As It Happens

New women's Tour de France is a win, but this pro cyclist says the race isn't over yet

Former pro cyclist Kathryn Bertine says she will be cheering loudly from the sidelines next summer as the next generation of women take part in the first Tour de France for women since the 1980s. 

The Tour de France Femmes will take place after the men's race in June 2022

Professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine competes at the 2013 world championships for road racing in Florence, Italy. (Submitted by Kathryn Bertine)

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Former pro cyclist Kathryn Bertine will be cheering loudly from the sidelines next summer, as the next generation takes part in the first Tour de France for women since the 1980s.

"You're watching the best of the best compete," Bertine, a retired cyclist for Saint Kitts and Nevis who has been fighting for women to participate in the elite race for years, told As It Happens Carol Off.

"And maybe we have more ponytails than the men's peloton, but in terms of power and exciting races, we are absolutely even." 

The Tour de France Femmes will follow the men's race, taking place on July 24, 2022 from Champs-Élysées in Paris, according to the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), which organizes the Tour.

The men's race is three weeks long, while the women's race will be eight days. The route has not been announced. 

A pack of cyclists ascends the Mur-de-Bretagne hill during the sixth stage of the 105th edition of the Tour de France between Brest and Mur-de-Bretagne Guerledan, western France on July 12, 2018. (AFP via Getty Images)

Bertine says that while she is excited that women finally won the right to compete in the "pinnacle event of cycling," there is still a long way to go. She would like to see the length of the race extended to three weeks, and for it to be properly funded by the ASO. 

The Tour held a women's race from 1984 to 1989, running parallel with the men's race before later being shortened. Various other versions have been tried but they were usually underfunded.

In an interview with The Guardian, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said that this new race "mustn't lose money or it will end up like the Tour in the '80s and it will die." 

It's extremely exciting. It's extremely powerful. And we are no longer racing in petticoats in the 1800s- Former pro cyclist Kathryn Bertine

Bertine says that mindset is "pretty outdated," and that the reason the former race failed is because ASO failed to invest in women by not broadcasting their race. 

She points to Wimbledon and the Olympics, where men and women receive equal coverage, as the bar the Tour should follow.

"Investing in women, not just in cycling, but in all sports so that they get equal coverage to their male counterparts is what makes the sport succeed," she said. 

Bertine says she has not heard any guarantee that the women's race will receive coverage, but she remains hopeful.

ASO currently organizes La Course, an elite women's race — typically one day — held in Paris coinciding with the Tour. Bertine says La Course is a success because it was broadcast to more than 125 countries in past years. 

Riders from the Donnons des Elles au Vélo Jour -1 (which roughly means 'Give the girls a bike') pose for a photo to celebrate completing the final stage of the Tour de France route in 2019. The two teams, incorporating 23 female cyclists, rode the entire route one day ahead of the professional men’s stage race to highlight inequality in the sport. (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Skoda)

Online fitness platform Zwift has signed on to the Tour de France Femmes in a four-year sponsorship. 

"I really believe the women's peloton puts on some of the most exciting bike racing to watch and it deserves a much bigger platform to exhibit these talents and skills," Zwift chief executive Eric Min told the Associated Press. 

"I do very much believe that the fans, the sponsors and the athletes will not let this race die," Bertine says. 

Marianne Vos, of the Netherlands celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win La Course by Le Tour de France, a women's cycling race, in Pau, France on July 19, 2019. (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

Prudhomme also told The Guardian that running a women's race is "more simple [because you] don't need 50 hyper-steep climbs, you can be more natural about it. Women's cycling is far less controlled than men's."

Bertine responded by saying Prudhomme needs to "wake up and step out of the 1950s." 

"The racing is absolutely nowhere near as outdated as he portrays. It's extremely exciting. It's extremely powerful. And we are no longer racing in petticoats in the 1800s." 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from the Associated Press. Interview with Kathryn Bertine produced by  Niza Lyapa Nondo. 

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