IT was a historic finish for Leah Kirchmann.
On stage 21, the final stage of the Tour de France, the 24-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg battled through the streets of Paris and down the historic Champs-Élysées to finish third in the firstever La Course by Le Tour de France Sunday.
Kirchmann shared the podium with current world champion Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, who finished first at La Course, while fellow Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild finished second in what was a hectic display of racing.
It was the first time since 1989 women were able to compete alongside men in one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. Last year, top female racers from around the world, which included Kirchmann, signed a petition to make this event happen.
In this first edition of La Course by Le Tour de France, 120 women from 20 teams raced 13 laps of Paris’s broad, tree-lined boulevard for a prize of 22,500 euros (C$32,677). For many of the professional cyclists, being able to race in Paris was a gift in itself.
The single-stage, 13-lap, 90-kilometre race is seen as a big step to hopefully what will become a full women’s tour.
"It’s fantastic to be here, on the Champs-Élysées and to have this opportunity for women cycling to show ourselves in front of this crowd and in front of the whole world," Vos said.
British Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley said she hopes this race will be the start of something bigger.
"It will take time and it has to be sustainable," said Pooley. "It has to have the viewers and the sponsors. I think this is a really good test."
Tour de France director Jean-François Pescheux said he was already looking to the future.
"The next step will be, first to consolidate as much as possible this race, to make it sustainable in the long run, and then to try and organize a race with different stages which would really respond to the demands of professional female cyclists."
Earlier this year, Kirchmann, a member of the Optum Pro Cycling team, became the first Canadian woman to win all three major events at the 2014 Global Relay Canadian Road Championships in Lac Mégantic, Que.
— with files from The Associated Press