From March 6-12 – conveniently coinciding with International Women’s Day on March 8 – Cyclingnews is excited to welcome our readers to Women’s Week, in which we’ll be running a series of exclusive interviews, features, blogs, tech, advice and more.
The upcoming second edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, featuring eight consecutive days of road racing in France, follows the format created in 1956 when intrepid European women and an American national champion were expanding traditional boundaries. The event showed women were capable of competing in stage races. That strengthened a campaign that culminated with the Union Cycliste Internationale introducing the women’s road race in the 1958 UCI World Championship program in Reims, France, paired with track championships in Paris.
In July 1956, Nancy Neiman Baranet of Detroit rode as the lone American in the eight-day Criterium Cycliste Féminin Lyonaise-Auvergne in hilly central France. “There were eighty-seven of us on the start line,” said Baranet, now ninety, on the phone from her home in Deland, Florida. “There were national teams from England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, and there were independent teams from the same countries. I was as independent as they came. I was the only American.”
Her independence came at a high price—she paid all her expenses under stringent true-blue Amateur Bicycle League of America rules. Her summer of racing in France and England, her second excursion to both countries, carried financial risk: “Each time I travelled abroad, I quit my job to go race, then reapplied when I returned.”
Baranet rode when Detroit led the world in design and mass production of cars and trucks. Car-centric nicknames of Motor City and Motown ignored its women cyclists who practiced the fine art of speedy wheels that dominated national cycling championships. In 1953, General Motors caused a hoopla for introducing the Corvette as a trendy two-seat luxury Chevrolet sports car with leather bucket seats to rival imports like MG, Jaguar, and Porsche. That summer at the ABLA nationals in St. Louis, Baranet of the Spartan Cycling Club upset her cross-town adversary and defending national Girls’ champion Jeanne Robinson Omelenchuck of the Wolverine Sports Club.
Each year ABLA nationals—on one-speed, fixed-gear bikes—rotated to a different city around the country in an August weekend of events called omniums, mock Latin for omnium gatherum, a collection…
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