SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tomorrow dozens of men will bike across the finish line at the Tour de France. Today women who biked that same grueling route will arrive on the Champs-Elysees, but there'll be less fanfare - maybe. Since 2015, a group of French women have been cycling the Tour de France route one day ahead of the professional competitors. This year, they were joined by the InternationElles. That's E-L-L-E-S. The team consists of 10 riders from three continents, and we're joined by the one American cyclist, Sara Beck. She's a scientist who was completing her postdoctoral studies in Switzerland.
Almost Dr. Beck, thanks so much for being with us.
SARA BECK: Hi. Thank you, Scott. Actually, I am Dr. Beck now.
SIMON: You are Dr. Beck?
BECK: That's right.
SIMON: Well, Dr. Beck, thanks so much. Where are you speaking from, may I ask?
BECK: I am speaking from Albertville, France. So this is where we started Stage 20 of the Tour de France this morning, and this is where we're stopping for dinner on the way back.
SIMON: Yeah. Must be hungry, huh?
BECK: Exactly. We eat quite a lot.
SIMON: You're not a professional cyclist, but you are very dedicated, aren't you?
BECK: Absolutely. So everyone on our team, we're all amateur cyclists, not professionals. Many of us are racers and, some, just hobby cyclists, or weekend warriors, I like to say.
SIMON: You're a former NASA flight controller, I gather.
BECK: That's right.
SIMON: So what makes you want to do this for 20 - how many days?
BECK: Yes. So the cycling is 21 days. It's the same course as the men are riding, the professional men. And I think everyone on our team, we're all driven both by the inequality part of it and also by the personal goal part of it.
SIMON: Well, let me ask you to talk about that because there used to be a woman's Tour de France, didn't there?
BECK: There did. That's right. So back in 1955, actually, there was a women's Tour de France. There was a five-day stage race for women. And now we're in 2019, and there's no stage race for women. And I think that's kind of insane, honestly. I feel like we're going backwards. So what we have now, we have the men's course, obviously. Everyone has heard about it. Even if you're not interested in cycling, you know about the men's Tour de France. And it's a 21-day stage race, 3,460 kilometers, which is 2,100 miles all over France. And then what the women have is, they have a one-day course. And I just think that that's unfair.
SIMON: You mentioned the 1955 attempt. They also tried to have a women's Tour de France in the 1980s, didn't they?
BECK: That's right. They did. They did it, and it stopped. But just even as we've been riding, we heard that ASO, the organization that hosts the men's Tour de France, that they are considering hosting a race, a stage race, for women, as well. So we feel like the message is being heard.
SIMON: Dr. Beck, it's hot, right?
BECK: It is hot. Oh, my gosh. I don't know how long the tour can stay in July, honestly, because this year, we were riding in temperatures above a hundred degrees. There was, just a couple days ago, a flat stage around Nimes, France, and, oh, my gosh, we were melting. It was so hot. Yes.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, what keeps you going?
BECK: I think what keeps me going is knowing that we're inspiring people. And a lot of times along the course, you see people come out. And they're cheering for us, and they're excited for us. And they're standing there with their kids. And you see little girls are watching. And you know that you're either inspiring them, or you're normalizing cycling. You're saying, hey, women can do these epic endurance rides, too. And just knowing that we're inspiring people. And even friends of mine have told me, hey, you convinced me to get back on my bike, or I signed up for this race because of you. That's what keeps me going.
SIMON: Have you seen B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music, along the route?
BECK: No, I haven't. Is she riding, as well?
SIMON: It's a he, but yes. No. (Laughter). Well, any goody bags or medals at the end of the race?
BECK: I think there will definitely be some fanfare. I know in my case, some of my family has flown over from the U.S., and I hear that they have flags and T-shirts, and I know there will be cameras. I think everyone's looking forward to seeing their families at the end. And we have plenty of champagne. And we'll have a great big party. So there will definitely be enough fanfare for us.
SIMON: I mean, to go down the Champs-Elysees, that's something, isn't it?
BECK: Exactly. Exactly, and that's what I play over and over in my mind when - I just get so excited at that thought. It's really amazing to be a part of this.
SIMON: Doctor and cyclist Sara Beck, joining us from France. May the wind be at your back.
BECK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.