From the first Tour du Monde to the women's Tour de France
We at buycyle would like to use this year's International Women's Day to recall these stories and take a closer look at the ménage-à-trois between bicycles, women and feminism.
A history of women, bicycles and feminism
Annie Kopchovsky and Annemiek van Vleuten: The first woman to circumnavigate the globe on a bicycle in 1895 and the winner of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes. The two are separated by just under 150 years, during which the history of the bicycle and the history of women have been directly linked and have driven each other forward. At buycyle, we would like to use this year's International Women's Day to recall these stories and take a closer look at the ménage-à-trois between bicycles, women and feminism. As early as the 19th century, women's rights activist Susan Anthony noted:
"The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world."
1. on the bike towards freedom
When the bicycle was invented in 1817, it quickly became a cult object and must-have for Western high society. The new man of the world rides a bicycle. Emphasis on man. Women who want to get from A to B still have to rely on their spouse, father or brother, because the newfangled means of transport is considered unseemly for female society.
Nevertheless, the first women in their lush Victorian skirts swing themselves into the saddle and thus gain an unprecedented independence. The bicycle is relatively cheap, easily available and for the first time allows full control over one's own mobility, a revolutionary freedom for women. From the middle of the 19th century, it thus becomes a thorn in the side of the male upper class. Women who cycle are seen as rebellious, and even medical concerns are raised about the interaction of the female anatomy and the bicycle saddle: Cycling could make one infertile and was ultimately an egregious form of "inconspicuous masturbation." Thus, the home hearth is still the safest place for these delicate creatures...
But Frau doesn't take this lying down. She vehemently demands more space in public space, more say and equal rights, and the bicycle becomes the symbol and vehicle of emancipation and the women's rights movement. Bicycle clubs are founded that become important places for feminist ideas, the suffragettes demonstrate on bicycles for more women's rights, and the impractical skirts slowly become the so-called "bloomers": wide pants that women wear under their skirts.
A woman in pants. A scandal that makes the late 19th century hold its breath and at the same time represents a fundamental feminist achievement. Not only because bloomers so fundamentally contradict the prevailing notion of femininity at the time, but also because they make mobility on a bicycle even easier and more accessible, and thus make cycling even more widespread among women.
2. pioneers of bicycle culture
Maria Ward took care of even easier accessibility in 1896. Because a woman only achieves absolute independence on a bicycle when she can take sole responsibility for it. In Ward's manual "Bicycling for Ladies," she covers everything a woman needs to know about bicycles: From buying a bike to riding it to repairing and maintaining it. Thus, there is no longer any need to refer to men when mechanical skill is required.
Because if there's one thing cycling women can't stand, it's men trying to tell them what they can and can't do: When she overhears two gentlemen in Boston make a bet in 1894 that a woman would never be able to circumnavigate the globe on a bicycle, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky drops everything to prove them wrong. The 23-year-old Jewish immigrant promptly leaves her husband and three children and sets off on her 21 kg bike. In just 15 months, she succeeds in her tour around the world. Back in Boston, she has since become the ultimate role model for cyclists and women's rights activists.
Meanwhile, Black cyclist Katherine "Kittie" Knox also makes history when she protests the racial segregation of the League of American Bicyclists, dressed entirely in men's cycling gear. Despite the "color ban" in effect to prohibit black people from membership, she asserts herself in the club and insists on her right to attend. Her protest puts the issues of racism and sexism at the center of public cycling debates.
3. women in cycling
From the 1920s, women's cycling races become more and more popular and widespread, even if they were already organized before that. As early as 1897, the Danish woman Susanne Lindberg broke a world record of the time by covering a distance of 1000 kilometers in 54 hours and 30 minutes. The record of a male colleague, to be precise. But it takes another 50 years before women's cycling is internationally and officially recognized.
In 1951, the first official bicycle race for women takes place in the GDR, in 1958 women are allowed to participate in the UCI World Championships for the first time, and it is not until 1984 that the Olympic Committee recognizes women's road racing as an official discipline. Connie Carpenter-Phinney, already US and world champion, is the first female cyclist to win Olympic gold that year.
