Inequality is an unfortunate truth of our time, but it is no longer brushed under the carpet and ignored. More people than ever are willing to stand up to say, it is enough, and things are changing. The evidence is all around us, from vice president-elect Kamala Harris, the shrinking of the national wage gap between genders, to The InternationElles.
However, there is still a long way to go.
In 2019, The average UCI (The Union Cycliste Internationale is the world governing body of cycling) men’s WorldTour team had a budget of approximately £12 million; the average women’s team budget, a mere £150,000. A significant amount of this budget goes towards one of the biggest cycling event of the year, the Tour De France.
There is no woman’s Tour De France race.
In this week’s blog, I am speaking with Louise Gibson, the global events manager and team rider from The InternationElles.
The InternationElles is an all-woman cycling team with individual riders based all over the world from America to The Peak District here in the U.K. Their mission: to spread the word about gender inequality within the professional sport of cycling.
So, whilst I could sit here and waffle on about my personal views and how I think everyone, no matter what race, what gender and what background, should be treated and paid equally, I will step away from the mic (keyboard) and hand that over to Louise and our chat.
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Louise, welcome to the blog! Thanks for your time. I have been avidly watching The InternationElles’ progress the past couple of years and have felt inspired to do more from it. Tell us about the team, when and why did it come about? Who are the team members, and how did you all meet?
We formed early last year thanks to the powers of the internet!
There are a group of French women called Donnons des Elles au Velo who have been riding the full route of the Tour de France in the name of equality for the last six years. Each year they open up applications for new riders. Last year there were so many non-French women interested they put us all in touch with each other, and we made our international team for riding with them.
Initially, there weren’t enough of us to make the team financially viable, so a couple of us roped in some of our friends too until we became a team of 10 riders.
We didn’t all meet for the first time until we got to Brussels to start the Tour!
For 2020 not all riders could repeat so we had a 50/50 split of new and existing InternationElles, again from all over the world. Sadly this year’s team haven’t all met each other; we were due to meet in Nice at the start of this year’s Tour.
As with so many of us around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic changed and broke plans. Unfortunately, that meant the worst possible outcome for The InternationElles and the cancellation of the Tour De France ride. How did the team feel about cancelling the Tour De France Ride?
Yes, we were hoping we would still get to France when the Tour de France got pushed back. It gave us an extra couple of months for things to get sorted out, but in the end, it made no difference. Even if it was deemed safe enough for the Tour de France to take place, we didn’t think it was the right thing to do for our team. Lots of us couldn’t even get to France, either initially or without quarantine restrictions on our return, so we started coming up with a Plan B.
We were all really disappointed. It was something we were looking forward to and training hard for, but we all understood that it was a possible outcome in the year that’s just become a complete train wreck for everyone. We wanted to make sure we stayed safe, didn’t risk our or our sponsors’ reputation but didn’t want to sit back and do nothing this year.
How did you replace this and what was the reaction to your alternative rides?
We started coming up with a few different plans but didn’t know what was going to happen with local restrictions, so we kept Plan B fairly simple in the end.
We completed the full distance of the Tour de France as a non-stop relay in under 100 hours on turbo trainers, and then we ticked off the elevation of the Tour by each of us Everesting.
We were delighted to get a lot of support and coverage about our battle for equality. The most interesting thing is so many people don’t even realise there isn’t a women’s Tour de France, nor do they realise the massive disparity between men and women’s opportunities within the sport. As we shed light on this, we hope to change things for the better.
What are the goals of The InternationElles moving into 2021?
We will carry on with our fight for equality. We’re not asking for anything special or extra, just the same opportunities as the men. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for. We’d love women of all ages and abilities not to be held back because of their gender. We want to see more races and more coverage; this will, in turn, bring more sponsorship and interest into the sport. It will also inspire more people. We have some incredible role models within women’s cycling; we don’t see or hear enough about them. Women on bicycles should be a normal thing, and we will keep trying to close the gender gap in cycling. We will ride the full route of the Tour de France again in 2021 and have our fingers crossed that it happens next year!
Finally, Louise, for any woman thinking about becoming a cyclist but don’t have the confidence to take the next step, what is your advice?
Just do it! No better time to start. Cycling is booming as people are spending more time at home and being more active with their daily exercise. Maybe ride with family and friends until you feel ready to head out alone. Talk to your local bike shop for advice and maybe join a local club. Don’t feel rushed to get all the gear and get clipped in, take your time, that will all come if and when you’re ready, get a bike, get on it and enjoy it! Drop me a line on Instagram if you need any help or advice. I love helping people on their journey!
And, if anyone would like to become a member of The InternationElles team, how would they go about this?
We aren’t looking for new riders at this time. The team that didn’t make it to France in 2020 will be the one that gets there in 2021 we hope! We are always looking for support and sponsors, though. If you can help in any way, please reach out. Please also follow us and follow women’s cycling, talk to your friends and family about it and get involved where you can!