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Women are back in the Tour de France, but the race for fairness remains

Susan B. Anthony said, “I think [the bicycle] has done more to empower women than anything else in the world.”

While the invention at the time gave the suffragette and her contemporaries a new level of independence, this week the wheel came full circle with a monumental victory: the return of a women’s Tour de France after 33 years.

In the first Tour de France Women with Zwift, which started July 24 and ends July 31, we celebrate the progress of women in cycling, but recognize that this is just the beginning of equality on the circuit. .

The men’s race, the Tour de France, is the most-watched annual sporting event in the world with an estimated total audience of 3.5 billion, comparable to events like the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

The women’s race got off to a good start, attracting 3 million viewers who tuned into French TV to watch 144 riders start Stage 1 on Sunday. For context, last year’s men’s Tour averaged 3.8 million viewers on French TV over the 21 days of racing.

This visibility is a game-changer – the last women’s Tour was halted three decades ago due to lack of media coverage and sponsorship – it presents a vital opportunity for greater gender parity in cycling’s most prestigious race.

Pay attention to gaps

There are several stark differences between the female and male races, all of which perpetuate wage inequality.

Logistically, the men’s race lasts 13 days longer than the women’s: 21 days against 8 days. The cycling distances of each stage are also on average 50 to 100 km shorter for women.

In the media, the men’s race receives coverage from start to finish of each stage, averaging nearly six hours a day, while women’s coverage is less than three hours a day.

These three main differences translate into significantly less visibility for female cyclists, which means less publicity for corporate sponsors whose logos get significantly less airtime.

This dynamic explains the stark pay gap – the total prize money for the men’s Tour de France this year was €2.2m ($2.7m) with Denmark’s Jonas Vingaard receiving €430,000 ($528,000 ) of the prize money.

The prize money for the women’s race is considerably less at €250,000 ($253,000), with the winner receiving €50,000 ($50,823) from the pot – a sum that is only a third of the men’s winning prize.

This disparity resembles the early days of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, when we saw top female athletes working multiple jobs in order to keep playing. Finally, after multiple World Cup titles, Olympic gold medals, world-renowned rankings and record ratings, the USWNT reached a landmark collective bargaining agreement in May with US Soccer to ensure equal playing payouts for all. the players.

Fortunately, organizations like the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – the world governing body for cycling – have recently introduced minimum salary requirements for professional cyclists, a step closer to parity.

“The creation of the UCI Women’s World Tour a few years ago ensured that women’s teams would have the funding to support full-time athletes by imposing minimum wages which have gradually increased as the circuit has grown. ‘is established and successful,” said the Tour de France. Female contestant Lily Williams said in a statement to Know Your Value.

Williams had to keep a part-time job until this year and also received a stipend from USA Cycling as a member of the national team.

The UCI’s goal is to eventually achieve the men’s professional minimum in 2023. The minimum wage for female World Tour riders was $21,000 in 2020, $28,000 in 2021 and $31,000 in 2022 with elements such as health insurance, maternity leave, life insurance and paid holidays also added.

However, pros like Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos, who won Stage 2 this week, still earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

Visibility matters.

When live racing was halted for the 2020 Tour de France, Zwift, a digital training platform with gaming capabilities, connected cyclists around the world through virtual competition in partnership with the current Tour organizing body , Amaury Sport Organization (ASO).

This catalyzed the return of women’s cycling by proving that the fans and competitors were an important force. In addition, there was total parity in the virtual competition between the best women’s and men’s teams on the World Tour: same distances, purse and distribution.

“We’ve seen the number of women riding Zwift increase by more than 120% from March 2020 to March 2021,” Kate Veronneau, Zwift’s director of women’s content and strategy, told Know Your Value. “While we are happy to see the increase in cycling in general, and in particular among women, at the start of the pandemic, we are working to ensure that cycling is a long-term trend, not a temporary bubble.”

Image: Tour de France Women, Marianne Vos
The Dutch rider of the Jumbo Visma team, Marianne Vos, celebrates her yellow jersey as leader of the general classification on the podium at the end of the 2nd stage of the new edition of the Tour de France women’s cyclist, on July 25, 2022.Jeff Pachoud / AFP-Getty Images

Although having two and a half hours of coverage per day for the Women’s Tour de France is less than for the men, it does mean that athletes, teams and sponsors will have a chance to connect with the fans. Exposure is the ultimate power play for progress.

Data shows that female sports fans are loyal and eager for more opportunities to engage. While the women’s race takes place over eight days – starting at the Eiffel Tower and ending in style on the Champs Elysees – it begins the same day the men’s race ends with the intention of building loyal fans across genders.

The peloton as an equity strategy

When content is consistent and easy to find, female sports fans demonstrate they will show up and tune in. For example, after CBS reached a landmark deal in 2020 to air and broadcast all National Women’s Soccer League games in the United States and abroad, fans consumed content in record numbers.

Following this example, public access to the Tour de Femmes With Zwift is the top priority to elevate women’s professional cycling and ensure gender balance.

NBC Sports has announced that it will show the Tour de France Women with Zwift 2022 and 2023 and Discovery Sports will bring more women’s cycling to viewers than any other broadcaster in the world.

“The level of collaboration between the sponsors, those who drive the women’s investment and growth strategy, is at a level I’ve never experienced,” Veronneau said. “We are collaborative, intentional and aware of the entire women’s sports movement.”

Female sports fans are clearly loyal and want to represent their community by investing money in the brands that promote them. For example, this investment was highlighted after the USWNT’s fourth FIFA World Cup victory in 2019. Nike saw a 500% increase in jersey sales and was unable to meet to that demand, according to Sports Lab Innovation’s The Fan Project.

In a road cycle race, the “peloton” is the main group or pack of riders who, by staying close together, can save energy. This training feels like the groundswell of support for women in sport. As we have seen in women’s basketball and soccer, women’s cycling has found its moment to break through and achieve equity.

We can all play a part in advocating for the pursuit of parity in this sport by following the race, the athletes, and sharing the numbers out loud.

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