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Road Racing

When Tour de France dreams become reality

It's hard to describe what it means to be watching the women race the Tour de France...

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My Dad and I have always connected through sport. Throughout my entire life, from when I learned to kick a ball to now, sports are what brought us together. We call each other up to talk about the latest Avs game or that incredible run by Mikayla Shiffrin or Jessie Diggins just existing. It wasn’t until college, when I joined the school’s cycling team, that we both dove headfirst into the world of professional cycling, but before I can remember we watched the Tour de France together.

My sister and I weren’t allowed to watch TV but every July, as soon as we woke up in the morning, we’d run upstairs and prop up next to my dad to watch a bunch of skinny dudes in spandex ride around France. I was always a fan of the sprinters. They showed such passion when they won and I could feel their raw emotion through the television. Back then I would imagine winning ski races and knew if I won I would yell and throw my arms in the air.

After I started competing in cycling my progression was swift. As it so often is for women (and men) who grow up doing every sport available only to later find the one that seems to just fit. For me, cycling fit. I’ve often been told I look like a natural on a bike, but I could also feel it. It was always so easy.

The Olympics were my goal when I was ski racing, even if it was never a reality. The sport may have changed but the goal never did. For women in cycling, the biggest stage has always been the Olympics. Never mind that it is a one-day event, where luck can often not be on your side. The field is small and the numbers are poorly distributed and the tactics are just plain weird. Since there was no Tour de France, the Olympics was the only race the whole world would see. There was no Tour de France to dream about, and the reality of the ASO rekindling the race was too far out to daydream about.

Once I signed for a professional team and it became my identity, people outside of the cycling bubble would ask “have you raced the Tour de France?” Like so many other women who compete in cycling I would have to say no, there was no women’s race. I raced a few WorldTour races, but when I retired in 2019, live coverage was still scarce and it was hard to pay rent and feed myself on $8k a year working ‘full-time’ as a cyclist.

My retirement wasn’t easy, but I won’t get into that. After some time I was happier not racing. I’d made peace with my career. Until July 24th, when the women lined up on the Champs Élysées to race the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. For that first stage, what I was watching still hadn’t quite sunk in. We’ve had La Course by the Tour de France on the Champs, so it wasn’t an entirely new sight.

Then came stage 3, when Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig won in spectacular fashion and then reacted how anyone would react when they’ve won a stage of the Tour de France. Watching Cecilie scream when she crossed the line and cry as what she accomplished truly sunk in. This was the moment I realized I was watching the women race the Tour de France. Not just a one-day (albeit super exciting) spectacle. A full week of incredible racing, seen worldwide.

When Marianne Vos won stage 2, her parents were there to greet her at the finish line. The greatest of all time, but Vos had never worn the yellow jersey. Her family was there to see her pull it on. After she finished second on the Queen stage, Demi Vollering’s parents were there to hold her. As she pulled on the polka dot jersey, an iconic symbol in cycling, she looked out to see them there, cheering her on.

Three years out of the sport but I can still imagine what that feeling would have been. How special just being at the race would have been. There is no question, my Dad would have flown over to see me race up the mountains and catch me at the finish line. And maybe I never made it to the startline of the Tour de France Femmes, but my daughter will grow up watching the women race their bikes at the biggest bike race in the world, and she will be able to watch women like her scream and throw their arms in the air and dream of what it would be like to be on that stage.

After the women’s peloton disperses on Sunday evening a whole new generation of female professional cyclists will have a new answer when asked “have you raced the Tour de France?” They’ll be able to say “Yes.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.