Tour de France director labels Harriet Harmon's proposal for a women's race as ill-conceived and premature

Christian Prudhomme admits a women's race is important but feels she should have spoken to him rather than write a public letter back with a petition

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The Independent Online

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has responded to Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman after she made a public proposal for a women’s version of the iconic race, labelling the idea ill-conceived and premature.

Harman had wrote an open letter backed by a 70,000-strong petition to the director last week urging him to look at the possibility of including a women’s event simultaneously with the men’s, beginning with next year’s Grand Depart which will be held in Yorkshire.

Prudhomme’s response came on the day that the International Cycling Union presidential candidate Brian Cookson confirmed he is holding a meeting with the Tour owners ASO to consider staging a women’s race.

He accused Harman of being impractical in her approach, saying it could very well be “impossible” to run a second Tour alongside one that is already stretched to full capacity.

Prudhomme was speaking while on a visit to Yorkshire, and he told the Press Association: "It would have been better for [Harman] to talk to us at the end of one of the stages or after another race. We are not the only organisers of cycling in the world.

"Also, it would have been much easier to talk to us directly instead of a petition and [finding out by] opening your mailbox one morning and you don't know what has happened.

"We are open to everything. Having women's races is very important for sure. [But] the Tour is huge and you cannot have it bigger and bigger and bigger down the road - it is impossible."

The petition was organised by former world champion and Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley. Who won the Grande Boucle in 2009 – the last time the closest race to a women’s Tour was held.

Cookson appeared positive on the hopes of creating a women’s Tour, and he also announced a five-day international stage to be held next year during the Tour of Britain.

But he also distanced himself from Harmon’s proposal, urging caution over any attempts to “mimic” the men’s Tour by saying: "Women's teams that are bolted onto men's teams is not the only answer.

"What I can do through my role in British Cycling and through the International Cycling Union is try to bring the parties together.

"That's what I'm trying to do at the moment - to get the people who have been organising the petition together with the ASO, with my part of the UCI at the moment, and see what changes we need to make something like that feasible."

Instead, Cookson wants British Cycling to do more to push female competition in the sport, admitting that although they’ve been at the forefront of development in the past, they – and  everyone else – can do more to push it further.

"Cycling, like most sports, has been traditionally male-dominated and I think we have to accept that we have to try a lot harder," added Cookson.

"I would like to see a women's Tour de France. But I think you have to be very cautious about the terms and conditions and distances and so on, and make sure you do something that's deliverable and sustainable rather than something that fails."