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For professional cycling, 2022 was a landmark year. After years of campaigning for a race that’s equivalent to the prestigious men's Tour de France, the world’s top women cyclists hit the road in Paris on 24 July 2022 in the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Twenty-four teams, each with six riders, competed in the eight-stage race, which took place in the week after the men's tour.
It wasn’t just the riders who reveled in this historic moment: huge crowds lined the route to see the women go past, and French TV viewership of 20 million people across the entire race (compared with 41.5 million for the men’s race).
“I was always sure of one thing with this race,” said Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift director Marion Rousse last year. “It wasn’t a gift that we were giving to women’s cycling, to create a women’s Tour de France. They simply deserve it … and even though it’s the first year, it’s a proper Tour de France, with the caravan, the crowds, placards, flags – it’s great. It gives me shivers when I see it.”
As the Official Technology Partner of Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), the organizers of the Tour de France, NTT DATA extended the digital race infrastructure to the women’s race so that fans could immerse themselves in the event from anywhere in the world – a matter of both convenience and sustainability, as it minimized the need for travel to ecologically sensitive areas of France.
This year, it’s all happening again from 23 July – just bigger and better.
WATCH: A historic moment in women’s sport and a data-driven fan experience
A turning point in professional cycling
While we are excited about the technology we deploy to bring the women’s race to the world, we are also immensely proud of what the race stands for: equality and inclusivity.
Early efforts to include women in the event date back to the 1950s, and there was an official women’s race in the 1980s, but it’s the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift that’s bringing down the barriers to participation in the male-dominated cycling arena.
By showcasing their abilities in this world-class race, women cyclists now have more of an opportunity to build careers as professional athletes. Raising the profile of women cyclists and women’s races more broadly also helps to develop the racing calendar and drive equality in coverage, career opportunities, pay and prize money, which is typically a fraction of the men’s.
The men’s Tour de France still has noticeably higher prize funds than the women’s race, and male riders are paid noticeably more in general, too. Some of the women’s teams don't even have enough funding to pay their riders, which means those cyclists may be less dedicated or loyal to their team and try to switch to a team that can pay them.
As the forum now exists to recognize and celebrate women cyclists, equal sponsorships and compensation will be the next barriers to break down.
Equality in the digital experience
We’re living in the age of IoT, where large numbers of connected devices create new ways for people to engage with each other and the world.
This year, we are ensuring digital equality across the men’s and women’s races by deploying the same full suite of digital platforms to monitor, manage and analyze both events and by making our coverage of the women’s event the best in the world, including through our Race Center data, the live tracking of riders, and supporting race broadcasts.
Working with Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O), the race organizers, we are introducing the Tour de France Femmes Fantasy League, with daily predictions from our AI-powered #NTTPredictor.
Using advanced data analytics and machine learning, we generate rider and team profiles, head-to-head comparisons and other insights to be used on social media and broadcast channels during the race, so fans can get to know the riders better.
Our big focus is on data-driven insights from the edge. We gather and process a range of real-time data feeds from riders’ bicycles and official event vehicles to enrich the fan experience and race broadcasts while also supporting race officials with more accurate and complete information as they enforce the race rules while ensuring rider safety.
Through this approach, fans get to know champions like Marianne Vos and 2022 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift winner Annemiek van Vleuten a lot better, which drives fan engagement. Delivering incredibly detailed, data-driven insights about the race also supports our goal of increased participation in cycling, which leads to more investment in the sport and robust promotion of women’s races and helps to grow the fan base.
WATCH | Edge to fans: data and insights power the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift
How NTT DATA fosters equality and diversity
A higher level of sponsorship and endorsement deals would create more career opportunities and financial stability for women cyclists, which in turn could contribute to better representation of women in leadership positions – both in teams and in cycling organizations.
There are parallels to be drawn here with women in technology, who face similar issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Typically, we see pay gaps, a lack of support in the workplace and few women considered for leadership positions.
I work in the technology industry and I’m also a keen cyclist, so these are issues very close to my heart that I want to help resolve. I am fortunate to work for an organization like NTT DATA that is addressing those challenges to become more inclusive and equitable.
We have policies and programs in place to support the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in high-performance and leadership positions. This drives a more vibrant, innovative and inclusive work culture with a broader range of skills among teams, diverse perspectives and increased productivity. We strive for female representation on leadership calls, for example, and in sustainability programs like our Changemaker of the Year initiative.
We are incredibly proud and excited to be part of the same advances in the world of women’s cycling.
Following the announcement last year of the integration of NTT Ltd. and NTT DATA to create a USD 30 billion IT services powerhouse, our technology partnership with both the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift now falls under the NTT DATA brand. Our purpose is to transform businesses for success, disrupt industries for good and shape a better society for all.
Read more about how NTT DATA is digitally transforming the Tour de France.