When the Tour de France Femmes sets out from underneath the Eiffel Tower on Sunday, it will mark the culmination of a years-long campaign for its existence.
"It feels like it’s been a long time coming...so I’m just looking forward to seeing it set off and finding out who’s going to wear that first yellow jersey," says Sarah Storey, a 17-time Paralympic champion and Britain’s most successful Paralympian.
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) has proved to be the most dominant sprinter this year, and she will be the overwhelming favourite to take that first maillot jaune, though she will face competition from the likes of Chiara Consonni (Valcar-Travel & Service) and Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo).
Storey, however, is looking forward to watching the French teams race on home soil. It is a course well-suited to FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Cecile Uttrup Ludwig and Marta Cavalli, full of short hills and multiple opportunities for aggressive riding.
"It’s a race that they’ve campaigned for in France with the Internationelles team riding one day ahead of the men for the past number of years, almost a decade," Storey says.
"All the French teams in the race, as in the men’s race, have that opportunity to really make their mark on their home tour and I think that will be one of those opportunities."
Alongside the French teams, the Tour de France Femmes is an opportunity for the French riders to perform on home roads. Juliette Labous (Team DSM) showed her impressive form at the Giro Donne, winning on the summit finish at the Passo Maniva while experienced riders such as Aude Biannic (Movistar) will be tasked with helping Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) to overall victory.
But, given the grandeur of the stage, it is not just the French riders who will be seeking an impressive result.
"I think there’s a lot of firepower from lots of different directions," Storey says. "Obviously SD Worx are always well-drilled, as are Trek-Segafredo… Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) will also want to stake a claim given the history she’s had in La Course and in general as one of the most iconic female cyclists over the past decade or so."
Watching the exploits of these riders on cycling’s biggest stage will encourage more young women to become more involved in the sport.
Storey’s involvement with youth development stretches back to her time in swimming when she coached the North West disability swimming squad. Since switching to cycling, she has established the Skoda DSI Academy which provides an opportunity for young women who haven’t had the same experiences as those who grew up cycling.
The Academy is part of a broader trend that is reshaping the early careers of women in cycling.
"We know that the women’s U23 peloton is starting to get the opportunities more than they have done in the past with separate jerseys at national championships for example and the recently announced the stage race Tour of l’Avenir," Storey says.
For the peloton lining up in Paris, the gravity of racing a women’s Tour de France is a tale that can be passed down through the generations.
"They will be able to be there at the start and explain what it means because maybe some of the younger teenagers aren’t quite as aware of some of the inequalities that have been at the top of the women’s side of the sport over the last two decades or more," Storey says.
"So I think they are at a turning point, there are new doors opening and it’s incredibly exciting for them."
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