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Louise Vardeman: ‘I'm excited about female cyclists being household names’

The InternationElles creator talks protest-riding for a women’s Tour de France and how the TdF Femmes will shape the future

Robyn Davidson
21 Jul 2022

Following surgery to repair her hip joint in 2015, keen runner Louise Vardeman did what many rehabbing runners do – she took up cycling. But as quickly as she fell in love with the sport, she also found out just how male-dominated it was. The fire was lit.

Fast forward to 2019 and Vardeman had co-founded the InternationElles, a 10-woman team of female cyclists from across the globe, riding to help spread the word about gender inequality in cycling.

That same year the team joined Donnons des Elles au Vélo J-1 at the Tour de France, an event created in 2015 by three French cyclists, in which participants ride one stage ahead of the men’s peloton in protest of the women’s peloton lacking its own iconic race.

‘It became more than a cycling thing; it became an equality thing,’ Vardeman tells Cyclist.

Photo: Jamie Wilkins

‘Fans were waiting for us to come through and because some travelled around with the Tour we saw them multiple times. By the end they were writing our names on the road. It was absolutely crazy,’ she says, holding up her arm to show the goosebumps forming at the mere recollection.

‘It was a real insight into the pros, but more importantly it raised a lot of questions. People who didn't even care about cycling would say, “What do you mean women aren’t allowed to ride the Tour de France?”’

Of course the ensuing pandemic halted plans to ride in France during the 2020 and 2021 Grand Tours, but InternationalElles would not be deterred. Instead they spent their time joining the lockdown Everesting trend (cycling up one hill repeatedly for 8,848m, the height of Everest) and riding the Tour de France route at home on turbo trainers.

When restrictions lifted, the team set a new Guinness World Record from Land’s End to John O’Groats for a four-person relay, riding the 1,349km distance in a time of 46 hours and 3 minutes.

Plans for the Tour de France Femmes

Photo: InternationElles / Attacus

It may have taken more than three decades, but thanks to outfits such as InternationalElles, the professional women will ride an ASO-produced Tour de France stage race for the first time since 1989: 1,029km around France from 24th July to 31st July.

Beginning at the Champs-Élysées the same day as the men arrive in Paris, the Tour de France Femmes route traverses the vineyards of Champagne, the gravel roads of the Vosges mountains and culminates in what will surely be an explosive finale on La Super Planche des Belles Filles.

‘I'm heading out there to support it,’ Vardeman says, beaming, ‘and we don't need to ride the men’s route anymore, because the women have got their own!

‘Our big thing this year is getting everyone to watch the race. We’ll be there drumming up enthusiasm and excitement and telling everyone to tune in and watch because it's going to be brilliant.’

Crucial to the race’s success, thinks Vardeman, is coverage – an area sometimes lacking in women’s cycling – the sort of exposure that will allow spectators and the future generation of cyclists to get to know the riders better, turning these professional racers in heroes and role models.

‘Some riders are so wonderful in their interviews, and we just don’t see enough of them.

‘I'm excited about female cyclists being household names. I think we’re starting to get that. Lizzie Deignan winning Paris-Roubaix Femmes was incredible and got people talking about cycling.’

Looking ahead to the future

Image: A.S.O.

So where does Louise Vardeman think the Tour de France Femmes might take cycling?

‘When the race begins, I think that’s going to start changing some opinions. It’s going to truly show that cycling is for anybody.

‘And not just as a hobby – anyone can make cycling a career choice too. That’s an area that is only going to get better with the kind of increasing salaries and prize money events like the women’s Tour will bring.’

Of course no one without a crystal ball and some luck can accurately predict the future, but in five years’ time Vardeman says she hopes we’ll see more women on bikes, more women’s races and more opportunities to watch the women in action.

‘You boost women’s cycling and you boost cycling as a whole.

‘That’s where I hope to be in five years. It just being a normal thing to be tuning into all manner of different races, watching both men and women.’

The Tour de France Femmes begins on 24th July, and we will certainly be watching.

The inaugural Tour de France Femmes is live and exclusive on Warner Bros. Discovery. Available across Discovery+, Eurosport, GCN+.

Main image: InternationElles / Attacus