The Mixed Zone’s She Who Dares campaign aims to take women out of their sporting comfort zones with at least one fun, physical, esteem-raising, health-boosting, rut-busting adventure in 2017. Well, here’s one for you: ride all three of cycling’s Grand Tours and raise money for charity. Laura Winter explains how
Thirty-nine men have completed all three of cycling’s Grand Tours, which comprise the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana, the toughest races on earth that add up to 10,403 kilometres across sixty-three days. So far no woman has followed suit. Yet. That could all change this year as the Three Tours Challenge organisers look to recruit a female to join their team. She Who Dares.
This year, five ordinary men are taking on the epic challenge in an attempt to raise £1 million for Cure Leukaemia. The woman who agrees to make the group up to six and ride on the hollowed roads of Italy, France and Spain, will be making history and a statement for her sex. The climbs, promenades and mountain passes have historically been the preserve of men; now a lone debutante can pave the way for a new generation and prove female cyclists are just as capable of staying the course.
Geoff Thomas, former England footballer and cancer survivor, is the inspiration behind the initiative. One year into retirement, the midfielder revealed he had been diagnosed with leukaemia. He survived, and in 2005, the year he went into remission, he rode the full 21 stages of the Tour de France, a few days ahead of the elite peloton. Ten years on, in 2015, he rode the Tour again, one day in front of the likes of Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
Now, 52-year-old Thomas is upping the ante by adding Italy and Spain to his c.v., and he believes women can play a crucial role. He said: “It would be great to expand the team. The UK is a leading light on many levels in highlighting women’s equality in all areas. Sport is catching up. We are seeing female professional boxing. Sexism is disappearing. The old school attitudes are dying out, and there is a new generation intent on promoting equality. And the sooner we get to the point where that is normal, the better.
“Women’s racing is just as entertaining as men’s cycling. It is about time these women got the accolades they deserve in women’s cycling. The Olympic Road Race was incredible. We need to talk about it on equal levels, where we deserve to be.
“It brings something unique to a challenge like this and will bring more awareness to it, too. Fingers crossed someone takes up this message and fancies a challenge. We added a couple of women to the team in 2015: Mel Brand and Helen Russell. That was a nice mix. The guys were definitely whipped into shape and it would be fantastic to find someone else to do the same.”
For the record, the Giro d’Italia runs from May 5 to 28, the Tour de France from July 1 to 23 July and the Vuelta from August 20 to September 11. The charity ride will precede the elite race on each stage by a day, and Thomas hopes to raise more than £1million for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, a centre of excellence in the fight against blood cancer.
So what will it take to complete the Three Tours Challenge? While the brutal challenge may conjure up images of elite, endurance athletes, lean and toned to within an inch of their lives, Three Tours Challenge event director Paul Morton wants to attract a different sort of rider. He said: “What we need is someone who is capable of completing three Tours, an endurance athlete. Someone who gets and understands cycling; the history and the romance of it. But I’d also like someone who believes they aren’t quite fit enough, who lacks confidence, and who can use this as a journey to become a different person with more belief.
“It is easy to do something in your comfort zone and I appreciate this will take most people out of theirs. But I like the idea of a person doing this, not just an athlete. Maybe they suffer from anxiety or a lack of self-esteem. Their body confidence is low. To see someone transform as a person – and not just as a rider – that will make this much more worthwhile.
“The rider also has to be able to take nine weeks out of work and raise £50,000. We’ll take more than one woman if we find the right riders. But for anyone with a competitive edge – I’m sure they will want to be the first.”
Morton added: “It is a huge two fingers up to the doubters. I don’t want people to think we are asking a woman because we think we should. It’s not like that at all. It’s not a token gesture. We will have six riders doing the Three Tours, and I don’t want them defined by gender or race. We are challenging stereotypes and social conditioning, which has told women they can’t do it.
“I hope we can give women something to aspire to, so women can say, ‘We can do it, too’. Women can finally get the sport they deserve.”
If you want to make history, or would like more information on what is required to be a rider, get in touch with Three Tours Challenge:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.