Organisers of the Tour de France, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), have reportedly said that it is looking into a women's stage race that would be the equivalent of its marquee men's Grand Tour, but did not say it would be a women's Tour de France. According to an article published in Reuters on Friday following the one-day women's La Course by Le Tour de France, ASO also stated that it is setting up a special working group intended to help the development of women's cycling.
"We are setting up a cell to develop women's cycling within ASO," an ASO official told Reuters. "We cannot have a women's Tour de France at the same moment as the men's Tour because it would be logistically impossible. The Tour has grown so much and is so big that having two races at the same time would not be feasible."
Cyclingnews reached out to ASO via email for a comment regarding the apparent decision to launch a women's stage race that didn't overlap with the men's Tour de France, to which it declined to comment on at this time.
Regarding setting up a separate working group to help develop women's cycling, a representative from ASO told Cyclingnews "yes, it is true." And when Cyclingnews asked if ASO could detail the specifics of the working group such as its mandate, structure and time frame, the representative said, "I'm sorry but we do not have any comment about that."
The first version of a women's Tour de France was held in the 1950s, but it was only one edition. ASO launched its version of the women's Tour de France between 1984 and 1989. There have been other versions of the French stage race over the years, through the 1990s and the early 2000s, however, it officially ended in 2009. ASO then launched the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France in 2014, after a petition to ASO to include a women's race.
It started as a circuit race on the Champs Elysées on the final day of the Tour de France. Those sprinter-style circuit races were held for three editions won by Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen and Chloe Hosking.
Organisers shifted to a two-day experiment in 2017, which saw a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard, held on the same day as stage 18 of the men's race, followed by a handicapped time trial in Marseille. Annemiek van Vleuten won both stages and the overall title.
But while many in the cycling community were hoping to see the race continue to expand, ASO shifted it back to just one day last year, a mountainous road race linked Annecy and to Le Grand-Bornand, also won by Van Vleuten.
On Friday, Vos won her second edition of La Course, which was held on the same 27km circuit that the men used for their stage 13 of the Tour de France. The women raced five laps of the hilly circuit, and Vos won ahead of Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla).
Vos believes that despite the growth in women's cycling in recent years, ASO could be doing more to help develop the women's side of the sport. "There are a lot of things that are changing. It's growing, the teams are getting bigger and at the moment it's more important to look at the calendar and I think maybe change the calendar and add more women's races," she said after her victory on Friday.
More recently, ASO have come under fire because it was reluctant to provide the mandatory 45 minutes of live TV coverage of its women's Spring Classics, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and threatened to pull them out of the Women's WorldTour. Although there was live coverage of La Course, it has not offered the same kind of coverage of its two Spring Classics.
In June, the UCI announced the 22 races that will make up the 2020 Women's WorldTour that included Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. ASO later told Cyclingnews that it will provide TV coverage of both Spring Classics next year, in accordance with the UCI's requirements.
"Contrary to what have been written a few months ago, A.S.O. as always had the intention to respect the technical specifications requested by the U.C.I. for the women's World Tour races. And so there will be a television live coverage, as the other races of the women's WT races."
UCI President David Lappartient often told the press that he would like to see both a women's Tour de France, roughly 10 days in length, somewhat similar to that of the Giro Rosa. He has also called on ASO to organise a women's Paris-Roubaix.
"Only one racing day is clearly not enough," Lappartient told De Telegraaf, referring to La Course. "We are missing a large stage race for women that can be seen worldwide. The ASO organization of the Tour de France can really help us with that.
"I hope the organization can overcome the logistical problems that now stand in the way of a longer stage race during the men's Tour."