For the first time since 1989 women cyclists have a chance to race alongside their male counterparts at the Tour de France.
Called "La Course," the planned race is being called a major step forward for women in the sport of cycling.
"Back in the autumn a delegation of champion women cyclists came to see us and requested that we create something that would give their sport a real push forward, and that is what will happen on 27 July," the Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme told the Observer. "The backdrop will be exceptional because this is the most beautiful circuit in the world and as in 2013 the circuit will include the Arc de Triomphe."
"The race will be transmitted live on France Television and Eurosport and I would imagine that most of the other Tour rights holders will be interested by it," he added. "Cycling is a universal sport but competitive cycling isn't universal, so we need to develop women's events. We've been involved for a long time so it's logical for us to develop this race with the elite of women's cycling."
"Cycling is a universal sport but competitive cycling isn't universal, so we need to develop women's events," said Prudhomme. "We've been involved for a long time so it's logical for us to develop this race with the elite of women's cycling."
Yann le Moenner, the managing director of the Tour's parent company Amaury Sports Organisation, said that "making a contribution to all forms of cycling is a vocation for the Tour de France. This is even more so when it is about supporting a discipline that is clearly on the up and has been making its mark in professional sport for many years." La Course joins the Ladies Tour of Qatar and La Flèche Wallonne on ASO's roster of women's events.
"A giant step forward for women's cycling and one that athletes, teams and the public will undoubtedly support," said the triathlete Chrissie Wellington, one of the founders of the Le Tour Entier pressure group which has been behind the campaign for parity launched in July. "A revolutionary development in our sport," said the women's world No1 Marianne Vos. "I have no doubt that La Course by Le Tour identifies a new era for women's cycling and will significantly contribute to the growth of road racing."
The move comes in large part thanks to a petition circulated back in August by Emma Pooley, British former world time-trial champion, among others. The petition got more than 80,000 signatures in a short time, raising some eyebrows in cycling circles pretty quickly.
Reactions at the time were mixed, with the move drawing support from the Labour politician Harriet Harman, while the future president of the UCI Brian Cookson – at that point he was the president of British Cycling – was also supportive and indeed assisted with making initial contact between Le Tour Entier and ASO.
Cookson went on to make an expansion of women's cycling a key plank in his election manifesto, with the foundation of a UCI women's racing commission. He described Saturday's development as "a tremendous step forward."
The race has no determined distance or route as of yet (expect that later this year).
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