The Tour de France is arguably the most famous cycling race. The Men’s Tour is an almost month-long event that winds through the French countryside each July.
However, most people may not be as familiar with the women’s circuit. That’s because this year was the first time in more than three decades that women competed.
While the men’s Tour de France is a multi-week event with over 21 stages, the women’s route is reduced in comparison, with eight stages.
Homer-born cyclist Kristen Faulkner, who rode her maiden Tour de France last month, believes there are several reasons for this.
“I think the organizers still have a kind of traditional mentality in Europe, that women can’t do as much as men,” she said. “I think the second factor is the funding required for the initial investment. And right now they’re not ready to invest that much in women’s cycling until they know there really are people ready to watch it.
Faulkner first considered professional cycling while working in New York as a venture capitalist.
Although she was athletic, she said cycling was not on her radar. The 23-year-old had just graduated from Harvard, where she majored in computer science. While in college, she broke rowing records and set the school best time for indoor rowing in her weight class.
Prior to that, Faulkner said his cycling experience was limited to cycling on the Homer Spit after swimming training to help his family with housework more than a decade ago. His parents, John and Sara Faulkner, own and operate Lands Ends Resort, a year-round hotel and restaurant at the tip of Homer Spit.
It wasn’t until she took a cycling course in New York in 2016 that she fell in love with competitive sport for both its individual and team components.
“Cycling is both a race and also a game,” Faulkner said. “You have the effect of drafting, which is when you ride right behind your teammate, and you can save energy because you’re not in the wind all the time. And so the teams use this dynamic. If you’re the sprinter, your teammate will go right in front of you, and sort of ride past you to the finish, then at the very last minute, sprint around them. And so that teamwork plays a big part in how the riders race.
Faulkner, 29, says she had high hopes for the Tour de France last month. The French race is one of three major stage races that make up what is called “Le Grand Tour”, which she hopes to complete. Faulkner has already successfully participated in one of them, the Giro Rosa d’Italia, in early July.
During the Giro Rosa, she said she won two of the 10 stages and also wore the coveted polka dot jersey. It is awarded to the strongest climber in the race, known as “The Queen of the Mountain”. But just before the Tour de France, Faulkner fell ill.
“[The Giro Rosa] was one of my best races of the year,” she said. “I was just very excited about the idea of tackling the Tour de France, [thinking] I might actually have a shot at the podium again or even win. And then the day after the Giro, I went home and tested positive for COVID. And I had COVID for the next 11 or 12 days. I tested negative on the very last day I was cleared to test negative and be able to race for the lap.
But COVID wasn’t the only challenge, she said.
“So there were three crashes that happened right in front of me and I really had no way to avoid them,” she said. “There were really big piles of crashes. And I have a lot of rashes on my legs and I hit my elbow and so it was very hard on my body. In fact, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish the race.
But she is done.
Faulkner says she is hopeful for two upcoming stage races later this summer and the World Cycling Championships in September.
Faulkner said she plans to race next year’s Tour and hopes to get on the podium this time around. She said she was hopeful for the future of women in sport and wanted more people to get involved in cycling.
“I’m just encouraging more people to get on the bike,” Faulkner said. “I think it’s a really good form of exercise. It’s funny. It is sustainable transport. And I would like to see more women on bikes. It’s a very masculine sport. And if we can get more women into cycling, I think we can support more women’s sports in general.