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Chrissie Wellington is confident there is a collective desire to grow women’s cycling but admits a women’s Tour de France is still some way off.
Wellington, a four-time Ironman triathlon world champion, is a leading figure in the Le Tour Entier campaign to improve women’s cycling.
Their petition calling for a women’s race at the Tour de France attracted nearly 100,000 votes and last month the inaugural La Course race was staged on the final day of the Tour, finishing on the Champs-Elysees.
The race was organised by Le Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation and supported by world governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale and Wellington feels the sport is at last pulling in the same direction.
She said: “We’ve had continued dialogue with those organisations. They were all at the event and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The key is that the will is there and the will wasn’t necessarily there in the past. Before there was a lot of infighting and women’s cycling really wasn’t seen as a priority.
“I think the London Olympics really helped and I saw an appetite on all fronts. There’s been more commercial interest and race organisers are seeing that there’s a huge opportunity. They’re responding to the demand.”
La Course, which was won by Olympic champion Marianne Vos in a sprint finish, saw impressive crowds line the streets and was broadcast in more than 150 countries.
“La Course was incredibly emotional and monumental,” Wellington said. “I don’t think I appreciated just how much it would affect me.
“All of us that have been involved in its creation, everyone’s worked so hard and to see that become a reality was quite moving and profound.
“The statistics that are coming back regarding TV viewers are really promising. It’s really encouraging to see those numbers and the crowds on the side of the road as well prove that people do want to watch women’s cycling.
“People could see that cycling is cycling, whether it’s done by men or women, and it can be aggressive and passionate and competitive.”
The plan is for a second La Course to be staged next summer but Wellington and her fellow campaigners see it as very much the start.
Le Tour Entier’s ultimate aim is for a women’s Tour de France to take place on an equal footing with the men’s race.
A women’s race was staged in some form in all but three years between 1984 and 2009 but it struggled to attract both media attention and commercial interest and eventually folded.
The same issues have badly affected women’s road cycling as a whole and Wellington stresses sustainability must be the key factor in a revived women’s tour.
She said: “The next step is a period of celebration and reflection and then hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to sit down with different bodies to drive forward the agenda.”
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