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‘The Tour de France Femmes is different to any other races’ - Rachel Hedderman

PARIS FRANCE JULY 24 Sanne Cant of Belgium and Team PlanturPura Christina Schweinberger of Austria and Team PlanturPura Elisa Balsamo of Italy and Team Trek Segafredo Eugenia Bujak of Slovenia and UAE Team ADQ Audrey CordonRagot of France and Team Trek Segafredo Margarita Victoria Garcia Caellas of Spain and UAE Team ADQ Nicole Frain of Australia and Team Parkhotel Valkenburg Frances Janse Van Rensburg of South Africa and Team Stade Rochelais Charente Maritime Petra Stiasny of Switzerland and Team Roland Cogeas EdelweissIsraelPremier Tech and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Denmark Team Fdj Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope and The Peloton prior to the 1st Tour de France Femmes 2022 Stage 1 a 817km stage from Paris Tour Eiffel to Paris Champslyses TDFF UCIWWT on July 24 2022 in Paris France Photo by Dario BelingheriGetty Images
Stage 1 of Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift began in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

The scale and the importance of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is undeniable and ‘you’re not going to fool anybody’ otherwise, says Rachel Hedderman.

Speaking in Paris on the morning of the race, the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB director-turned-manager underlined that it would be hard to convince her riders that this was just another race in the face of the huge fanfare in Paris.

"You’re not going to fool anybody that this is just the same as, you know, Joe Martin Stage Race,” she said. “You can say what you like to try and remind riders, but they still see all of this. Yesterday the whole rider briefing and the photos and everything, it’s different to any other races.”

As well as the scale of the race as a whole, it is clear each team is bringing more people and more resources to what has already become a centre point of the women’s calendar.

“For us, one of the biggest things is that I’m used to being at a race with a mechanic, two swannies and me and that’s it,” Hedderman said. “And here, we have 10 or more staff and a lot of sponsors with us. Even just the team, the whole set up, instead of it being the normal 10 people, I think we have 30 people here.

“Right from the start, it’s a completely different scale from what we’re used to.”

Part of that is due to the fact that teams now have more access to such resources, due to an increase in sponsorship that has emerged since the announcement of the Tour de France Femmes.

“No sponsor is specifically saying ‘because there’s a women’s Tour, we will now sponsor a women’s team’,” Hedderman said. “It’s just that the profile of women’s cycling is growing that much, and the Tour is an indication of that. It’s a step up in worldwide visibility of women’s cycling and that’s what gets the sponsors involved.”

Whilst a lot has been made about the Tour de France and the perceived progress of women’s cycling, Hedderman considers that the commercial growth of the sport does not necessarily mean a change in the racing or level.

“When we were racing, we raced just as aggressively as the raiders do now so that’s not different,” she said. “The actual dynamics of the race itself are similar to what they were before, it’s just that now, more people can see it. That’s been the biggest change, the visibility, not the race itself.”

However, there are some limitations to the scale of the race that are already emerging. Many riders spoke excitedly before the race about being on the podium in Paris, but the women’s race will not feature on the main, iconic stage 21 podium. The post-stage presentations were made on an additional stage, and there will be no handover of the yellow jersey on Sunday evening.

Furthermore, much of the infrastructure around the race was still being set up even within the last hour of the women’s race, and the VIP stands that line the Champs-Élysées were not welcoming guests in the early afternoon, schedules seemingly still aligned to the men’s race.

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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.

With contributions from