Audrey Cordon-Ragot is aware of higher than most how precarious a profession within the ladies’s peloton may be. Racing within the Tour de France Femmes, for Human Powered Well being, the previous French nationwide champion has survived a stroke, two sponsor collapses and the prospect of retirement previously 12 months.
Whereas she was recovering from a stroke on the finish of final summer season, her racing profession was on the brink, after her transfer to the French‑sponsored B&B Motels workforce fell aside.
“The B&B venture had sounded wonderful,” Cordon-Ragot says. “However after all of the expectation and media protection, the truth was that there was no cash to fund the workforce.
“I had my stroke in September and three months later I heard B&B was falling aside. I’d been lied to since in all probability the primary day. I realised that I needed to begin once more.”
Her expertise will not be distinctive within the ladies’s peloton. It takes a particular form of resilience to endure sponsor uncertainty and the hardships of coaching and racing, typically unpaid, within the hope that someday your efforts will probably be rewarded. Driving totally free, and even funding your profession by way of household and buddies, has lengthy been commonplace. When the Australian Jess Allen moved to Europe in 2013 she was racing unpaid as she tried to forge a profession in ladies’s racing. Now, a decade later, she is driving her first Tour de France, for Jayco AlUla.
Allen started her European racing profession with the Vienne Futuroscope workforce that, within the intervening years, has morphed into the FDJ-Suez workforce led by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. The French-sponsored workforce’s finances has grown from €500,000 in 2016 to €3.5m in 2023.
The workforce supervisor, Stephen Delcourt, is amongst those that really feel that sponsors investing in males’s groups ought to do the identical within the ladies’s scene. “For a model nowadays, to not have a ladies’s workforce, appears a disaster to me,” he says. “The potential for improvement is large, whereas the lads’s scene is already saturated.”
Though there’s a crossover of sponsors from the lads’s World Tour into the ladies’s World Tour, which implies that personnel, gear, and workforce buses may be pooled, there’s typically an enormous disparity. The Tour de France Femmes champion Annemiek van Vleuten, of Movistar, crosses the end line and takes refuge in a luxurious air-conditioned bus, however others will not be so fortunate. Put up-race, the lesser groups cram, like sardines, into camper vans.
“There’s a massive distinction between the perfect, and the others,” says Pierre-Yves Thouault, assistant director of biking on the Tour de France promoter, ASO. “Now we have to take that under consideration when designing the route, particularly in the beginning of the race, with phases that aren’t too arduous or too lengthy, to make sure a sure equilibrium.”
On the coronary heart of the issue is a big distinction in funding. “It would shock some individuals however there’s a stage of the peloton who’re both unpaid, or paid little or no,” says Gaël Le Bellec, the sports activities director of Cofidis.
Cordon-Ragot, in the meantime, who first turned skilled in 2008 with Vienne Futuroscope, has nearly seen all of it. After the B&B Motels workforce collapsed late in 2022, she moved to a brand new Spanish sponsor, the short-lived Crew Zaaf. “I jumped at it as a result of I principally had no alternative, however the workforce was not constructed. There was nothing there.”
Her new workforce have been woefully missing within the fundamentals required to race at elite stage. “We’d get there with no correct truck, with no correct mechanic, with out correct employees,” she says. “We appeared shit, and I appeared shit. I used to be crying, my teammates have been crying.”
The gap in funding and in ability is closing, but not rapidly enough to keep up with a fast-growing calendar and increasing expectations from sponsors and the audience. “We need bigger rosters,” Cordon-Ragot says.
“To me, things are going a little bit too fast. Sponsors need more money to pay more riders. It’s all about money, but at the same time we need the Grand Tours, because they bring money into cycling.”
There are now three women’s Grand Tours: May’s Vuelta Femenina, won by Van Vleuten, July’s Italian race, the Giro Donne, also won by the Dutch rider, and the Tour de France Femmes. The prize money in all three races compares poorly to the men’s purses.
In the men’s Tour de France, admittedly three weeks long, the overall winner pockets €500,000 and stage winners pick up €11,000. In the Tour de France Femmes, the race champion earns only €50,000, while stage winners earn €4,000. The total prize pot is €250,000, which compares with €2.3m for the men.
“There is more money now in women’s cycling, but the gulf is widening,” Le Bellec says. “The richest teams are getting richer and the others are struggling to keep up.”