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Australian cyclist Amanda Spratt hails 'emotional' return of Tour de France Femmes after 30-year hiatus

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Amanda Spratt poses for a picture on her bike, wearing a mask with the Eiffel Tour in the background
Amanda Spratt was struck by the momentous occasion as she crossed the line on the Champs-Élysées.(Getty Images: Dario Belingheri)

Champion Australian cyclist Amanda Spratt has broken down with emotion after crossing the line at the Champs-Élysées in the first stage of the historic women's Tour de France.

Since 1903, the men's race has been the pinnacle of international cycling and regularly draws over 1 billion viewers across the world.

Now, for the first time since 1989, the Tour de France Femmes has returned, finally allowing veterans like 34-year-old Spratt to compete.

"When I was rolling up to the podium there I started getting a bit teary; I think I'm getting a bit sentimental in my old age," the 34-year-old told SBS on Sunday.

"I think it just made me realise how big this moment is."

Pratt went on to acknowledge the "pioneers" of women's cycling, saying a "lot of hard work" had gone into seeing the Tour de France Femmes return.

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"I grew up watching the SBS highlights of the men's Tour de France when I was a child, and most of my icons and idols were male cyclists because I couldn't see women racing on TV.

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"The symbol behind this, the message we're going to get out of this [is that] young girls and boys alike can watch us race from Australia, from their couches, and I really hope we can inspire the next generation." 

Spratt, who is riding for Team Bikeexchange-Jayco, didn't get off to the ideal start at Champs-Élysées, crashing with five kilometres remaining as she prepared for the final sprint.

Nonetheless, she returned to the bike to complete the stage in a time of one hour, 54 minutes and 56 seconds.

It was yet another sign of persistence from the Australian, who is coming off a COVID infection she acquired while racing in the Giro d'Italia Donne

Eight Australians are competing in the historic race, with Tiffany Cromwell and Nicole Frain the top-ranked Australians in 11th and 12th place respectively. 

Wiebes holds off Vos to take first stage victory 

The Champs-Élysées stage was won by Lorena Wiebes of the Netherlands.

The Team DSM rider struck in the last 150 metres of the 82-kilometer circuit in Paris to beat former Olympic champion Marianne Vos to the line, punching the air in celebration.

"I'm really happy that I was finally able to race on the Champs-Élysées," Wiebes said.

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"It was a hard race, a fast one. It feels really special to ride here around Paris and even more special to wear the yellow jersey."

Wiebes celebrated on the podium with a baby in her arms — later confirming that the baby was not hers, but a friend's. 

"It was not mine," she said in her post-race press conference.

"Otherwise it was not possible to race this year I think.

"It's a good friend of mine and we had a bet on it [that] if I won the stage and got yellow, then I was able to get her on the podium."

Tour of Flanders champion Lotte Kopecky was third.

The first stage started from the Eiffel Tower and ended on the iconic avenue, just hours before the conclusion of the men's race.

The "Tour de France Femmes" will end July 31 in eastern France at La Super Planche des Belles Filles, a spectacular uphill finish often visited by the men's Tour.

The eight-stage race aims to become a permanent fixture on the women's world tour cycling calendar.

A Tour stage race took place from 1984 to 1989, running parallel with the men's edition, before later being shortened.

Various other versions have been tried but they were chronically underfunded.

Women cyclists lag far behind men in terms of pay and resources, with conditions slowly on the improve

Online fitness platform Zwift has signed on with a four-year sponsorship after riders spent years calling for a women's version of the race.

Some rode every stage of the men's race to raise awareness of the issue until the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), which organises the Tour de France, announced the new event.

With AP

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