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On July 5, 10-year Boulder resident and cyclist Sara Beck climbed on her bike alongside 22 amateur women cyclists in Brussels, Belgium, to start a 21-stage cycling ride identical to that of the Tour de France, a race that has remained exclusive to men for the event’s 106 years.

The group of women cyclists, known as the InternationElles, is in the midst of tackling the challenging 2,150 mile-long Tour route one day ahead of their male Tour competitors. The women will end their 23-day journey in Paris on Saturday.

Sara Beck has joined her teammates to form the InternationElles, a group that’s riding the Tour de France route a day ahead of the men.

In an effort to complete the same route as the men, this group of female athletes hopes to draw attention to the absence of a comparable women’s cycling race. The InternationElles aim to call awareness to the lack of equal opportunity in women’s cycling — and sports in general — that often leads to issues such as disparity in prize money and lack of coverage.

The French team, dubbed the Donnons Des Elles Au Vélo J-1, started the amateur annual ride for women five years ago and, in 2019, sought to expand internationally. That’s when Beck, who first heard about the team on Twitter, applied for a spot in November 2018. When enough international applicants were accepted, 10 women representing seven different countries formed the InternationElles the following January. The team will ride along with their French counterparts, Beck being the only American in the group.

Beck, a triathlete, said after experiencing vast diversity in other sports, she was taken aback by cycling’s gender imbalance.

“I was genuinely surprised to see such a disparity in cycling,” Beck said. “ It’s not a question of ability level, it’s a question of opportunity. Cycling is behind the times, and certainly behind other sports.”

The Tour wasn’t always without a corresponding female race. In 1984, the Tour de France Society’s Felix Levitan organized a women’s race — the Tour de France Féminin. The race covered 18 stages, versus the men’s 23, and due to Union Cycliste Internationale restrictions regarding how far women could ride during races, women only cycled a fourth of the distance of the men. The women’s race continued intermittently through 2009, undergoing various format and name changes until it was forced into extinction due to minimal funding and lack of adequate coverage.

The first woman to win the Tour de France Féminin in ‘84 was Marianne Martin, then just a 26-year-old Boulderite. Martin filled the last spot on the American team only weeks before.

Martin said to create a successful women’s race, initiative needs to be taken with the proper sponsors and organizers.

“[The lack of a women’s Tour] is really unfortunate and I would love to see the women’s race,” she said. “I think the InternationElles will make an impact and I think it’s fabulous they are doing it. But, it takes a lot of work to make it work. If the Tour de France gets pressured into doing a women’s race on someone else’s terms, it won’t sustain itself.”

Beck prepared for the Tour’s most mountainous climb in its history by riding more than 3,700 miles in mountainous areas in Switzerland, France and Italy for the past five months. As the group gears to finish the last stretch of the route, Beck hopes she can inspire a younger generation with her dedication and performance in the sport.

“I’m riding to remind young girls and women that women certainly can — and do — undertake these epic endurance challenges, too,” Beck said.

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