It is time for THE event of the cycling calendar. Everyone is excited for the Tour de France femmes avec Zwift (Short term TDFF). If you tell someone you are a professional cyclist, you tend to be asked whether you race the Tour de France. Now, as women, we can also finally say yes! The Tour de France for men has a long history and held its 110th edition this year. It also remains the third biggest sporting event in the world, behind the Olympics and football World Cup.
Last year’s edition for women was advertised as the first ever Tour de France femmes avec Zwift, which is technically incorrect if you look into the history books. There has already been a couple of Tours de France for women, just under different names and they did not continue over the years. This is just the first time the race is also organised by the ASO, which is also responsible for the Tour de France for men.
Fun fact: my mum raced the Tour de France Feminin back in 1985 and 1987. My mum was 22 years old in 1985 and they finished the last stage on the Champs-Elysées. I raced the TDFF last year and, as you may know, we started on the Champs-Elysées. Guess my age… exactly, I was 22 years old, too. It was fun swapping our experiences about racing on the Champs-Elysées. The cobbles are super bumpy (I don´t want to imagine how my mum must have suffered on the thin wheels and heavy bikes. I can’t complain with my comfortable and fast Foil RC) and the drag up to the finish is quite mean. It looks just flat on television, but believe me, it´s harder than it looks. So my mum could prepare me for that upfront pretty well.
Unfortunately, this year I am not selected to race the TDFF, but on the other hand, my mum also had a break in between her two participations. So it gives me hope for next year and would create another funny match between my mum’s story and mine. She also has experience of racing up the Tourmalet, which the riders will see this year in Stage 7. From her experience, she advises use your energy smartly. It is a long way up to the finish, so you need to pace yourself well.
Moving from my mum’s experience to my own – last year I was of course super excited getting selected. The hype was huge before the race. I was wondering a bit why everyone was hyping up this race so much more than any other race. What makes it so much more special than, for example, the Giro Donne, which has even more stages and has existed for us way longer?
After experiencing the race myself, however, I now have the answer. The media attention of the race is so much bigger than for any other race. A bigger reach to the people creates so much more opportunities, because only with attention can we create something for our sport. Live coverage, which got shown not only on paid platforms like Eurosport or GCN for example, does reach people who normally wouldn’t watch. By catching their attention “accidentally” even, we have the chance to draw people into our sport.
The Tour is also raced differently to other stage races. Everyone is a little more willing to fight and go all in. Everyday gets raced as if it were a one-day race. If you look at my results, you will spot that I didn´t finish the TDFF, because I was out of the time limit on the second last day. I missed it by only 5 seconds, which was quite disappointing for me. But I don’t regret anything. I simply couldn’t ride any harder and I found my limits. It will be a day I will never forget and I certainly learned a lot of lessons (not just on this day). One of them is that a grupetto needs to work together. My group, after we done two climbs, didn’t work well together in the valley. But flat and downhill parts are the parts when a dropped rider needs to be fast, because we lose time on the climbs. In my group, the commitment wasn’t given and so I invested a lot, together with one other rider. As it turned out, we reached the bottom of the climb exhausted and even got dropped from our small group. I am truly grateful us two stayed together at least. Without her, I probably wouldn’t even have reached the top, I have never felt that exhausted before. The power of sticking together can give you little wings, but even our wings were 5 seconds too slow for that day!
Something that also made the Tour memorable for me were the spectators. Of course, people cheer for the first riders, but even when we were around half an hour behind, they still cheered for us like we were racing for the win. Their joy made me forget the suffering and I will never forget the ”Allez les filles” and “courage” shouts! Hearing those phrases still gives me goosebumps.
Being outside the time limit gave me the opportunity to change sides and watch the last stage as a spectator. I spoke to other spectators and it was kind of an eye-opener for me. It made me realise that we have the power to inspire people “just” by doing what we love: racing and fighting either for the win, or just to be within the time limit. We strengthen their belief that anything is possible; that discipline and willpower can get you anywhere. That women are capable of doing the same things as men. I think this experience was the most valuable for me ,because it changed my perspective of my job. I ride my bike and race for my own pleasure, but with doing that I can have a positive impact on society.
I can’t wait to watch and cheer for all the girls out there!
See you soon,