Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège… In recent weeks, the women’s cycling calendar has looked just like the men’s. A trend that could also be confirmed in the coming years. “More and more World Tour race organizers [le circuit-phare du cyclisme sur route masculin] wish to set up a race for women. There is a real enthusiasm”rejoices Amina Lanaya, director general of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the governing body of the discipline, on the sidelines of the second edition of the “Hell of the North”, Saturday April 16.
The day before, a countdown was launched: less than a hundred days now separate the runners from the kick-off of “their” Tour de France, on July 24 under the Eiffel Tower. Eight stages, 1,029 kilometers, from Paris to Planche-des-Belles-Filles, in Haute-Saône. The most anticipated meeting of the 2022 edition of the Women’s World Tour (WWT).
In 2021, the elite women’s circuit only had seven stage races out of the 24 scheduled for the season – only 18 could be contested because of the health crisis. Above all, none exceeded six days: the UCI having set this duration to ensure that all competitions could find their place on the calendar without competing with each other. Until then, only one meeting had benefited from an exemption from this limitation: the Giro Rosa (from June 30 to July 10), a women’s version of the Tour of Italy, which since 2008 has offered between eight and ten days of race.
Faced with the wishes of newcomers to the WWT, there is no question for the governing body to penalize the historical organizers. The Tour de Romandie wanted to see its 1D Women’s edition organized before or after its men’s counterpart (from 26 April to 1er may). However, on the 24th, Liège-Bastogne-Liège closed the spring “classics” and, from May 13, the peloton opened the chapter of stage races with Itzulia in the Basque Country. The Swiss will therefore have to make do with autumn (7 to 9 October).
“We have to be able to show the best teams, the best riders, in the best eventsinsists Amina Lanaya. We have to be very strict at this level, because women’s cycling still needs this visibility. »
“It would be almost impossible to be everywhere”
The WWT now has 25 races, twelve of which last more than one day – including two meetings lasting more than a week – for a cumulative total of seventy-one race days, when the women in had played less than forty the previous season. An evolution welcomed by the peloton. “Before, I would have probably said that there were not enough stage races in the women’s calendarrecognizes the 2021 French champion, Evita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine). There, we are not too badly off! »
However, the elite teams have a dozen runners in their workforce, while their male counterparts are generally around thirty. “ If we had more stage races, it would be almost impossible to be everywhere. It’s already complicated to line up the girls on the spring classics, the Women’s Tour [au Royaume-Uni, du 5 au 11 juin]the Giro, the Tour de France…”argues Danny Stam, sports director of the Dutch formation SD Worx, first in the world ranking of the UCI last season.
“You have to be realistic: there are fewer runners, but it is especially complicated at the level of the staff to be on all fronts and to continue”, continues Evita Muzic. Cars, sports directors, technicians… The extension of the calendar also weighs on logistics. “The team is going from 90 to 117 race days this year, which corresponds to 270 days of travel. You have to double everything. Men are often on three fronts at the same time. We will have two, but we are not used to it. It’s a bit of Tetris »explains the manager of the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Stephen Delcourt, whose protégés also take part in events other than those of the WWT.
Danny Stam estimates a 30% increase in competition days this season. On the budget side, the curve has not experienced the same growth. And even if he concedes that SD Worx has a completely correct overall envelope, it is not unlimited: “In five years, our expenses have almost doubled. We have a good budget, but it does not allow us to do everything we want. » This is also the other challenge of the Grande Boucle for the teams: achieving a performance during the most emblematic race in the hope of attracting sponsors.
“There will be a before and an after the Tour de France”
At the end of July, 24 teams of six riders will start the Tour de France. Stephen Delcourt fears the first big disappointments linked to the selections. Because, in the ranks of the only French formation of the elite, the test can be the objective of the year for the fourteen girls. “Clearly, ten really have the level to compete in the Tour”, says the manager. Since the resumption of the season, at Strade Bianche (Italy) on March 5, not a day has gone by without him discussing the subject with his sporting directors. “On the management side, it also gives us the opportunity to test ourselves, to get out of our comfort zone, to think about the longer term, to propose alternatives. The calendar is now sufficiently provided for everyone to find their account. »
Even before his group returned to the road this year, the sports director of SD Worx already had his list in mind. At last, “80%”, with some possible adjustments depending on the respective states of form, slips Danny Stam. “The Tour de France will benefit from significant exposure, it is one of the most beautiful races in the world. Inevitably, everyone wants to take part. But the objective is to field runners who will have the opportunity to shine there »summarizes the Dutchman.
The director general of the UCI is convinced that the year 2022 will be a turning point in women’s cycling. “There will be a before and an after the Tour de France. We saw it with Paris-Roubaix [dont la première édition féminine s’est tenue en octobre 2021] : there is such fervor, such motivation, such enthusiasm. I’m sure it will be a success.” wants to believe Amina Lanaya.