Greg Lemond Wasn’t the First American To Win the Tour De France, and Why Cycling Fans Are Sexist

You can win a beer bet from cycling fans with these questions:

Who was the first American to win a Tour de France stage?

Who was the first American to win the Tour de France?

In 1986 Davis Phinney won Stage 3 of the Tour de France, and most websites credit Phinney with the first American stage win. Wikipedia says that “In 1986, LeMond became the first non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France, and he remains the only American cyclist to have won the Tour.”

Is the conventional wisdom right? From 1984 to 1989 there was a women’s Tour de France. In the inaugural year, Marianne Martin won Stage 12, the first alpine stage, and earned the polka dot jersey for best climber (she’s from Colorado). Two stages later she was wearing the yellow jersey, for the race leader, which she wore through the 18th and final stage. Martin was the first American to win a Tour de France stage and the first American to win the Tour de France. American Deborah Shumway was third, and the American team won the team title.

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That year Laurent Fignon won the men’s Tour de France, earning more than $100,000 in prizes (plus his salary). The American women’s team won $1,000, which they had to share. Riding in the Tour de France cost them money.

Women have never been allowed to ride with the men in the Tour de France. Some women could have qualified, for example, seven-time world champion Beryl Burton, whose 1967 12-hour time trial record of 277.25 miles broke the men’s record. She rode with the men in the 1968 Grand Prix des Nations, finishing close behind the male winner. There’s no reason I can see to exclude women from the men’s pelotons, if they’re fast enough.

Support for women’s cycling today has hardly improved since the 1980s. Women professional cyclists continue to earn a fraction of the prizes and salaries that men earn. The women’s Tour de France, a.k.a. Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, struggled to find sponsors. The 2004 race was cancelled. Later races were scaled down, eventually to only four stages. The race was discontinued after 2009.

Tennis and golf are egalitarian, due to their genteel roots and generations of lady players. The Boston Marathon has allowed women since 1972, with equal prize money and fame for men and women, and the men and women run together. But running is participatory sport, not a spectator sport. Anyone can run the Boston Marathon, if you meet the qualifying time. Spectator sports such as American football are the most sexist, because fans want to watch men play. Professional cycling is a spectator sport, and racing doesn’t work with large numbers of participants (unlike the big recreational rides), so the sport remains sexist.

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Me with Marianne Martin, at the Boulder Sports Hall of Fame, where she was honored. May 12, 2019.

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