by Josh Liberles

Former professional cyclist and Tour de France stage winner Maarten Ducrot, who now works as a cycling reporter for Dutch TV, challenged Marianne Vos to a duel: the two would race to the top of a climb in the Alps just after Vos completed the women’s Giro d’Italia, where she snagged a couple of stage wins.

The 52 year-old Ducrot’s cycling challenge was a publicity stunt akin to the classic “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973, where 55 year-old Bobbie Riggs challenged Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King to a tennis match. While Riggs’ stunt, perpetrated during a decisive time for women’s lib, was overtly sexist, and the resulting match became the most-watched tennis event to date, the result of Ducrot’s hill showdown against one of the winningest women in the world must have been much less shocking. In fact, I put odds on Vos going uphill faster than a fair number of current Elite men. One look at the lap times at the 2010 Worlds in Tabor shows she’s capable of doing just that (see also our behind-the-scenes story on Tabor in Issue 9).

Riggs, who showed up to train for the historic tennis event wearing a “Men’s Lib” t-shirt, famously declared that women were too weak to be competitive. The stunt drew huge crowds, both in person in the Houston Astrodome and on television, but the time on the court proved less favorable to the limelight hound.

The modern rendition had none of the charged politics or overt sexism layered on top, but it does give us an opportunity to reflect on the state of women’s cycling. Another interesting parallel between the two episodes: women’s compensation in tennis at the time was akin to their cycling counterparts now – in both instances, pay was dramatically less than for the men.

Here’s a video of the Marianne Vos / Maarten Ducrot climbing challenge:

And for some great historic perspective, the Billie Jean King / Bobbie Riggs match (apologies for the leading commercial that comes with the embed):