Delcourt they are preparing to win the coveted yellow jersey.
"Yes, we used to dream about the women’s Tour de France, but the reality now is that we have less than two seasons to prepare for it," Delcourt told Cyclingnews.
"It’s not a game anymore. It’s been the dream of our team, and my life, every day. I think that we will need the best team and staff to be ready for the first women’s Tour de France. We will not go there to participate. We will go to the women’s Tour de France to play for the win, to play for the yellow jersey. It’s the goal of my job."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme made a long-awaited confirmation last month that Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) will launch a women's Tour de France in 2022. Shortly after, Zwift announced that it will become the title sponsor of the event that will be held from July 24-31 next year, and begin on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in conjunction with the final stage 21 of the men's Tour de France.
Delcourt said that the new women's Tour de France will be a game-changer and has the potential to cause a massive positive shift in the popularity, security and stability of women's cycling.
"Women’s cycling will not be the same after the first women’s Tour de France. I have worked in cycling for 15 years, and now it’s great that we have dreamed and pushed a lot for a women’s Tour de France," Delcourt said.
"Now we have to prepare our team and our staff on our end, and now we can prepare and secure the future of my riders. It can help my riders to have a normal life. My riders want to buy their own homes and it’s my job to help them do those things, to help our female athletes have a normal life and a normal job and for them to be able to secure their own futures and families with a normal salary. The women’s Tour de France will bring more possibilities for our sport, to my team and my riders."
All-in for Uttrup Ludwig to win yellow
Delcourt first signed Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in 2020 and she has since renewed with the team through 2022. She won her first top-tier race at the Vuelta a Burgos this year and has been selected to represent Denmark at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Delcourt believes that with more development in her leadership role, Uttrup Ludwig could contest the overall classification at the Tour de France Femmes.
"Cecilie has another two years contract and I really believe that she can play for the yellow jersey at the women’s Tour de France," Delcourt said. "First, she has to win a big Monument, for example Strade Bianche and Flèche Wallonne, these are good races for her. Last year, she played for the pink jersey at the Giro Rosa, she didn’t win it, but she tried."
Delcourt said the team also needs to take step up their game if they are serious about winning the women's Tour de France. He believes that they can be on par with the best teams in the world.
"As a team, we also need to improve, to add to the level of teams like Trek-Segafredo and [SD Worx] that have many riders with experience to win, we need time to build that team. We want to continue to build and Cecilie, who is also focused on gaining experience and she is focussed on the Olympic Games."
Delcourt said that it would be a life-long achievement for any rider or team manager to win the women's Tour de France.
"To win the first edition of the women’s Tour de France, you will write the history of your sport. We are very motivated to prepare for this, as all teams will do, too. I really want to be able to play for the win. Imagine a French team winning the yellow jersey," he said.
ASO's La Course and Tour de France Femmes
ASO's marquee men's Tour de France has thrived over a hundred years but the organisation had been repeatedly criticised for not offering an official women's Tour de France since the original stage race was cancelled in 1989.
ASO went on to organise women's one-day races like La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix (in 2021). The women's peloton had not been included as part of the official Tour de France for the past 30 years.
Delcourt said that with the rise of professionalism in women's cycling, and the implementation of the top-tier teams and events, the sport is ready for a women's Tour de France.
"Women’s cycling is now ready for a women’s Tour de France. ASO are doing a lot of work in women’s cycling, and don’t forget that the organise Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne, Tour de Yorkshire [and La Course], but before now, in my opinion, women’s cycling was not ready for a big, big women’s Tour de France," Delcourt said.
"I don’t mean the riders were not ready, they can do it, but the teams were not ready. We needed to have many teams at a high level, and women’s teams are changing a lot now, and we have arrived at this point step-by-step, to where teams can be ready for a Tour de France."
La Course by La Tour de France was created in 2014 following a petition to ASO calling for a women's Tour de France. The women's peloton will line up on June 26 in Brest to compete in the eighth, and what could be, the final edition.
Despite its controversy, La Course had become one of the most showcased events on the Women's WorldTour, and although the wait was longer than anyone anticipated, it has finally became the stepping stone to the Tour de France Femmes.
"The future of La Course is the women’s Tour de France - it was the next step. The fans love the one-day race but they are really going to love the women's Tour de France," Delcourt said.
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