With the COVID-19 pandemic upending this year’s sporting calendar, Tour de France organizers Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) have partnered with Zwift — an online training platform that allows you to cycle from the comfort of your home — to power a virtual edition of the prestigious cycling event.
And, for the first time in history, women are allowed to participate.
The race has been a men-only competition for over a century, with no equivalent available to women, apart from the “course d’un jour” — a modest alternative introduced following a petition initiated by riders in 2013.
According to Reuters, this year’s unique edition will see American Chloe Dygert and Dutch great Marianne Vos riding the same course as men — although not in direct competition.
Starting on July 4 with a designed virtual stage reminiscent of the city of Nice, France, the elite riders will be spread across 40 teams to complete 6-hour-long animated stages over the course of three weekends.
The inaugural version of the virtual event will then end on Aug. 29, in front of the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. On the same day, the physical Tour de France will begin (having been delayed from its planned start date of June 27) and will run until Sept. 20.
Allez, allez, allez this July with Virtual @LeTour de France! 🇫🇷 We are ready, are you? 🚴♀️🚴♂️ #TDFVirtual— Zwift (@GoZwift) June 29, 2020
More info: https://t.co/gRc2nCDFqapic.twitter.com/SnFvmCzb6c
Viewers in over 130 countries worldwide will be able to watch the virtual event online, and amateur riders are also welcome to join.
And while women still don’t have a Tour de France of their own, this new edition could very well be expanded into a full 3-week virtual women’s Tour de France next year, in an effort to “fast-track women's fight for equality”, Zwift CEO and co-founder Eric Min told Telegraph Sport.
"ASO has already made a commitment for a women's race as early as 2022 and we see this as an opportunity to accelerate that journey," he told Reuters.
He added: "I've seen what they are doing on Zwift and the numbers the women are producing are right up there with the best men. They are incredible."
In 2019, the Tour de France came under fire with calls to end the “sexist tradition” of podium girls. This year, congratulatory kisses will be banned to respect social distancing measures — and, for the first time, podium girls will be replaced by both male and female podium hosts.
The steps taken so far to make the race more inclusive to female competitors have been met with positive feedback.
"I'm motivated to win it all. It's great to have the opportunity to do this, despite the pandemic," said world time trial champion Chloe Dygert.
British champion Alice Barnes has also stated this virtual edition is a “massive opportunity” for women’s cycling.