Procycling

RENAISSANCE WOMAN

A new women’s Tour de France may finally be in the pipeline again, but it’s a long time since the Tour organisers ran anything of the kind. Those of us who followed cycling in the 1980s might imagine it’s not that distant, because that’s how the memory bank works, but it’s now almost 35 years since Maria Canins won her second Tour Féminin on the trot in 1986.

To put that into perspective, go back another 35 years from Canins’ double, and you are into the years of peak Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. That gives an idea of how distant is the era when the climber the Italians nicknamed ‘la mamma volante’ dominated the Tour. That nickname might seem a tad patronising today, but Canins’ career was all the more remarkable because she combined high level sport at several disciplines – skiing, cycling and triathlon – with being a mother.

Canins always seemed a somewhat distant figure, and appeared nervous and introverted, at least compared to her big rival Jeannie Longo, whose strength of character was remarkable, almost tangible, and who gained more attention at the Tour because of her nationality. Outside Italy, where Canins was voted sportswoman of the year in 1985 and 1986, the story tended to be ‘Longo loses’ rather than ‘Canins wins’.

“Maria has closely cut hair and eyes of bright blue, the colour of the Italian ,” noted the late doyen of sportswriting at , Gianni Mura, in an article from 1984, adding, “She shows

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