Bertine: With the right will, week-long women’s Tour is achievable by 2015

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Kathryn Bertine, one of the core individuals behind the push for a women’s Tour de France, has said that she and others will continue working toward a multi-stage event, saying that more than just a single day race during the Grand Tours is needed.

She was responding to the recent news that another ASO event, the Vuelta a España, would also hold a one-day race for women in 2015.

While welcoming that announcement, she said that such events must be regarded as a first step rather than a final outcome.

“On one hand, it is fantastic that La Vuelta is coming on board the movement of adding a women’s race,” she told CyclingTips. “But it would be much better if they added more days… we’ve already proved our ‘one day’ point with La Course, Tour of California, Tour of Utah and more. We need these Grand Tours to take it up a notch and not just copycat ASO’s initiative.

“Right now is the most critical time for activism and progress. We cannot settle for one day, or that is all we’ll ever have. Not to mention, we run the danger of race promoters/owners taking a mindset of, ‘okay, we’ve got a women’s race, it makes our organization look good and maybe now the women will stop yapping about equality.’

“The movement for equality is a slippery slope. We can’t settle for crumbs and call it a victory, we’ve got to go after the whole pie. And better still, help build the bakery.”

In 2013 Bertine, Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley and multiple world triathlon champion Chrissie Wellington combined to form the pressure group Le Tour Entier and were able to secure almost 100,000 signatures on a petition for a women’s Tour.

ASO responded in February of this year by announcing that the single day La Course race would be held before the final stage of the Tour de France. That duly took place and was regarded as a big success.

In addition to that, Bertine has also helped to push for equal status by releasing the Half the Road documentary about the subject. This has raised awareness of the difference in how the men’s and women’s sides of the sport are treated, and argues the benefits of putting energy and commitment into developing the latter.

Several weeks ago Bloomberg quoted ASO chairman Jean-Etienne Amaury as saying that the company is looking for a backer to finance a week-long race. This was hailed by Specialized lululemon team owner and UCI women’s committee member Kristy Scrymgeour, who told CyclingTips that such a race could have a profound effect on the women’s wing of the sport.

“It would be huge if you have got a week of women’s cycling on TV,” Scrymgeour said. “This year it was broadcast all around the world. It got good ratings, and so a week of that would be fantastic.

“It would be amazing for teams to be able to go and say to their sponsors, ‘the team is going to be on TV for a week’ at the time of the year when cycling is at its peak.”

Bertine also welcomes Amaury’s comments and told CyclingTips that LeTour Entier was committed to helping ASO to bring the race about.

“We are in contact with ASO and have offered our expertise in sponsorship and planning,” she said. “We look forward to working with them to make the 2015 version of La Course an even greater success than the fantastic inaugural event.

“Personally, I’m thrilled to hear Jean-Etienne Amaury is considering the week-long option for 2015. While the costs of broadcasting and sponsorship are always initial hurdles for the first couple of years, the reality is that a great investment yields high return, and that’s what women’s pro cycling is–a great investment.”

Kathryn Bertine rode the 2014 La Course race for Wiggle Honda
Kathryn Bertine rode the 2014 La Course race for Wiggle Honda

She said that La Course and other races have proved that there is an audience for women’s events, and that the audience in turn presents an opportunity for sponsorship and for the media to get on board.

Bertine argues that those factors in turn could ‘create the potential for a lucrative return on investment.’

“For example, the week-long UCI Tour of Utah in the U.S. this past summer brought in over USD $20M in revenue. Imagine if there had been a women’s week-long contingent as well?,” she said.

“Sure, the initial costs of logistics may seem like money going out, but in the end, when it’s done right, the money comes in. Having the right people in place to connect the dots is critical, and we’d like to stay involved to help guide ASO and La Course into all it can be. We believe it can be both an incredible step forward for women’s sport, and a highly intelligent business investment.”

“I see the infrastructure as our solution”

Since Amaury spoke to Bloomberg about the possibility of a week-long race, both Tour director Christian Prudhomme and UCI President Brian Cookson have raised concerns about the infrastructure needed to run two multi-day events concurrently in July.

Bertine notes Prudhomme’s comments, but believes this shows a difference of opinion within ASO rather than a final decision.

“What we’re up against is a great example of how businesses operate… businesses are run by people. People have different opinions,” she said.

“Clearly, like any business, ASO has different people and there are different opinions, so the best strategy is to remember that when quoting an entire organization, one person’s opinion isn’t necessarily that of the whole business.”

Rather than accepting the concerns about the infrastructure needed to run two events at the same time, she argues that this is an asset rather than a liability. “I see that infrastructure as our solution,” she said.

“We most certainly can align a women’s event to race on the same day as the men’s, just as we did for the one-day event of La Course. It’s about building the right marketing and media package so that the sponsors bring the necessary finances,” she said.

Bertine recently took her second career Caribbean Championship gold medal, riding for Saint Kitts and Nevis
Bertine recently took her second career Caribbean Championship gold medal, riding for Saint Kitts and Nevis

“Once we have the finances, the logistics can fall into place…and they will fall into place. This takes work, of course, but the reward will be worth the risk. And it’s hardly risk—the numbers generated in viewership guarantee we have a worldwide audience. And with audience comes enterprise, of course.”

Bertine and others have previously argued that holding a women’s event at the same time as the Tour capitalises on the media which is already on site at the race, as well as the high viewer interest in the sport in July.

This piggyback effect is already seen at races such as La Flèche Wallonne, a Classic run by ASO in April.

She accepts that it may take a few years for the infrastructure to be in place for a three week event, but states a shorter event can work much sooner.

“We can do a one-week event in 2015 without an issue,” she said. “Here’s the thing about infrastructure or any structure–there is no glass ceiling unless someone puts it there. I would like to work with ASO to show that a week long Tour de France for women in 2015 is not only doable but lucrative. The structure is already in place. When constructing a stage, there’s no need for a ceiling.”

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