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Historic Tour de France Femmes gives women’s cycling new platform

The eight-day race beginning Sunday will be the first Tour de France for women since 1989. (Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

On Sunday, for the first time since 1989, women will ride in their own Tour De France.

The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will begin on the Champs Elysées in Paris and finish atop La Super Planche des Belles Filles. The eight-day race will be the first Tour de France for women since the event was staged from 1984-89. While past women’s races have taken place, such as La Course by the Tour de France, they haven’t been the Tour.

“It’s a race that most people in the world have heard about,” veteran cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Pasio told Just Women’s Sports. “If you meet someone out on the street and you tell them that you’re a professional cyclist, then they’ll be like, ‘Have you ridden the Tour de France?’

“Now the response is totally different. You can go, ‘Yes, I’m going to be racing the Tour de France.”

The public’s perception about women’s cycling is not the only thing Moolman Pasio believes the Tour will change.

“The real relevance of us having a Tour de France is that now young girls or women in general can turn on the TV and watch women racing for the biggest race in the world,” she said. “And that’s when the sport really grows. Because then the depth grows, and suddenly you have young girls who aspire to become pro cyclists.”

A Tour de France Femmes became possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the Tour de France approached Zwift, a virtual training app for cycling and running, about holding a virtual race in 2020, the company also pushed for a women’s race.

“True to Zwift’s values, they stuck firmly to the fact that everything they do, they do equal,” said Moolman Pasio. “So if there were to be a men’s virtual Tour de France, there had to be a women’s one, too.”

The success of that race led main sponsor Zwift to commit to the real thing, and Amaury Sport Organization — which runs the Tour de France — to reconsider their stance on holding a women’s Tour.

In June 2021, ASO announced the launch of the new stage race to take place in July 2022. With a prize fund of €250,000, and the winner taking home €50,000, it’s the richest race in women’s cycling.

For Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme, the response to the announcement has led him to believe that the race will stick.

“When presenting the women’s Tour de France, the women racers looked very eager,” Prudhomme told Cycling News. “So, we are naturally optimistic and confident in the interest that will be shown in the Tour de France. It feels like we are experiencing a movement in cycling that is continuously gaining momentum.”

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of South Africa enters the Tour de France with title hopes. (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Moolman Pasio grew up riding, taking part in the Cape Town Cycle Tour with her mother when she was growing up in South Africa. She also enjoyed other sports, like field hockey and tennis, but soon found herself focusing on her academics at Stellenbosch University.

Her now husband Carl, a semi-professional cross triathlete, later noticed her talent on a bicycle and encouraged her to pursue it. From there, she seized on an opportunity to begin riding overseas and her career took off.

“Cycling has been such an incredible journey for me really because — it sounds pretty cliché, but it’s 100 percent true — it’s really been a form of empowerment for me,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be pursuing a career and for it to be a relatively lucrative career.”

After spending some time with CCC Liv and winning the first edition of the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships in 2020, Moolman Pasio now races with SD Worx. The No. 1 team in the world is based in the Netherlands and has a roster of racers like Demi Vollering, who won last year’s La Course by Le Tour de France.

With eight stages over eight days, the Tour de France Femmes covers every type of terrain, including gravel, which will be a Tour de France first. The amount of climbing will steadily increase each day, appealing to riders of every specialty.

“The course has been designed particularly well,” said Moolmain Pasio. “It’s gonna keep the crowd engaged, the fans engaged over the entire duration of the race.”

There’s also the historical significance of the course. Nestled in the Vosges mountains is the Ballon d’Alsace, home of the first “significant summit” crested in the Tour de France, during the race’s third edition in 1905.

“We wanted to show that we were creating a woman’s race that would be perennial, and therefore add an emblematic aspect to the race,” Prudhomme said. “So we added some historic Tour references to the race. As well as the Ballon d’Alsace, there is also the arrival at Epernay. This was the finale of a stage in 2019, in which Julian Alaphilippe took his first yellow jersey.”

Three-time World Champion and two-time Giro Rosa winner Annemiek van Vleuten, a member of Movistar and an expert climber, is widely considered the favorite to take the yellow jersey. But Moolman Pasio has climbing skills of her own, as do teammates Niamh Fisher-Black and Vollering.

“At some point, we hope to catch her out,” added Moolman Pasio. “I think it’s going to be a really exciting eight days because there are plenty of strong women and a lot of passion. And when you ride with passion, it’s a force to be reckoned with.”

They also have the French to worry about. The French team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope is aiming to win the yellow jersey at home, and they have the rider to do it: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished second in La Course last year.

“I hope there can be a French rider in the mix, such as Évita Muzic or Audrey Cordon-Ragot, who is a personality,” said Prudhomme.

As for her career beyond the Tour, Moolman Pasio has continued to improve this season, prompting her to reconsider her decision to retire. Deciding to step into the e-cycling space and start Rocacorba Collective, a membership-based indoor cycling community that’s created a space for women to come together to cycle, has helped her reap new benefits as she’s taken her training from the virtual world into reality.

“I really feel that it allows me to access a sort of a zone that is something that’s very difficult to achieve on the road,” she said. “You can just put all your focus into getting the best out of your body. What I’ve found is that accessing this zone while I’m on Zwift is now translating to the road as well. It’s enabling me to switch my mind off even in the races, get really into the zone and focus on getting the best out of myself.

“So I’ve just seen that, as a result, I’ve reached a whole new level as a cyclist on the road.”

She’ll attempt to reach even higher levels on Sunday when she begins the first stage of the Tour de France alongside familiar faces, all looking to be the first champion of the Tour de France Femmes.

“There was a time when I thought I would never see the Tour de France Femmes in my career,” said Moolman Pasio. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some tears of joy from myself and from other members of the peloton [when we line up], because it’s going to be such a huge moment.”

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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