Multi-discipline world champion Marianne Vos is among four cyclists spearheading a campaign for women to be included in the Tour de France, starting next year.
Vos, former world champion Emma Pooley, world champion ironman triathlete Chrissie Wellington and Kathryn Bertine have published a letter to Amaury Sports Organisation and Tour director Christian Prudhomme with an accompanying petition outlining the reasons they believe that women should have an event running in conjunction with the men in what is the most recognisable cycling event in the world.
Such an event is not a new concept. Tour Féminin, a French grand tour for women, ran from 1984 through 2009 albeit with considerable difficulty and three years where it was disbanded (1990, 1991 and 2004). Among the issues were unpaid prize money, excessively long transfers and stages, scheduling issues, poor sponsorship, and a legal battle with ASO subsidiary Société du Tour de France over its then-name, the Women's Tour de France.
The recently-held Giro Rosa, won by the USA's Mara Abbott, now exists as the only grand tour on the women's calendar. It too was threatened with complete extinction until a new organiser stepped in earlier this year guaranteeing it will run through 2016.
In less than 24 hours, the petition had generated the support of just under 6000 people.
"We seek not to race against the men, but to have our own professional field running in conjunction with the men's event, at the same time, over the same distances, on the same days, with modifications in start/finish times so neither gender's race interferes with the other," the letter states.
Such an event would force a revision of the UCI rules which currently requires women's stage races to be no more than 130km in length (110km less than under-23 men), while a special waiver allows one stage only to be 150km. Stage races max out at eight days unless permission is granted by the UCI Management Committee.
"Having a women's pro field at the Tour de France will also create an equal opportunity to debunk the myths of physical "limitations" placed upon female athletes," the lobbyists' letter continues. "In the late 1960s people assumed that women couldn't run the marathon. 30 years on we can look back and see how erroneous this was. Hopefully 30 years from now, we will see 2014 as the year that opened people's eyes to true equality in the sport of cycling."
Vos admitted that it would be a huge ask to get the event up and running for 12 months' time.
"Next year is perhaps short notice, but we hope at least that we can get the ball rolling," the Dutchwoman told telegraaf.nl.
The letter and petition can be found here.
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