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Two broken ribs and the flu kept Alison Tetrick, a professional cyclist from California, from riding in the Giro DItalia Femminile at the beginning of July.I was so disappointed, said Tetrick, who competes with the Cylance Pro Cycling team. You dont see the injury, but when I ride, I could feel it.Part of the disappointment for Tetrick is that the 10-stage Giro Rosa, as its known, is the longest stage race for women in this years inaugural Womens World Tour, run by the world cycling governing body Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). As a rider who prefers stage races, which are typically held over a series of days, Tetrick was looking forward to the challenge. The remaining six events for the Womens World Tour are all one-day races.Though the creation of the official World Tour means womens elite racing now matches the branding of the highest level of mens cycling, the step toward equality highlights some of the vast differences between mens and womens racing that still exist. One of the most visible: Womens races are still limited to far shorter distances than mens races.This weekend, when the male Tour de France riders cross the finish line at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the racers will have completed 3,519 kilometers of cycling through France over 21 stages. The race takes riders from Mont Saint-Michel in the Northwest, down to the Mediterranean Coast and back up and around through nine mountain stages, eventually bringing them to the historic finish line along the Champs-Elysées.The women racers participating in La Course, a race put on by the Tour de France organizers, will cross the same finish line, on the same day, but will have cycled just 89 kilometers during a one-day circuit race, riding up and down the Champs-Elysées seven times.The one-day race, oy, Tetrick said of La Course before trailing off. She gathered herself and goes on: Look, first you want to have the opportunity to race, thats a step in the right direction, as opposed to having no race.A stage race version of the Tour de France (called La Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale) for women folded in 2009, so the arrival of La Course three years ago was a victory for womens cycling advocates who still face a steep climb toward gender equality, particularly in salaries and prize money. And, as part of the Womens World Tour formation, the UCI mandated every race to provide a highlights package to television media or a live TV or Internet stream of the event.But as more people watch, more will likely see that womens races are notably different. Next month, when the Olympic road cycling races kick off on Aug. 6, the men will ride 241.5 kilometers in search of Olympic gold. The womens peloton will ride 141 kilometers to battle for the same prize. Under UCI rules, thats as long as a womens Olympic road race is allowed to be, while the mens Olympic race can be as long as 280 kilometers.And even if the Tour de France decided to put on a womens race for all 21 stages, they would need to file for an exemption to UCI rules, which cap the average daily distance for womens stage races, and even time trial stages, far below the mens. The rule book notes that exemptions can be granted.But why do these rules exist at all?Like other endurance sports, cyclings beginnings for women were stymied by shoddy science and biases about what women were physically capable of.The early 20th century and late 19th century views that womens bodies were physically weaker and incapable of physical exertion like mens imposed all kinds of different rules on sports for females, said Linda Borish, an associate professor at Western Michigan University who studies American women and sport history.When women first started taking up sport, they were limited by rules meant to protect them. It was thought that endurance sports especially would potentially damage their reproductive organs, which of course seemed like a negative impact for society, Borish said.Womens cycling, in particular, was seen as a societal threat because a bicycle offered women an independent form of transportation.The bicycle was called the freedom machine by some, because it allowed women the ability to move from place to place without chaperones, Borish said. Others called bikes prostitution on wheels, so expanding the use of cycling into the rigorous athletic world went against the predominant beliefs of what women should do at the time.It took women actually breaking the rules by cycling anyway to start to change peoples minds about what women were capable of. But rules and official opportunities were still slow to change. Cycling events for men were part of the Olympics since their modern revival in 1896, but the first womens cycling event wasnt added until 1984, the same year the first womens marathon was included at the Olympics.Today, even though women run ultramarathons and participate in triathlons, there are still rules that limit their athletic performance. Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, said these historical rules and limitations continue to have a negative effect.You see the same thing now in sports like tennis, where theres an artificial construct that women play two out of three sets, while men play three out of five, said Kane. Thats rooted in a false assumption that women cannot endure three out of five.When the public perceives the stark contrasts in the cycling world in terms of distance today -- such as when the women ride just one stage of the Tour de France, and the men ride 21, or when the womens Olympic race is 100 kilometers shorter -- Kane said people notice.It reinforces the belief that women do not possess the same physiological capacities and that they are second-class citizens in elite athletics, she said.Robin Farina, a former professional cyclist and co-founder of the Womens Cycling Association, said many of the current limitations on womens cycling are due to lack of organizational support.I do think the UCI has been built to keep women out, she said. If you look at who and what the UCI and pro cycling has been about for decades, its been about mens cycling. Just like with most things, men feel threatened when change is on the table, but thats a mindset we need to change. Opening cycling more to women just creates more opportunity. We should look at it like, now instead of having one thing to sell, we have two.Cyclists say they see some change in the governing body. The current president, Brian Cookson, who was credited with rescuing Britains cycling organization from insolvency, pushed for the creation of the Womens World Tour. The UCIs Womens Cycling director who just started this year, Morgane Gaultier, acknowledges theyre starting from way behind.The thing to take into consideration is that womens cycling is essentially 100 years late compared to mens, Gaultier said.Now achieving equality is a delicate balance because more and longer races cost more to put on, she added.If we change the rules immediately to all be equal, teams will disappear because they dont have the financial resources, at a time when we want to increase the number of teams.Changing the distance maximums for women, Gaultier said is a topic of discussion, at UCI this year.But what we really want is to continue the growth of womens cycling, we want strong bases, she said. The most important thing is to make sure womens races are exciting, that they contain climbing and flat and downhill areas, and that the riders are safe and have security for the entire race.Upping the distance alone, she said, wont do the trick. Just increasing the number of kilometers to have more kilometers, theres not really a use for that, she said. We can see that in some mens stages that just are long and flat, sometimes nothing happens at all.Kristy Scrymgeour, a former racer and team owner who now runs a cycling apparel brand, Velocio, and has been a member of the UCI Womens Commission, agreed. Ive always said mens races are too long ... So you can look at it in two ways, theres no reason [women] shouldnt be doing long races, but I think the distances women are racing right now, where they need to be aggressive from the beginning but are still racing for hours on a mountain stage, are good, practical distances, she said.Tetrick, who is also a member of the Womens Cycling Association, and Farina agree that distance rules arent their major concerns as riders and advocates when it comes to equal treatment.Women are capable of racing greater distances, theres no question, said Tetrick. But at the same time, I dont mind distances for women where theyre at... This sport has so many ways to build for more equality, theres prize money, or salary requirements, or health insurance, in addition to distance, so theres no one solution.And the shorter distances of the womens races for now might make for a better spectator experience, she said: If anything, shorter races make logistics easier, and are more exciting.What Tetrick is more concerned about is growing the platform of her sport. I have an incredible team and great sponsors, and I want to work hard and show them their sponsorship is valuable. The onus is on the athletes to keep racing our bikes and being good ambassadors, and I take that pretty seriously.Tetrick will have to wait until next year to ride in another World Tour stage race -- and maybe by then there will be one longer than the 10-stage Giro DItalia. 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