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Tour de Yorkshire leads women’s racing where Paris-Roubaix fears to tread

Tour de Yorkshire gets closer to parity as extended Women's Tour de France is labelled 'impossible'

Maria David
10 Dec 2018

Late last week Sir Gary Verity presented, at Leeds Civic Hall, the route of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire, which features the women’s two day Asda Tour de Yorkshire on the same route as the men’s race.

Furthermore, the two stage race will span into the weekend, with the entirety of the competition being televised.

The organisers believe this is the only elite women’s cycle race in the world to be run under these conditions. However, partner organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) does not plan to follow Yorkshire’s lead, and its Tour de France director stated that a 10 day women’s Tour de France would be 'impossible'.

In the packed wood-panelled chamber of Leeds Civic Hall in front of the great and the good of Yorkshire cycling, Welcome to Yorkshire CEO Sir Gary was joined by Christian Prudhomme of ASO, as they announced the route of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire races.

While there was excitement at the positive steps being made for women’s cycling in the race, ASO could not commit to spreading this trend to other races that it organises, notably Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France.

According to Sir Gary, the women's Tour de Yorkshire 'will be the opportunity to see the best racers in the world in front of the biggest crowds.'

Commenting on the women’s second stage, he added, 'It is a really difficult stage. It may only be 132km but it is very lumpy.

'There’s lots of climbing for the women and the weather will play a part in that stage when you get onto the coast with the crosswinds.'

The Tour de Yorkshire boss remains steadfast in his commitment to promoting women’s cycling and doing what he can to achieve equality in cycle racing.

While the women leave Yorkshire, the men continue through the county to battle it out on the final stage, dubbed the Yorkshire Classic.

A replica of the 2018 finale, formerly known as the Yorkshire Terrier, the 175km-stage from Halifax to Leeds will be the ultimate test as riders scale Greenhow Hill and the 25% gradient of Park Rash, among many other climbs.

Under UCI rules it would not have been possible for women to do this stage given that the maximum permitted distance in any race is 160km, and in stage races the average daily distance cannot exceed 140km.

For Sir Gary, it is very important for him to improve the conditions in women’s cycling. Speaking to Cyclist, he said, 'I am proud that Yorkshire has been able to lead that revolution in women’s cycling.

'I am really trying to get close to that gender parity, and help women’s cycling to nudge up and get close to the men’s cycling.

'Being a single parent of a young girl makes me feel obliged to do things in a way that can make women believe there are equal opportunities.'

When asked if the Tour de Yorkshire would be raised to Women’s WorldTour status in future, Sir Gary would not confirm one way or the other, but he did say that it is something they would be looking at, as they do have ambitions for the race.

Prudhomme admires what cycling, and the Tour de Yorkshire in particular, means for the county. He told Cyclist, 'Cycling is booming here. It’s amazing and very impressive. Cycling in Yorkshire speaks to everybody. Not only the men, but women too.

'I think it’s the very first time you have exactly the same two stages for men and women. When we organised for example the Tour de Qatar it was not exactly the same thing; when we organise the Fleche Wallone or Liege-Bastogne-Liege it’s not the same, but this [the Tour de Yorkshire] is good.'

Given the growing number of women’s races taking place in conjunction with men’s events Prudhomme was asked if there would be scope for a 10 day Tour de France for women during the Tour, or a women’s Paris-Roubaix.

The Tour de France director certainly had a wish to put on these races, but highlighted that the logistical considerations for putting on such races would make it impractical.

He explained that Paris-Roubaix has a junior race, which they have no plans to move, so that would make it difficult to prepare the infrastructure for an additional race.

As for a Tour de France, Prudhomme had one word – impossible. 'The Tour has 29,000 policemen, gendarmes and firemen,' he explained. 'We wouldn’t have the means to develop more women’s racing during the Tour.

'I would really like to do that, but we just don’t know how we can organise more races as we don’t have the police and the emergency services etc available.

'The Tour de France is a massive machine and if we tried to do the same thing with a women’s race as with the men at the same time we could put people in danger.'

In response to criticism that the pace of evolution in women’s cycling is slow, the Tour de France director said, 'What we need to do is to develop something solid before moving forward. It’s better to advance little by little rather than taking a big step, which could then lead to a failure.

'It is important to not forget all the logistical aspects of putting on a race as these are clearly essential.'

While it was already known which towns would be visited, Friday was the moment when guests would find out how the venues would weave together – hopefully as seamlessly as the fabric of Sir Gary’s Great Yorkshire Tweed jacket.

After the opening day on Thursday 2nd May 2019, which sees the men's race run from Doncaster to Selby, the women take on the stage on Friday 3rd, when the peloton winds its way 132km from Barnsley to Bedale, taking in the 14.1km World Championships finishing circuit in Harrogate.

Moving seamlessly on, and choreographed by children from the local schools, Sir Gary announced how the women will contest a challenging route from Bridlington to Scarborough, that will test their mettle in exactly the same way as the men.

Furthermore, this stage will take place on the Saturday, thus addressing the criticism in 2018 over both women’s stages being held on week-days, though like the last edition the stage will be televised in its entirety.

Viewers will see everyone enduring the slog across the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Coast, with no fewer than five King of the Mountain sections – at Silpho, Hooks House Farm, and the dreaded triple of Lythe Bank (1.2km at 10%), Grosmont (500m at 15%) and Ugglebarnby (1.9km at 8.7%) – a far cry from the Cow and Calf on the women’s Stage 2 in 2018.

Finally, after racing 264km with 3,200 metres of climbing over the two days the winners will be designated their prizes on Scarborough’s iconic North Bay, in front of the crowds and the television viewers.

Meanwhile the Tour de Yorkshire route, which fits together harmoniously, much like the brass band that played outside the Civic Hall, was met with widespread approval from the audience, including Team OnForm’s Annie Simpson, and National Road Race Champion Connor Swift (Madison Genesis).

Even former road racers like Denise Burton-Cole, daughter of Beryl Burton, wished she could compete on the course if she were younger.

Help for Heroes was announced as the official charity partner, while Mackenzie Thorpe will be the official artist.