Tour de France Femme kicked off in Paris on July 23 for the first time in 33 years, with 144 women competing on 24 teams. Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten won, but the more noteworthy development might be the preliminary TV results, which showed that the women’s competition surpassed expectations.
Ratings in France saw an average of 2.25 million daily viewers for the women’s race compared to 4 million for the men, according to Zwift, a California-based company that offers an online cycling and training program and will be the title sponsor of the women’s race for the next three years.
“It started in 2020 when the pandemic shutdown all professional racing, including the Tour de France,” Andrew Bernstein, the senior PR manager of Zwift North America, told Sportico in a phone interview. At that time, the race organizers, Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), turned to Zwift to help to create an online competition for the men. “Inclusivity and equity are extremely important to us,” Bernstein said. “We insisted that if we were to hold a virtual Tour de France, we have to have a race for both men and women.”
The virtual event’s success and spectator interest in that 2020 online race motivated Zwift to work with ASO to bring back the women’s event post-pandemic. Zwift agreed to become the title sponsor, and while the company did not disclose the sponsorship amount, it told Sportico that “it is the largest investment that’s ever been made by a private sponsor of women’s racing.” Other Tour de France sponsors also supported the race, including LCL, E.Leclerc and Skoda.
The women’s race did well with both live and TV audiences in Europe, but it’s unclear how it fared in the U.S. It was broadcast for only two-and-a-half hours compared to six for the men; the men’s race covered 2,081 miles over 23 days while the women’s race spanned 639 miles over eight days. A representative from NBC told Sportico that NBC’s Peacock live-streamed all eight stages of the competition; however, it does not have viewership data to share.
The Tour de France was established in 1903, and the women’s tour was added in 1984. It was canceled in 1989 because of a lack of financial backing, although other women’s races under various names have at times been viewed as a version of the women’s Tour.
American Marianne Martin won the 1984, for which she received around $1,000 for her victory. Her male counterpart, Laurent Fignon, received more than $100,000. This year Van Vleuten received $254,000, the richest first prize in women’s cycling, while Jonas Vingegaard took home $500,000 for the men’s race.
“We are very proud to be a sponsor of the women’s tour,” Bernstein said. “We believe it will grow to have an equal if not greater impact.”