Tour de France Femme: an uphill journey to equality in cycling


On the last day in July, Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten made history as the winner of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes - the first time in 33 years that the world’s best female racers have been given the chance to compete in a multi-stage version of the world’s greatest cycle race.

Watching 39-year-old van Vleuten win the re-booted Tour de France Femmes after clinching the final stage  by 30 seconds from fellow Dutchwoman Demi Vollering, from the comfort of her sofa in Sydney, was WOB co-founder and avid cycling fan Ruth Medd.

While Ruth says the female event was a long-time coming, there is still a huge way to go for women to achieve parity in the sport.  

“As a cyclist and cycling fan, I watch the Tour de France each year.  I remember being in Paris one year with my then 15-year-old daughter. She did French lessons in the morning, then we did one of the 10 top tourist sites each day and then back to our apartment where I watched the tour on TV,” recalls Ruth.

She said this year’s Tour de France Femmes was just as exciting to watch. “The recent stage of the Femme that I watched on SBS, was a mix of gravel ‘roads’, what looked like donkey tracks and better surfaces.  Gravel roads, from personal experience, are VERY challenging.  The Femmes found this also.  Much falling into the gravel!”

She agrees with journalist Juliet Macur, writing in the New York Times on 27 July 2022 in her article: At Tour de France Femmes, Itʼs a Steep Climb to Equality in which she sheds light on the situation of men and women professional cyclists. 

“Their headline is ‘A women’s Tour de France is back after 33 years — a sign of progress, contestants say, for a sport sorely in need of it.’

“WOB has been interested in sport for many years - in particular, the participation of women in sport leadership roles and the remuneration of sportswomen.”

When WOB started monitoring sport all of the metrics were poor. Our 2016 sports remuneration review showed that four sports only offered equal prize money for men and women: 

  • Equestrian – a mixed sport  
  • Snow skiing 
  • Athletics 
  • Grand slam tennis 

Since then, other sports have realised the rating power of female sport and sports are beginning to increase women’s remuneration/prize money. 

“Think of Sam Kerr and soccer. Her reported earnings are short of top male players but it is increasing. And think Australian cricket where then CEO James Sullivan made progress in the more equal remuneration of women players.  There is still a long way to go but top female cricketers are now remunerated to enable them to be a professional sportsperson – no second and third jobs.

“Sport is big business globally and is also part of Australian culture. It’s the path to board roles beyond sport. The recent WOB lunch in Sydney with Marina Go highlighted this, when she talked about how her board role with the Wests Tigers has proved to be a crucial stepping stone to many other board roles.”

But back to cycling: “The remuneration of female cyclists is poor. When Bridie O’Donnell achieved her world records there was little, or no remuneration. Traditionally female cycling competitions take a back seat to male competitions. 

As Juliet Macur writes in the New York Times article: “The women will get about $250,000, with the overall race winner receiving about $50,000. On the men’s side, the purse was more than $2million, with Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard winning more than $500,000 for finishing first. “There’s still a long way to go for women to achieve parity in the sport.

"The international cycling federation, for example, caps how far they can ride in one day, a distance that is much shorter than the men’s maximum. (The women’s Olympic road course, in another example, is 60 miles shorter than the men’s.) The men’s minimum salary on the World Tour is higher than the women’s, and the budgets for women’s teams are often a pittance compared to the men’s’”.

In 2022 Bridie O’Donnell replaced two of the long-term male SBS commentators. A medical doctor, and the current head of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation for the Victorian Government Bridie was the SBS’s first female commentator for the Tour de France. A big tick to SBS for realising that Bridie is a huge asset to their broadcast team - her commentary is well informed, strategic and exciting. 

Read more: Sportswormen win gold but still paid in bronze 

Latest newsRSS