She was followed by numerous female cycling heroes, who since then have shaped the sport of cycling and brought it brand new attention time and time again. To this day, the legend Jeannie Longo is the woman who has participated in the most competitions and who helped women's cycling gain popularity through her impressive sporting achievements. At the age of an unfathomable 63, she last won the World Time Trial Championship in 2021 - for the 13th time in her career. This victory was followed by an Olympic gold medal, 38 world records, 13 world championships won and three victories in the women's Tour de France.
Or rather... three victories in the "Grande Boucle Féminine," the official name of the French national tour held by the Société du Tour de France from 1984 to 2009. But what was initially supposed to be the female counterpart of the most important cycling race in the cycling world quickly experienced a rapid downward spiral. Taking place under ever-changing organizers and names, the race is discontinued in 2009 due to an apparent lack of significance. It takes a whole 13 more years until there is a real Tour de France for women in 2022: The Tour de France Femmes. Finally.
It's hard to imagine bicycle culture today without women, and not just in the sporting arena. Arguably the most powerful woman in the bicycle industry has to be Bonnie Tu: Face and chairwoman of the largest global bicycle manufacturer, Giant , and founder of the first women-only bicycle brand. According to Tu, Liv is meant to be more than just another brand, but a place of community for women on bikes. The brand sponsors the Womens World Tour Team Liv Racing and is still run by Tu today, although this influential woman is now over 70 years old.
Without the bicycle, women and feminism would not be where we know them today. Shortly after its invention, the newfangled means of transport became a central symbol of female freedom, independence and emancipation, driving the feminist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and still doing so today with events such as the "Critical Mass" or the "Fancy Woman Bike Ride". At the same time, impressive new women are also driving the cycling scene in the opposite direction, standing up for the rights of cyclists, being active in innovation, industry and cycling, and thus enriching the culture of cyclists worldwide.
So let's remember Anny Kopchovsky and Kittie Knox, Bonnie Tu and Jeannie Longo, and thank them briefly the next time we get in the saddle. Not just today on International Women's Day, but all year long. On that note, we at buycyle wish you, now that we know the two things are so closely linked: Happy cycling, happy international women's day!
Women's Tour de France | buycycle
The future of cycling: Are women in the Tour de France?
Equality is on everyone's lips these days. And with good reason, because men are considered more influential in many areas of society. This has also been the case in sports in recent decades. For as successful as many female athletes are, they are rarely reported on in the media. This can be seen, for example, in soccer, basketball and motor sports. The country's men dominate. There are several reasons for this. For example, the stereotypical ideas we have about gender roles. Or the lack of sponsorship of many women's teams, which in turn can be explained by the lack of media attention. But the Olympics are a positive example of how women can also excel in sports. If you follow the Tour de France, the biggest cycling race in the world, as a cycling fan, you only see male athletes here, too. But since last year, there have been renewed efforts to push women's cycling further. Maybe you've wondered if there are any female riders in the Tour de France. Here you can find out about the role of women in the world's biggest cycling race.
What is the Tour de France?
The Tour de France is one of the most popular and challenging cycling races in the world. Every year in July, over 150 cyclists compete in the event. Between 20 and 22 teams provide about nine riders each. Professional cycling teams from all over the world are represented. The competition begins on a Saturday and ends three weeks later on Sunday, so it usually lasts 21 days with two additional rest days. 21 stages lead across France. The route varies each year, with cyclists covering approximately 3,500 km. What makes the Tour de France particularly demanding is that the individual stages are very long and often lead through special terrain such as the Alps or Pyrenees. Some stages also lead through neighboring countries of France such as Spain or Belgium.
The Tour de France has now been around for 120 years, the first Tour de France was held in 1903. Of course, the bike race has changed a lot over the decades. The first Tour de France was created by Henri Desgrange. In this, the Tour de France was a marketing tool to draw more attention to a French sports newspaper. At that time there were six stages with very demanding climbs. The route led from Paris to Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and back to Paris. Of the 60 riders who competed in the first Tour de France in 1903, only 21 reached the finish line. Maurice Garin was the first winner of the Tour de France, at that time he competed on a bike with a steel frame and wooden rims. That is unthinkable today. Nowadays, the cycling race attracts millions of spectators every year and racing cyclists from all over the world compete. The athletes use the most modern bikes, which are particularly aerodynamic, light and stiff. Particularly narrow tires, as well as the special construction of the racing bikes, are designed for minimum air resistance and maximum speed. Not only the frames are designed for competition, but also the pedals, saddle, handlebars and other bicycle components are meticulously taken care of. Because in competitions, small nuances in the equipment of the athletes can decide about victory and defeat. Because in the best training are all cyclists who compete there.
