'A development tool and a revealer of talents' - Why the inaugural Tour de l’Avenir Femmes is crucial

This year marks the inguarual women’s Tour de l’Avenir, 59 years after the men's race 

For many girls coming through the cycling ranks, their options post-juniors are pretty much sink-or-swim. With a limited number of under-23 races and opportunities to compete against those in their own age category, they end up racing against elite riders as soon as they age out of the junior ranks. The situation is improving slowly, and a standalone under-23 World Championships is promised from 2025, but there are still very few chances for developing under-23 women to race each other.

The longstanding under-23 men’s stage race, Tour de l’Avenir or ‘Race of the Future’, has introduced a women’s race. Across five stages, the women will race varied parcours, including a time trial, sprint stages, and mountains, as part of their respective national teams and alongside those in their own age category.

“I think if you don't make that step after junior, I imagine that people end up just thinking, 'Well, what am I fighting for? I still want to make it WorldTour, but how do I do that if I don't have the chance to show myself?'” says Fenix-Deceuninck rider Flora Perkins, who will race for the Great Britain squad at Tour de l’Avenir. “I think having races like this for U23 riders, and if more of a calendar is built, then I think more girls will stay.”

Canadian rider Adèle Normand, who races for the Massi Tactic Continental team, also sees the need for races like the Tour de l’Avenir to provide a bridge between Continental and U23. “I think if you're a really good rider, obviously, you don't mind going straight into the pro ranks or if you're good technically [such as] coming from kermesse racing,” she says. “Personally, if I had that step between amateur cycling in Canada and then pro racing, I think it would have been a bit more smooth, and I could have learned more gradually because there's some things that are really hard to learn.”

Race organiser Philippe Colliou says that this was an important consideration when deciding to start a women’s Tour de l’Avenir: “This is an important step to structure before the UCI Women WorldTour,” he told Rouleur. “The race has high-level, established athletes but also athletes who are not yet known at this level. It is a development tool and a revealer of talents like the Tour de l’Avenir men.”

As Colliou explains, while this is primarily a development race, there are some well-established names on the start list, including the two Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift white jersey winners, Shirin van Anrooij and Cédrine Kerbaol.

“All the big hitters are going to be there,” says Normand. “But I think it's going to be a really good opportunity for riders on smaller teams that don't have race bikes or just don't have the structure within the team to do some good results.”

With some riders already racing on WorldTeams and others who are still hoping to take that step, the race provides an opportunity for those who are not yet at the top level of the sport to gain experience racing alongside those riders without a full WorldTour peloton. “There's a lot of good riders where, even in WorldTour races, those girls get really great results. So, it's going to be a good opportunity to be seen and also compare the level we have,” says Perkins.

“I think it will be a quality race, and having those names already big on the WorldTour stage to then come in. I think it just adds that level of prestige not just because it's a historical race on the guys' side – and it has that sort of respect from there – but we can actually say people who do well at this race are really good bike riders. And I think having that for the first edition is important because going forward it holds that same weight of looking at the stars of the future.”

Alongside Van Anrooij and Kerbaol, the start list also includes names like Antonia Niedermaier, who won a stage of the Giro Donne earlier this year, SD Worx rider Anna Shackley, Lidl-Trek’s star climber Gaia Realini and word cyclocross champion Fem van Empel to name a few. Rather than being frustrated that such high-calibre WorldTour level names have turned up to a race that is ostensibly aimed at development riders, Perkins says it adds a level of credibility.

“I'm so glad that these riders also have said, 'You know what, this is a race I want to do and want to do well in' because there was the possibility that riders like that want to go to Scandinavia, or it just doesn't excite them that much. But, I'm glad that they are riding this race, too,” she says.

“I think people could get a bit overwhelmed or just a bit weighed down by always fighting for position and not getting any recognition for the work that they're doing. But having a stage like this, where you can actually show what you can do and how you can race, I think is cool.”

Normand agrees: “For me, my biggest issue in the race is to be able to get the right placement against the big teams with the lead-outs and their whole organisation in the bunch. Obviously, there's this kind of thing where the WorldTour teams have more of a place and they're more respected. So I think in that race, it's going to be more even. Everyone is going to have the same amount of respect and the same place to take,” she explains. “For me, I've done some decent results this season, even with that fact, so I'm hoping I have more room to express myself and try some things.”

As for their personal goals within the race, the two young riders have different aims. “I think there's a bit of everything in it, which is exciting,” says Perkins. “I think as a team, as GB, it really suits us. And in that sense, it's great, because we have numbers to play with. And I think we'll be a strong team and able to have a bit of a say in the race. For me, personally, it might be more of a race where I'm aiding others. And, actually, I get a lot out that I really enjoy it when I can be helpful. If I can get to the end of the race and think, ‘Oh, I really did everything I could today,’ if that's for me, or for someone else, I'm not too fussed.”

Normand, however, is looking to gain experience and exposure to attract a contract with a bigger team. “I think just to have this race where everyone will be watching is just a great way to gain confidence and do some results, maybe to get on bigger teams, and do some good things,” she says.

Unfortunately, the race will not be broadcast live as the men’s l’Avenir was, but Colliou says that this edition is something of a test run to gain an understanding of the level. “Our objective this year is above all to observe in order to best shape the women's Tour de l'Avenir for future years. It is important to know, in particular, the overall sporting level,” he says.

“We won't really know until afterwards how it's received or how much people hold it as being the same as the guys,” says Perkins. “Because whenever British guys do well at l'Avenir, it's like 'These other guys coming up are our next Tour winners' or ‘They're going to be big.’ Whereas for some of us, we're already involved with teams and doing really well on the WorldTour stage. But if, or when, they do well at l'Avenir, the media pick it up and say 'Look at these stars of the future' or whatever. I think that it will be important that it's held with as much prestige.”

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