Patrick Finley: Tucsonan Kathryn Bertine pushes for women's Tour de France

2013-08-01T00:00:00Z 2013-08-01T11:38:25Z Patrick Finley: Tucsonan Kathryn Bertine pushes for women's Tour de FrancePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Kathryn Bertine spends the hottest days of Tucson back east, cycling through trails shaded by the tall trees of upstate New York. Her cell phone gets spotty service there.

Her idea, though, is spreading throughout the world.

Last month, the 38-year-old professional cyclist launched a petition on the website Change.org.

After 100 years, the Tucsonan figured, the Tour de France needed a separate women's race.

Her group - which includes cycling champs Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos and triathlon great Chrissie Wellington - is asking Amaury Sport Organization, the Tour de France organizer, to allow women's pro cycling teams to face each other in next year's event.

As of Wednesday afternoon, almost 90,000 had signed the petition.

"Cycling is one of the worst offenders in modern-day sport in sexism," she said. "Stuff we were seeing in the '70s. We're thinking, 'Haven't we moved beyond this?'

"We haven't in cycling."

A women's race makes perfect sense to me, but I'm not a businessman.

Marathons and triathlons can run men and women's events together, but they're not exactly swimming in money.

Tennis majors feature both genders, but women play three sets to the men's five. Bertine's petition demands men and women race the same distance.

And there's this: In the mid-1980s, a female version of the Tour de France flopped.

"I believe now we have a greater depth of talent than we did before," Bertine said. "There are tenfold amount of women who can do what those women were doing.

"Time equals progress."

Bertine said she first noticed the discrepancy in 2007, when she began her cycling career after time in triathlon, ice skating and another eight sports. (For her 2010 book, "As Good As Gold," she tried to make the Olympics in sports ranging from modern pentathlon to team handball to luge.)

In road cycling, men and women don't race the same distances. They don't get the same media attention. And they certainly don't make the same money.

She came up with a business plan in 2009. In her years since, as both a cyclist and a journalist - she's written for ESPNW and is working on a documentary about sports inequality - she met like-minded peers.

Her petition asks for signers who believe women should have the same opportunity as men to compete in road races and who want women to race each other in next year's Tour de France.

Bertine believes those things on moral grounds - but isn't naive enough to believe that's enough.

She's selling it to the Tour de France as a business decision.

Bertine thinks the women's event could start a few hours earlier each day and be aired on the same television package as the men's race, with their own sponsorships and advertising.

(The two races could be weeks or months apart, too, she conceded, but the women's one wouldn't get the same media attention or make the same money.)

"We're trying to educate the Tour de France that the market for women's cycling is there," said Bertine, who races for Team Colavita/Fine Cooking Women's Professional Cycling and has dual citizenship in the U.S. and St. Kitts and Nevis.

"We believe they're a little so caught up in the tradition on the men's side that they're missing this tremendous opportunity."

Her petition makes no mention of prize money.

"All the women in pro cycling understand the money comes from the media exposure and the sponsors that make it all happen," she said. "It wouldn't be right to go in off the bat and request equal prize money."

Some are listening.

Jean-Etienne Amaury, the ASO chairman, told Bloomberg News last week he was open to change but "it's not likely to happen next year."

Tour de France general director Christian Prudhomme, however, has been "a little more of a challenge," Bertine said.

So what's the end game?

Bertine wants at least 101,000 signatures - considering next year's race is the 101st - and a meeting with Tour officials.

And then she wants to race in the first women's Tour de France.

"We're not trying to say, 'We want a Tour de France, make it happen, please,'" she said.

"We're trying to say, 'Let us help you make it happen.'"

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley. 

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Hansen video

More videos

Hansen's best HS football coaches in Tucson history

The Star is listing the 25 best high school football coaches in Tucson history, and Greg is ready to name names.


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...