In the Tour de France there is an overall winner. This is determined by the lowest total time requirement for all stages. Separately, other athletes are honored, for example, for the fastest stage time, the best climbers and the best sprinters. Only the best cyclists are invited to the Tour de France, which is another way the Tour de France gets its prestigious reputation. There are three different types of stages in the Tour de France. In the flat stages, sprinters fight for the day's victory. Here it is about speed, but also about the right tactics. In the mountain stages, many meters of altitude are covered, which makes them particularly demanding. Endurance is required, but also the "climbing ability", i.e. to climb strong climbs with the bike. The third type of stage is the time trial. Each rider races individually against the clock. Here the focus is on strength and endurance. The Tour de France made a major contribution to making cycling popular worldwide.
Can women participate in the Tour de France?
From pictures and television, the Tour de France is known as the Tour of France, in which only men participate. But what about the women? Are they also allowed to compete or is there an extra start date for them? Women are not allowed to compete directly in the Tour de France. What is normal at the Olympic Games, and that is that both men and women compete against each other in sporting challenges, does not take place at the Tour de France. In 2021, however, there was an opportunity for women to participate in a one-day race called "La Course by Tour de France" during the Tour de France. Women cyclists launched this idea to make the desire for a Tour de France for women heard. One day before the start of the men's Tour de France, 13 women entered for the first stage. Not only were the female athletes paid less than their male counterparts, but sections of the route were not closed to them. The women riders, however, were rewarded differently for their activism. Many hundreds of women rode sections of the route, and there was also the Tour de France Femmes in 2022. Effort and courage paid off. Another option for women's cycling is the "Giro d'Italia." It is considered the second largest stage race in cycling. Here, too, women have been able to demonstrate their skills since 1988.
When was the last women's Tour de France?
In 2022, the Tour de France Femmes will take place. So, for the first time since 2009, there was a comparable event in women's cycling to the Tour de France. But: Unlike the traditional Tour de France, the Tour de France Femmes lasts only one week and not three weeks. In 2022, the start was on the last day of the race for men. The first stage for women ended on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. On the same day, the 109th winner of the men's Tour de France was crowned there. There were 24 teams from all over the world taking part. In total, there were 144 female athletes. Annemiek van Vleuten, who had already recorded victories at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, was considered the favorite. Seven German cyclists also took part in the Women's Tour, including Liane Lippert and Laura Süßemilch.
How many times was there a women's Tour de France?
Tour de France Femmes 2022 was the first time since 2009 that there was an attempt to offer the most popular cycling race in the world for women as well. The director of the women's race was Marion Rousse. From 1984 to 2009, there was also a series of events. It was called "Grande Boucle Féminine." As public interest was limited, the cycling race was cancelled several times during this period. In 2009, the series was discontinued because the race had lost much of its importance. The Tour de France Femmes is already being planned for 2023, so it is to be hoped that women in cycling will continue to be offered the platform they deserve to demonstrate their skills in the future. Either way, the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was a big step forward for the women's professional peloton.
Who won the women's Tour de France?
2022 Annemiek van Vleuten took the overall victory. She was already considered the favorite in the run-up to the race. Despite three wheel changes on the last stage, the 39-year-old was able to take the victory. The Dutch winner is thus considered the first female winner in the history of the Tour de France Femmes, even though comparable races already took place a few years ago. By the way, a special feature of the Tour de France, which will also be retained in the Tour de France Femmes, is the yellow jersey. Every day, the yellow jersey is presented to the athlete who leads in the individual overall standings. This was also the case, for example, for the overall winner Annemiek van Vleuten when she won the Vosges stage, which is one of the mountain stages. Dutchwoman Marianne Vos also received the yellow jersey. Other important places during the 2022 competition were the Bar-Sur-Aube stage, la super planche des belles filles, Le Markstein, Saint-dié-des-vosges, Rosheim, Bar-le-duc, Épernay, Meaux, Nice, Provins, Reims, Sélestat or Troyes.