Opinion: The Tour de France Femmes is delivering on its promises of growth

‘Confirmation year’ will tick off both the Alps and a first foreign Grand Départ in most ambitious route yet

Clock18:20, Wednesday 25th October 2023
Christian Prudhomme and Marion Rousse present the final stage of the Tour de France Femmes

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Christian Prudhomme and Marion Rousse present the final stage of the Tour de France Femmes

When ASO launched the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2021, it’s fair to say they were met with some scepticism from certain corners of the women’s cycling world. This is the organisation who, after years of shunning the idea of a women’s Tour de France, had offered only a halfway house in the form of La Course, a one-day race that they promised would grow, and yet never did.

With the launch of the 2022 route, an eight-day race with no time trial and the Vosges as the key mountain range, questions still remained: would this ever grow into a bigger, harder Tour de France Femmes, or might it be left to stagnate as La Course had? These were questions from people perhaps jaded by the disappointment of the past, but important questions nonetheless.

Growth was promised, but it would have to be seen to be believed.

Fast forward two years, and those questions have been answered with enthusiasm, and many doubts dispelled. ASO have gone big and bold in the routes for 2023 and 2024, taking the race to new heights and new challenges, and it’s impressive to see.

Read more: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2024 route revealed

Despite the success of the 2022 edition and format, ASO weren’t afraid to move things around, move away from Paris and head to the Pyrenees and the Col du Tourmalet in 2023, and with 2024’s route announcement and the inclusion of the Alpe d’Huez after the race’s first foreign Grand Départ, two more big milestones will be ticked off next year.

Women’s cycling has for too long been at the behest of progress that is very slow - not sustainably slow, but draggingly, frustratingly slow. The sport has long been told that X or Y must be achieved before Z can be done: the peloton must prove itself commercially before it may be granted the chance at a Tour de France, or the climbers must somehow show they are good enough for the biggest mountains, without ever actually racing on the biggest mountains.

ASO, however, has refused to take things unnecessarily slowly. The first Tour de France Femmes was perhaps a balanced start, but from there the progress has been refreshingly bold. Why not visit the Col du Tourmalet in its second edition? It was a big move, but it paid off with a spectacular day of racing, and has clearly only buoyed race directors Marion Rousse and Christian Prudhomme to go bigger and better in 2024.

A foreign start, Le Grand-Bornand, the Col du Glandon, l’Alpe d’Huez: next year’s race will feature more headline climbs and stages than ever, and the upwards trajectory of the women’s Tour de France has never been clearer. During the presentation of the 2024 route, Rousse referred to the next edition as a “confirmation year” - the third corner of the triangle that will form the foundations of this race for years to come - and the new additions to this year’s route seem to emphasise just how strong ASO want that base to be.

The ways in which the race is growing is clear. The Rotterdam Grand Départ and the visit to Alpe d’Huez are the headlines, but there are more subtle ways too. The mini Liège-Bastogne-Liège on stage 4 is in line with the Classics-style stages we see in the men’s race, and the visit to Le Grand-Bornand - a regular stop in the men’s Tour - is an example of how towns want to welcome the women’s race too.

The first edition of the race visited small, unheard of towns, and it shouldn’t be ignored that big cities want to get involved now. The prestige and attraction of hosting the race is growing.

The one thing we’re yet to see in the Tour de France Femmes’ promising trajectory is an increase in length. This year’s race, squeezing between the Olympics and the men’s Vuelta a España, was almost at risk of being shorter, but ASO have managed to keep the seven-day race still eight stages long, thanks to a split day in the Netherlands.

“I think it’s quite balanced,” was Audrey Cordon-Ragot’s take on the race’s growth when speaking to GCN in Paris.. “It’s really what I was expecting the Tour to be a few years later. I think the growth has to go through [stages of] that difficulty, going through the mountains.

“I think the next step is having more days of racing, but it’s coming year after year. I’m not surprised, and I’m pretty glad that they keep believing in this race and keep giving us the opportunity to express ourselves.”

As ever, the 2024 route announcement may be met with criticism from both ends of the spectrum, from those saying the women’s peloton should race the exact same course as the men, to those who judge the Alpe d’Huez to be ‘too hard’ for the riders. But really, ASO have got it just right.

Dropping a three-week race into the Women’s WorldTour would likely be a change too drastic, but it’s also untrue that next year’s Tour will be too hard. As the Tourmalet stage in 2023 showed us, there is one rider who stands out - Demi Vollering - but she has to work hard for her success, with many other riders more than capable of attacking performances on the hardest climbs.

“The Tourmalet stage was very interesting, so I’m sure next year there will be more riders able to be there in the final and to try something before the big riders are starting to battle,” Cordon-Ragot added. “That’s what we want to see, some growth, and it’s what we see with the young riders coming and being more and more strong. I’m not very worried about the level of the peloton - it’s growing every year, and every year is stronger.”

Just as the peloton is growing in strength every year, ASO proved today that they want the Tour de France Femmes to grow with it, and are not afraid to take big steps to do that. The route for 2024 feels important and ambitious, and that’s because it is, but it is also logical and suitable, an appropriate next step for this race.

If ASO want to create a race that will grow into a true Grand Tour, a race that can visit the highest mountains and the biggest cities, they needed to sow the seeds for that growth in these first editions, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. With the Pyrenees and the Alps already ticked off, the only way is up, and it’s clear ASO are ready to commit to the future of this race.

To find out more about the Tour de France Femmes 2024, head to our dedicated race page.

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