Brazil-born cyclist Ximena Di Giorgio was the first ever rider to take the yellow jersey of the Tour de France in her home country
Brazilians are coming to terms with their first champion in the women’s Tour de France – “The Yellow Lady”, and it has been a hard and rocky road.
Called Centenario, the inaugural women’s Tour de France celebrates 100 years of women’s cycling after it was established in 1904.
The race began in Rio de Janeiro this year, but the Brazilian riders thought the race should have been staged in their home country too.
After losing out on having the race organised in their homeland, Brazilian Cycling Federation president Zara Cortes said they decided to go ahead and host the race.
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After winning the race in Rio, Fabiola Guilherme — a German-born world champion who now lives in Brazil — thought it was the right time to bring the women’s Tour de France home to Brazil.
It was a bold choice – regardless of the fact that the race, which has grown considerably since it was last staged in Brazil 10 years ago, has also attracted a lot of criticism locally.
Here is the story of Brazilian cyclist Ximena Di Giorgio.
Ximena Di Giorgio was born in Brazil and lives in the country – she was champion at the inaugural Tour de France
“My parents gave me the yellow jersey as a trophy to wear because I won first in Brazil. I even thought that if the fight to have the race staged in Brazil was victorious, I would move with the jersey.
“The women’s Tour de France is not a competition of cycling, it is a competition between all Brazilian riders and we all wanted the race to be here in Brazil.
“The Tour de France is my fight – a fight for my country, a fight for the humble members of the Brazilian federation.
“Brazil is a huge country and it would be a shame if it remained a walled city. A stand-alone championship would take away from the experience of professional riders from France, Italy, Germany and the US.
“The Tour de France is a showcase of beautiful competitions, which creates wonderful stories.”
Carolina Crudo, a Brazilian rider and physiotherapist living in California, was very vocal in her opposition to the decision
Tongue in cheek
While Di Giorgio and her fellow Brazilian riders are fighting for the gold medal, their opinions are mixed on the challenge they face when they do race in Brazil.
Di Giorgio says the motivation is the same as any other world championship or major race – win.
But she admits there are some challenges there that a person that believes she can succeed elsewhere doesn’t have to face.
“The changes in the training methods are very, very far from the same in Brazil as in other places,” she said.
“My training for this women’s Tour de France was very strong, but it’s different to the men’s world championship or other major races because everyone can be a victor.
“If it’s the winner’s world title then it’s completely different – the pressure of winning is nothing compared to major races.
“I wanted to produce in a way that you could think: ‘We’re going to do this again, or if we don’t, the next women’s world champion will come from here’.”
Race supporter Caroline Crudo, a Brazilian living in the US, explained that the only reason they made an exception for the race is because of how badly the women’s race affected the national team.
“It’s really not been about winning the race or winning it handsomely – it’s been about allowing young girls here in Brazil to see what’s possible if they want to take up this sport,” she said.
“The guys have succeeded too – the people involved here in Brazil have really made a huge difference with the way the race was organised.
“The only reason they decided to let the women race here is that of the shame we put on ourselves with the state of the women’s team – we didn’t take them seriously enough to take them to other countries and Belgium was the second best place we could have taken them to.
“It’s about celebrating the fact that women riders like us exist, and to show our diversity and those of our country.
“This is not just about women riding a bike, it’s about the love and appreciation for this beautiful sport.”
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