Britain's most high-profile women's cyclist has refused to endorse the petition calling for women to be included in the Tour de France next year.
Laura Trott has been at the forefront of the extraordinary take-up in women's cycling since last summer but is not among those who want the Tour to bow to moves to prematurely ditch its 100-year format in the interests of equality.
Trott's Olympic teammate Emma Pooley and Dutch Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos have been at the front of the campaign to convince the race organisers ASO to change. Their petition to Tour director Christian Prudhomme has topped 90,000 signatures and is still climbing this weekend.
But though Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman's open letter to Prudhomme has reinforced that demand, Trott insisted that the petition had been ill conceived, even suggesting that the women's Tour de France as envisaged by the two Olympians threatens to damage the infrastructure of women's cycling, rather than benefit it. "The little petition that was put out by Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos just hadn't been thought through very well," she said. "It's all well and good having a women's Tour de France – which I think we need and I think we should have. But I think we should slowly build it in and not just go 'bam' with three weeks over the same course and same length of time as the men's."
That is the idea being proposed by Pooley and Vos who believe the women should ride the same Tour course as the men each day, whisking through the villages and towns and scaling the peaks in front of the cycling fans who congregate in their millions to see the men rattling through ahead of the legendary cavalcade of promotional vehicles. The petition states: "After a century, it is about time women are allowed to race the Tour de France, too. We seek not to race against the men, but to have our own professional field running in conjunction with the men's event, at the same time, over the same distances, on the same days, with modifications in start/finish times so neither gender's race interferes with the other."
Pooley has said she was "sure I could finish [the race]. I know I could do the distance," though current rules governing world cycling prevent women from cycling as far as men in a single stage.
But Trott believes that if the women mirror the men's event by going out in front the men will simply catch them up – and if they follow the men through the course, the crowds will have begun to disappear when the women race. She is also concerned that women's cycling should not forget the small events, with their myriad sponsors, who have supported the women and given them an arena during the three weeks of the Tour de France. They include Belgium's La Fleche Wallone and the Gent-Wevelgem race in Flanders. "We've got valuable sponsors in those races," said Trott. "The women's Giro d'Italia has also been running in July for years and it's not fair to say to them 'look we're going to put a women's Tour de France on now and forget your race.' People are not thinking about the knock-on effect. If we follow the little petition they put out, the smaller races fall away and the smaller teams that turn up at those races lose their sponsors because they're not racing for those three weeks. So, it just hadn't been thought through. I think we should slowly build it up instead."
Trott visualises two one-day stage races coinciding with the men's Tour, to take place on the men's two rest days. As she sees it, one stage could finish up the Alps – even the Alpe d'Huez, despite the size of that task – and another flatter stage on the Champs-Elysees. "A Tour de France needs to be introduced slowly into women's cycling," the 21-year-old said. "You can't just immediately expect it to be what the men's is. Remember that 20 or 30 years ago the men's Tour wasn't what it is today. I do think people are forgetting that."
Dani King, another British Olympic gold medallist on the track, echoes her concerns. "They work really well because they've all got the infrastructure in place," she said. "The women start earlier than the men on the same course and we do a shorter route because all the crowds are there and the media. It will be good to have a women's Tour in the future but we should work more slowly and not go too fast, too soon."
Trott was racing in France this week, as she continues her build up to the European track cycling championships at Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands, in October. "The world has become a different place for British women's cycling," she said.
Laura Trott and Dani King were riding at the 'Ride With Brad Sportive' in Lancashire, held in aid of the Bradley Wiggins Foundation