(AFP) – Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme rejected Friday a call from a leading British politician to stage a parallel women’s version of the race next year.
Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, wrote an open letter to Prudhomme last week urging him to look at staging a women’s event at next year’s Grand Depart, the opening stage of the tour, which is being staged in the northern English county of Yorkshire.
Harman, who has campaigned for women’s rights throughout her career, saw her letter to Prudhomme backed by a 70,000 strong petition.
But Prudhomme said simply bolting on a women’s race to a Tour that is already full to capacity was not practical.
“It would have been better for (Harman) to talk to us at the end of one of the stages or after another race,” said Prudhomme on a visit to Yorkshire on Friday. “We are not the only organisers of cycling in the world.
“Also, it would have been much easier to talk to us directly instead of a petition and (finding out by) opening your mailbox one morning and you don’t know what has happened.
“We are open to everything. Having women’s races is very important for sure. (But) the Tour is huge and you cannot have it bigger and bigger and bigger down the road — it is impossible.”
The petition was organised by Britain’s former world champion and Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley, who won the Grande Boucle, widely viewed as the closest thing to a women’s Tour, when it was last staged in 2009.
Meanwhile Britain’s Brian Cookson, campaigning to become the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), was keen to have some sort of women’s event but warned against “mimicking” the men’s race.
“Women’s teams that are bolted onto men’s teams is not the only answer,” Cookson said. “”What I can do through my role in British Cycling and through the International Cycling Union is try to bring the parties together.
“That’s what I’m trying to do at the moment – to get the people who have been organising the petition together with the ASO (the Tour de France organisers), with my part of the UCI at the moment, and see what changes we need to make something like that feasible.”
He added: “Cycling, like most sports, has been traditionally male-dominated and I think we have to accept that we have to try a lot harder.
“I would like to see a women’s Tour de France. But I think you have to be very cautious about the terms and conditions and distances and so on, and make sure you do something that’s deliverable and sustainable rather than something that fails.”