Ayesha McGowan pushes for more diverse peloton in future Tour de France Femmes

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Even though professional cyclist Ayesha McGowan will be watching from home when her Liv Racing Xstra teammates take to in this year’s much-anticipated Tour de France Femmes, she’s already embracing the impact of the inaugural grand tour on her own future.

“Since I’ve been in the sport, I’ve had to inform [people] that there is no women’s Tour de France, like a full-way bike racing tour,” McGowan told On Her Turf. “But now I get to say that we have one, and that I can actually put that on my bucket list of races to participate in. So that’s super exciting.”

But as the first Black American women on a professional road cycling team, the 35-year-old activist and advocate also sees the resurrected race as way to highlight the importance of intersectionality within a traditionally male-led, predominantly white sport.

“From a representation standpoint, I do wish that there was more diversity within the peloton, and I don’t see that happening in this first edition,” said McGowan of the women’s field.

2022 Women’s Tour de France: How to watch, schedule, race history and more

But while it might not be obvious this year in Paris when the Tour kicks off Sunday, she’s optimistic about pro cycling’s future: “There’s just so many opportunities still left to be had, and we’re constantly pushing for change and betterment for the whole process and the whole community. … We’ll get there.”

Her approach starts with a simple, “never-assume” mentality that begins by making sure opportunities are actually presented to communities of color.

“I think there’s a lot of selection that happens before consideration,” said McGowen, who didn’t take up cycling until she was 26 and made her professional debut in September at Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche, where she recorded a seventh-place finish in the sixth stage. “People assume that people of color don’t want to do something, or won’t want to participate in something, or wouldn’t be interested in something.

“I think that is a bias that I wish that the community would get rid of. Because if you do create opportunities — and present those opportunities — oftentimes people will take them and show up.”

She hopes representation will get an uptick from recent developments within the sport over the last two years, including the fact that women’s world tour teams are now required to pay their riders a minimum salary. Additionally, McGowen praised the investment that industry partners including the popular social platform Strava are making not only in women’s sports but also in more equity, inclusion and ease of entry for women looking to participate and excel in professional competition.

“I think it’s important that that Strava is investing in women’s racing and not just women’s racing, but just getting women to the starting line of whatever sport that they’re interested in,” said McGowan. “I think the reason that my my story resonates with so many people is because they can see themselves in it, even if they’re not trying to race bikes. And so I think creating those opportunities and making space for those people and giving the resources to be the community that is trying to build opportunities is super important.

“And as we see that happening, it’s getting more competitive; racing is getting harder,” she added. “It’s getting more interesting because people can dedicate their time to racing instead of also having to work a second job to live and support the career. … And there have been a few teams that have men’s teams that have decided to pay their women riders, the same minimums as the men’s riders — and that’s huge. Because once you start setting that precedent, then perhaps others will follow.”

As for when she’ll target the Tour for her own competition calendar, she’s taking things slightly slower these days after myomectomy surgery in June to remove multiple uterine fibroids.

“Just trying to take it one day at a time,” said McGowan, who hopes to return to cycling in August. “It’s really, really easy to get ahead of yourself. And I’m not one to shy away from lofty goals. But it would be great to race the tour one day, maybe next year… anything can happen is what I have learned over the course of my life.”

Liv Racing Xstra’s team for the Tour de France Femmes includes Italian Rachele Barbieri, Belgian Valerie Demey, and Dutch riders Thalita de Jong, Jeanne Korevaar, Silke Smulders and Sabrina Stultiens.

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.