Cycling - Women's peloton set for La Course

Hours before the men's Tour de France champion is crowned, Marianne Vos will lead the charge to win a new one-day race.

Reuters
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Marianne Vos is one of the favourites for La Course (Reuters)

'La Course by Le Tour', an 89-km ride around Paris, was set up by organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) in response to a petition, signed by more than 97,000 people, calling for the return of the women's Tour de France for the first time since 1989.

"Last year I got a tad grumpy because I was snowed under with hundreds and hundreds of emails, some by the top names in women's cycling saying, 'We want something to happen'," race director Christian Prudhomme told reporters.

"When we met them they spoke about bike racing but also about exposure and media coverage."

The women's event on Sunday is to be broadcast in 157 countries and prize money will be just under that for a Tour de France stage, the winner collecting 6,000 euros ($8,100) compared to 8,000 euros in the men's equivalent.

"I'm really enthusiastic about La Course because we will get a lot of media attention," Olympic road cycling champion Vos said.

"Every year you make a step it's a process. This is really a big step forward," added Vos, who has won a total of 16 world titles on the road, track and in cyclocross.

South African Ashleigh Moolman, a multiple African champion, told Reuters it was tough to make ends meet as a professional female cyclist.

"It is challenging. I'm not only referring to the physical and mental challenges that cycling at the top level poses but the challenges to survive financially," she said.

"As a female cyclist I have had to be quite creative when it comes to making a living from my sport."

The 28-year-old will not be riding in La Course but her team, Hitec Products, are in the race.

"Luckily I studied engineering before I started cycling as a pro so I learnt many valuable skills through my degree which have helped me to raise the support and funding to cycle full time," she explained.

"It is even more challenging coming from the southern hemisphere and competing in Europe.

"Not only do I have to leave my home and family to live in a foreign country but it also makes it extra challenging for me to give exposure to local endorsements."

It has been easier for Marion Rousse who hails from northern France, near the border with cycling-mad Belgium.

"I grew up going to cycling races," the former French champion told Reuters.

"But I still had to go to my first cycling club on the sly as my father thought it would be too difficult because I was very young," added Rousse, who works as a podium girl on the Tour de France.

"I would train with the boys and I liked it. I did my first women races in Belgium.

"Even though I liked to race with the boys it's better to race with women."

Rousse said the female riders had received backing from the sport's governing body.

"The International Cycling Union (UCI) has made efforts recently, it has been listening to us but we must not stop here. We want something else after La Course," she added.

Moolman said most of the female riders had to rely on individual backers to make ends meet.

"Although there are a handful of women's UCI teams who can provide good infrastructure and equipment, most female cyclists rely on personal sponsors to make a living," she explained.

"Some women earn a good living from cycling and others earn nothing and have to work as well as ride, yet we all ride in the same peloton.

"The amazing thing about women's cycling is the passion in our peloton. Most of us are racing our bikes, not because of the financial rewards, but purely because we love what we do and we want to inspire others through our stories," said Moolman.

"I would love to see a levelling of the playing field within the women's peloton and this will only come when our sport receives the exposure it deserves."

La Course by Le Tour is making the first strides in that direction.

"The ASO has taken a big step forward. They opened the doors to women cycling," said Vos.

Moolman agreed with the Dutch great.

"I think women's cycling has made huge progress in terms of the standard of our competition and the attention we have been attracting over the past few years," she said.

"It is very rewarding to see the progress the women's peloton is making and to think there is some light at the end of the tunnel."

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