The Women Who Conquered The Impossible Race
A Documentary by Jill Yesko
The Tour de France Féminin was the beginning of a new generation of women’s cycling
They Were Pioneers
The first women to compete in the historic Tour de France
Uphill Climb tells the story about the courageous women who defied those who said women could never finish the Tour de France
They proved them wrong
The Story of the Women's Tour de France
(Le Tour de France Féminin)
The first Woman to Win the Maillot Jaune
On July 22, 1984 American Marianne Martin won the debut Tour de France Féminin. She stood on the podium wearing the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) next to the men’s Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon. Few paid attention to the historic importance of her victory in the inaugural Tour de France Féminin. “They didn’t think we women would finish the race,” recalled Martin. “That’s what we were up against.”
One of the Most Important Events in the History of Women’s Sports
“One of the biggest fears the organizers had was that people wouldn’t be interested,” said Kelly-Ann Way, a member of the 1984 Canadian team. “But they had a new type of spectator—and it was the women. The Tour de France Féminin was the beginning of a new generation of women’s cycling.”
Held from 1984 to 1989, the Tour de France Féminin brought together the strongest women cyclists from around the world. The Tour followed the same courses as the men, including heart-stopping climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees mountains. Each stage ended at the same finish line as the men’s race, ensuring that huge crowds would be there to cheer on the women.
The Women of the Tour de France Battled Chauvinism and Stigma
The men’s Tour winners were given luxury accommodations and prize money while the purse for the women barely covered their travel expenses. Their ability was also dismissed by male riders. “I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else,” sniffed two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon.
Still, the women rode for glory and for the opportunity to participate in the longest and most storied cycling race in the world. Even though throngs of fans cheered for the women along the roadsides, few people knew about the race outside of Europe. Media coverage was sparse, even in cycling publications which remained focused on the men’s events. The stigma of being women athletes and the stereotype that women couldn’t handle the rigors of the Tour de France ultimately proved too difficult to surmount.
Gaining Traction: New Tours for the New Millennium
After the final Tour de France Féminin in 1989, the race was held in various forms including, in 2014, a one day race for the professional peloton called La Course by Le Tour de France in 2014. In spite of these fits and starts, women racers continued to push for a return to a full Tour de France race. And thanks to these efforts, a new era of women’s cycling that includes pay parity and renewed media attention on women’s racing has finally arrived.
The Hearts and Legs of a New Generation of Women Stand on the Pioneer’s Shoulders
With the explosion of interest in women’s cycling and the debut of the Tour de France Avec Zwift in 2022, it is critical to tell the stories of the Tour de France Féminin and the amazing women who conquered this epic race. These women set the stage for the women riders and racers of the present day and are inspirations for all athletes.
Filmmaker and journalist Jill Yesko is a former cyclist who represented the United States in the 1983 World University Games and competed in the Olympic Trials.
Jill’s films include Tainted Blood: The Untold Story of the 1984 Olympic Blood Doping Scandal (available on Amazon) and Broken Trust: Athlete Abuse Exposed (available on Kanopy). She is the host of the podcast The Bounce: Sports Talk With a Spin on WYPR and NPR.
Jill's writing has appeared in Women's Sports & Fitness, Shape, Fitness Swimmer, and numerous other magazines. She is the author of two acclaimed crime fiction novels and has been profiled in O, the Oprah magazine. She is a Fellow at the Center for Sports Communication & Media, Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas.
Allyson Davis is an award-winning veteran of television, sports production, global marketing and brand partnerships, athlete marketing and brand development. Her experience includes senior level leadership roles at companies like Fox Sports, E! Entertainment Networks, NBC Universal Sports and Red Bull. She started or co-founded three of her own companies including an active lifestyle magazine, a major TV and movie promotions firm, and a consulting business. Ally is a serious lifelong cyclist. Born in New York City, she now lives in Los Angeles.