Many of us have suffered for our sport. The run in the rain, the extra rep in the gym, the emotional anguish of losing a tight contest.

But would you commit to three weeks of gruelling effort, with no trophy or financial prize on offer, to raise awareness about inequality?

How about taking on the Tour de France? One of the hardest events in any sport, an iconic carnival of suffering.

On Saturday, 176 men will start the 106th edition of the Tour in the Belgian city of Brussels, with stage wins, the famed jerseys, and overall glory on offer.

On Friday, 23 amateur female cyclists will begin the same 3,460km, 21-stage route, in the hope more people begin to ask: ‘Why is there no women’s Tour de France?’

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Since 2015, a group of French riders, Donnons des elles au Velo (Give the girls a bike), have ridden each stage of the entire Tour a day before the men’s race.

This year, for the first time, the 13-strong French outfit will be joined by a group of 10 riders from around the world – the InternationElles. They will be riding a day before but a world away from the men’s peloton.

“We are staying in Airbnb-type places so we can do our own cooking and washing,” says Louise Gibson, one of five British-based riders in the team.

“We’ve been training like pros, but while also holding down jobs, and a couple of us are mums so it’s all been quite a lot to manage.”

The entire team only met for the first time on Thursday in Brussels, with three riders based in Australia, an American living in Switzerland and a Dutch cyclist completing the line-up.

They will now ride together, in traffic on open roads, over a notably mountainous route – this is the first time in Tour history that there will be three summit finishes at an altitude of more than 2,000m.

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