The InternationElles- working to close the gender gap in cycling

- by Lucy Ritchie

Last weekend, the cobbled classics kicked off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium. Following the women’s race, won by Anna van der Breggen, the InternationElles published a pie chart on social media highlighting the gap between the men’s and women’s prize money- €16,000 for the men and €930 for the women. This inspired Cem Tanyeri to start a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of boosting the women’s prize fund for the upcoming Strade Bianche. Promoted by The Cyclists Alliance and the InternationElles, the final prize pot ended up at €26,633, exceeding that of the men’s.
 Source: InternationElles 
Whilst crowd funding to supplement the prize money for every race is clearly not sustainable or the solution to closing the gender gap in women’s cycling, which has many other challenges such as minimum wage, funding and more TV coverage, at least for a week, social media was alive with thought provoking discussion on this subject. 
This is precisely what the InternationElles are trying to achieve, we are a group of ‘ordinary’ women doing extraordinary things because we want to make a difference for future generations. Our mission is to change the perception of the capabilities of our gender and normalise women in cycling and sport in general. We also want to inspire others to become more active through cycling, recognising the physical and mental health benefits.
 Photo Credit: Attacus Cycling 
The InternationElles were established in 2019, a group of 10 women aged between 24 and 46, amateur racers and endurance athletes from the Netherlands, the UK, Australia and the USA with one mission- to raise awareness of gender disparity and to highlight the fact that there is currently no female equivalent of the Tour de France, the pinnacle of the professional cycling calendar. 
For the last 5 years, a French team, Les Donnons des Elles au Velo have been riding the full route of the Tour, one day ahead of the pro men’s peloton to lobby for an equivalent female race.
 Photo Credit: Nicholas Mortreux 
On the 5th of July, 2019, having never ridden together as a team, self-funded and accompanied by 2 hire vans, 4 crew and many crates of bananas, we joined the Donnons and 21 days later on the 27th of July, rolled up the Champs Elysees, having conquered 3,460km and 55,783m of climbing. 
In fact, we rode higher and further than the men, whose last 2 stages were cut short due to adverse weather conditions. The riding was challenging but the conditions we lived under for those 21 days were what made it really tough. Long, uncomfortable transfers, 5 hrs sleep a night maximum, often not eating dinner until 11pm, one massage the entire tour, maintaining our own bikes and washing our kit in the shower to name but a few! Having said that, it was undoubtedly the most incredible experience and whilst I felt that we had made progress in raising global awareness (we had whispers from the ASO that a women’s race was being planned for 2022) when I watched the men thunder up the Champs Elysees the day after we had dodged the traffic on our way to the L ’Arc De Triomphe, I felt hugely envious. 
I’m not a pro-rider, I get that, but I had just conquered the Tour, albeit slower than the men but I wanted to race to the finish. Whether it’s the Tour de France or a new, but equivalently majestic, Grand Tour for women, we need an equal platform. 
Photo Credit: Attacus Cycling 
Riding the full route of the Tour de France the day before the pro-men in 2019 was the catalyst for our InternationElles mission but we don’t want to stop until women have the same visibility and opportunities as men. 
We proved that as amateurs with day jobs and families, which is what many pro-women currently have to contend with, we convincingly and with minimum support, managed to ride the entire route. We made the point that women are physically and mentally capable. As someone who was the first female in an Air Cadet Squadron in the 1990’s, has a PhD in a science subject and in my subsequent career in the Oil and Gas industry, was often the only woman on an offshore rig, and still often the only woman in the boardroom with at least ten men, I understand what it is to be a woman in a stereotypical man’s world. 
I find it quite astonishing though, that it wasn’t until in my 40’s, when I started racing my bike at an amateur level that I became distinctly aware that as a woman I was being treated differently. I qualified over the same distance as the men to ride for GB at the UCI Grandfondo World Championships, yet in the actual race I only had to ride 100 km along with the 60 year old men, yet the rest of the men rode 160 km, why? It feels as women in cycling, we are just an inconvenience to the main event: the men’s race. Yet anyone who has witnessed women’s racing can’t deny its full gas from the start, no peloton promenading, it’s exciting and it’s very watchable. 
This weekend I watched the women’s Strade Bianche. Although the TV coverage only started 108km in, what was shown didn’t disappoint, but it would have been great to see more of that race rather than a repeat of the 2020 men’s race, whilst we waited for the 2021 men’s coverage to start. In 2020, coverage of the Covid delayed Vuelta and the Giro was broadcast concurrently, so in theory, if there was appetite, we could have men’s and women’s race coverage at the same time. 
Is there an appetite for women’s sport though? In 2019, 1.12 billion viewers tuned in to watch official broadcast coverage of the Women’s football world cup (, therefore I would suggest yes, is the answer to that question. Through our work as InternationElles, we often receive comments that we are expecting too much too soon, and we need to be patient. But do we? 
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 states that true gender equality will not be achieved for another 99.5 years- that’s 2121! That reality is stark and disappointing, waiting is easy, making a change and choosing to challenge is the harder path but one that we, the InternationElles are willing to commit to. 

In 2020, we were all set to ride the Tour again with the French team and also a Dutch contingent- Peloton Orange, which would have seen over 30 women riding the route the day before. Like most plans in 2020, Covid forced us to initiate Plan B. On the 29th of August, when the Tour started in France, with an InternationElle on the cover of the The Daily Telegraph sports supplement, we started to ride the total distance of the tour, 3,470 km as a virtual relay all over the world on turbo trainers. 
Passing the baton from the UK to the Netherlands, Australia and the USA, we covered the entire distance with 2 hour stints, full gas, in just under 100 hours- it was brutal. Following one day of rest, we then embarked on an Everesting attempt to cover the elevation of the tour; three team members (Julie-Ann Hazlett, Heather Sawtelle and Michelle Noble) on Zwift, and seven outdoors (Carmen de Campo- Netherlands, Jen Whalen- California, Jess Fawcett, Jules Cass, Rhian Denton, Lucy Ritchie and Louise Gibson- Wales). Nine of us successfully ‘Everested’ and joined the Hells500 hall of fame, significantly increasing the number of women who had done so. 
Photo Credit: George Galbraith 
Riding the full Tour de France again in 2021 was our plan, but COVID dependent it's looking increasingly like we may need another Plan B. But one thing is for sure, in 2021, having already seen special women’s editions of popular and typically male dominated, Rouleur and Cycling weekly magazines, the time is now! 
We plan to continue our drive for gender equality by bringing awareness through our riding challenges, but we also have an ambition to reach out to a wider audience including cycling clubs, youth groups and schools, sharing our experiences, promoting cycling and working to make it safer and more accessible. 
You can follow the InternationElles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: , @InternationEll2 and hopefully join us on the road someday soon!