A History of Women Cyclists Who've Blazed a Trail for the Sport
Women will ride in the Tour de France for the first time this year! Here are the historic female heroes who helped push the sport forward
2014 sees the first ever 'La Course by Le Tour de France' race, where women will ride the famous final Parisian stage of the world's biggest cycling event.
This is a big step for women's cycling, in what is often seen as a very macho race (they still have podium girls ffs!).
In celebration of the occasion, we’ve taken a gander at some amazing women who blazed a trail for women's cycling over the years - from blasphemous bloomer-wearing suffragettes to the modern-day heroines of the sport.
1. Various bad-ass bitches
When the first safety bicycle arrived in the 1880s, affluent ladies hijacked it with gusto. Driving cars wasn't socially acceptable, but bikes was a different matter. So what was previously the preserve of wealthy men was now a favourite of rich women instead.
It changed the social landscape, women donning (slightly) less cumbersome clothing and venturing outside without a chaperone.
"Suddenly it was much easier to have sex with a person that lived further away"
It widened the gene pool too – suddenly it was much easier to have sex with a person that lived further away.
We pretty much have bicycles and brave women to thank for the fact we don’t all look like Lannister offspring.
2. Annie Londonderry
More of a feminist icon and self-publicist than a true cyclist perhaps, but you cannot deny that Annie Londonderry was a cool lady.
This mother of three decided to cycle around the world, destroying stereotypes of women being crap at everything and succeeding in her goal to circle the globe in fifteen months.
Her journey began in Boston in June 1894, where she set off carrying only a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver.
She ended up seeing Chicago, New York, Paris, Marseilles, Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai and San Francisco, becoming a global celebrity in the process.
3. Billie Fleming
Born in 1914, Billie Fleming died earlier this year shortly after reaching her 100th birthday. She still holds the record for most miles cycled in one year, after she completed a whole 29,603 of them in 1938.
On a mission to promote women’s health and fitness to her fellow Brits, Billie rode around the UK, fuelled only by her enthusiasm and chocolate (really – Cadbury’s sponsored her).
She planned to go on to cycle around the U.S but a little thing called the Second World War got in the way. Don’t worry, she went on to break three cycling records on a tricycle instead. Bonkers.
4. Beryl Burton
The greatest British female cyclist of all time, Beryl Burton’s list of achievements is staggering. Two years after her husband Charlie introduced her to cycling in 1955, she started to win.
She was world champion five times, and held the title of the Road Time Trials Council’s British Best All-Rounder for TWENTY FIVE consecutive years. TWENTY FIVE!
"Beryl held the title of British Best All-Rounder for 25 consecutive years!"
She also broke the women’s record for the 12 hour time trial at 277.25 miles, which remained higher than the men's record for a full two years.
Because Beryl was clearly a mythical goddess on two wheels, she even set a record with her daughter for the women’s 10 mile tandem time trial.
How can something be so simultaneously awesome and heart-warming? We love you Beryl.
5. Marianne Martin
Probably the least well known of all the cyclists on this list, American Marianne Martin is still an important woman in cycling.
La Course is undoubtedly a watershed moment for women and the Tour, but Marianne Martin actually wore the yellow jersey of the first ever Tour de France Féminin back in 1986.
Unfortunately the Féminin was plagued with lack of sponsorship and cancellations until it’s demise in 2009, but it provided a much-needed platform for women to get exposure.
So La Course isn't a first. But don't let that stop you being angry about the general under-representation of women - and the boobalicious models on the men's podium, of course.
6. Jeannie Longo
France’s Queen Bee of the road is Jeannie Longo, who starting competing in 1995 and won her last title (French Elite Time Trial Champion) in 2011 at the age of 53.
She’s the longest-racing high profile female competitor in the sport and has nine road world championship titles to her name.
She and her husband ran into trouble over doping accusations in 2011, but she was cleared and is now suing the hell out of the French government for it. Nice.
7. Marianne Vos
Instrumental in the creation of La Course, Marianne Vos will be a top contender for the inaugural title.
This Dutch wonder has done and won bloody everything, with her Wikipedia entry going on for months. Between Olympic medals and world championship titles, she’s owned every road.
She’s also great because her achievements span cyclocross, road racing and track. Genuinely would not be surprised if she reinvented the wheel.
How to spot her when the peloton descends the Champs-Élysées? Fiver says she’s at the front.