The route for the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was announced back in October, and it will cover 956 km (594 miles), include eight stages, 4 flat, 2 hilly, and 1 mountain stage, and culminating with a 22 KM individual TT. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of racing, requiring riders going for the yellow jersey to excel in all areas.
The race starts August 23, 2023, and is sure to be exciting to watch. I recently asked Kate Veronneau, Director of Women’s Strategy at Zwift, a few questions about the Tour.
Sheri: What were some lessons learned from the 2022 Tour?
Kate: Fans want to watch women’s cycling – on the ground and on TV. With cycling media sites reporting that they had more traffic during the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift than the men’s Giro, the clear message is that women’s cycling has a very promising future, and audiences and sponsors are here for it. Similar to what we’re seeing in other women’s sports that have benefited from increased visibility, the proof is now out there. This was sports entertainment at its best and it’s here to stay. The fans have spoken.
Sheri: What are the top 3 changes we can look forward to in the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?
Kate: We’re thrilled at the addition of a Tour de France staple, a time trial stage, the announcement of more riders per team (seven, up from six) and of course, the inclusion of an iconic Tour de France climb, the Col du Tourmalet, on Stage 7.
Sheri: What type of rider will excel on this new route, with eight stages and a TT finish?
Kate: It will definitely be a versatile rider who will persevere, not just a pure climber. The first few stages are going to be very challenging. Stage 2 has 8,200 feet of climbing! It will take a lot of skill and experience to safely navigate those early stages, and leave enough for the final tests of the Tourmalet and a time trial. It’s going to take an exceptional team effort to protect GC contenders and a fierce and strategic champion to take yellow.
Sheri: What was the reasoning behind not finishing the 2023 Tour in Paris?
Kate: The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift never had any intention of finishing in Paris. We’re not trying to replicate the men’s race, we’re forging an exciting new event; one that can stand on its own. This year’s race start in Clermont-Ferrand will offer a thrilling profile to kick off the eight days of racing. I believe it was a great move to launch the women’s Tour in Paris in 2022, to capitalize on the peak men’s audience, but now the race will chart its own course, which also opens up an exciting opportunity for a women’s Grand Depart in the near future.
Sheri: The number of viewers for the 2022 race exceeded anyone’s expectations. What do you attribute to its popularity?
Kate: Many things contributed to it! Number one, the broadcast was accessible and highly promoted. This was the biggest thing to happen in cycling this year, in fact it was one of the biggest things to happen in sport this year. Everyone tuned in to see history being made. Women were finally getting the spotlight they deserved. It was a true collaborative effort. Teams, sponsors, media, and the ASO all came together to ensure the success of this inaugural event. Our own campaign around it had a simple call to action, Watch the Femmes. And in the end, and most importantly, the world class athletes delivered. It was eight days of unmissable sports entertainment, with all the glory, drama, and personality that comes with it.
Sheri: There were rumblings on and offline regarding the poor quality of the American TV commentators. Are there plans to up the game and get more seasoned personalities in 2023?
Kate: I found the commentary I heard to be fun and highly informed on the women’s peloton. It’s no easy task talking for 2.5 hours, covering the non-stop action and aggressive style of women’s pro cycling while also introducing the sport’s nuances to new audiences. There are options for coverage, so hopefully fans find the voices that suit them best! I personally applaud these first year commentators, as many of them have been behind women’s cycling for years, when there weren’t big audiences or paychecks. I was also thrilled to see so many women commentators, many of them ex-pros, across the coverage!
Sheri: You are passionate and vocal about elevating women’s indoor and outside cycling. What are the challenges to women entering competitive cycling and how can the cycling industry break down those barriers?
Kate: The challenge lies in finding opportunities and resources. It can be an intimidating and expensive sport to get into, so you often need friends, family, or a supportive community to get to that start line up. Zwift has been a great way to start for so many women. The convenience and safety of racing from your home, and an encouraging global community ready to answer all your early questions. I hear many women getting the confidence and experience indoors to try their first outdoor event. I applaud initiatives like Ayesha McGowan’s ‘Abundance Project Mini-Grants,’ which provide resources and support to get BIPOC women to their first races, and grassroots series like the Driveway Series in Austin that introduces so many women to the joys and thrill of racing crits. As an industry, we can look to our immediate cycling communities to help promote and support the people and projects that are breaking down barriers and making racing more accessible and inviting.
Sheri: I think it is important to point out that there’s still a considerable discrepancy between the men’s and the women’s prize money in racing. For the women, €250,000 will be awarded across the stages, jersey, and team competitions, including €50,000 to the winner of the final GC. By comparison, the TdF men’s race €2.3 million to be awarded to teams and riders. This includes €500,000 to the winner of the final GC. Do you see this gap narrowing?
Kate: Paris wasn’t built in a day! While increasing the prize purse is certainly a priority, it’s not the best way to gauge how the race is elevating the sport and building a bright future for the women’s pro peloton. Riders will be the first to tell you that visibility is the key to long-term, sustainable success. 20 million people in France alone watched the race this year. More visibility is what will unlock more investment, more sponsors, more fans, bigger team budgets, higher salaries, and bigger prize purses. We’ve already heard directly from teams that more sponsors are coming to the table and women’s WorldTour riders are able to demand higher salaries in 2023. That’s progress. We will see the prize purse increase in the near future, but that is under the control of the ASO, so we’re focusing on where we can make a positive impact.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.