Tucson cyclist-filmmaker urges Tour de France to let women ride

Days before women’s ski jumping makes its Olympic debut, a Tucson filmmaker will unveil a documentary about another sport that is lagging in gender equality.

“Half the Road” by journalist, author and director Kathryn Bertine chronicles the struggles of professional female road cyclists, who are not invited to the same races as men or given the same opportunities for prize money.

Women aren’t allowed to compete in what is arguably cycling’s foremost event — the Tour de France.

An advance screening of “Half the Road,” along with a question-and-answer period with Bertine and a group of elite international cyclists, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Loft Cinema in Tucson.

“Mostly, it’s about what we can do about it. No one wants to watch a movie about people complaining,” Bertine said of her 100-minute film.

An elite cyclist herself, Bertine, 38, has helped collect nearly 100,000 signatures on Change.org calling for the Tour de France organizers to allow women’s pro cycling teams to participate.

The women could ride the same course as the men but start at a different time, giving crowds more competition to watch, Bertine said.

When she first got into competitive cycling at the age of 31, Bertine immediately noticed troubling differences between men's and women's racing.

Armed with a Flip video camera she brought to competitions, she began interviewing top female cyclists about the gender gap. The women had a lot to say. Their response was so impassioned that Bertine knew she had the makings of a movie.

She got help from a Tucson group called creatingthefuture.org, which seeks to advance social change, and used crowdsourcing on indiegogo.com to raise $65,000 to fund a full-length documentary film.

Donations came in amounts of typically $25 to $50 from 15 or 16 countries, indicating broad interest in the project.

Bertine then spent two years working on the film with a cinematographer, traveling around the world and interviewing top athletes, as well as cycling and medical experts.

The Tour de France is a 100-year competition and exclusively male. A separate Tour Feminin in the 1980s was unsuccessful, which Bertine says was largely due to insufficient media coverage and sponsorship.

The Change.org petition is directed at Tour de France organizers from the Amaury Sport Organization. But Bertine says real progress will only come when the International Cycling Union (UCI) sets the tone and begins investing in women's cycling.

The film has already been accepted to film festivals in Virginia, North Dakota and Sheffield, England.

The message of the movie is an important one, Bertine said. The activism of female cyclists is similar to what tennis player Billie Jean King had to prove about women’s physical capability in her sport, she said.

It’s also similar to the struggle to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 11.

“The athletes have been fighting for that for a very long time,” Bertine said. “The public might have the perception that it is a new sport, but people in the know realize how long the struggle has been. That really resonated for me.”

If you go

Professional cyclist and documentary filmmaker Kathryn Bertine invites the public to join in a bicycle road ride at 4 p.m. on Tuesday with some of the elite cyclists who are in her film, "Half the Road," which will be shown in Tucson on Wednesday. The group will meet in the parking lot in front of the restaurant Rancho Rustico,.9165 E Tanque Verde Road. A happy hour at the restaurant will follow at 5:30 p.m. Men and women of all cycling levels are welcome.

An advance screening of the documentary "Half The Road" is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are available at http://www.loftcinema.com/film/half-the-road-special-advance-screening/. A Q&A will follow with director Kathryn Bertine, along with elite U.S. cyclists, including Inga Thompson, Robin Farina, Addy Albershardt, Amber Pierce, Lauren Hall and 2013 U.S. national road champion Jade Wilcoxson. The film's twitter handle is @HalfTheRoad