Tour de France 2014: No women’s Tour a big issue says British official

The lack of a Tour de France for women "matters enormously", says British Cycling board member Marian Lauder.

The men's race, which began in Leeds on Saturday and was watched by millions of spectators, has become an iconic event, but the women's Tour last ran in 2009.

The women return to the men's Tour course this year in a special La Course  race on the final stage and Lauder hopes it will lead to a larger event.

"We hope that will be a precursor to something bigger in future," she said.

The women's Tour has been staged on and off, in several guises, since 1984 but was scrapped in 2009 because of a lack of commercial interest.

The women's Tour de France

Began in 1984 as the Tour de France Feminin but stopped after 1989 event

Returned in 1992 but, after a legal battle over trademark rights, was forced to rebrand as the 'Grande Boucle' in 1998

Cancelled in 2004 because of logistical problems

Returned in 2005; won twice by Welsh cyclist Nicole Cooke before England's Emma Pooley won the last event in 2009

Asked if it mattered that the event no longer existed, Lauder told the BBC's Today programme: "It matters enormously. It's a really valid issue."

Britain's Nicole Cooke - a retired former world and Olympic champion - claimed the women's Tour was allowed to fall by the wayside because of "the sexist nature of those running the sport", but Lauder disagrees.

"I don't think the cycling community is inherently sexist," said Lauder, who is one of two women that are non-executive directors on the board at British Cycling. "I think times are changing."

In May, the first ever Women's Tour of Britain took place and cycling's world governing body, the UCI, set up a women's commission in 2013 to help increase the profile of the sport.

One of British Cycling's representatives on the commission is Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley, 31, who also won the final women's Tour de France.

Lauder said: "I'm sure when they come out with their recommendations they will have great clout and they will be listened to."