who is Marion Rousse, the director of the women’s race?

Former French road cycling champion turned consultant for French television, Marion Rousse will lead the Tour de France femmes from next summer, the route of which she will reveal on Thursday.

Cyclist, champion of France, TV consultant, ambassador of women’s cycling, race director… At only 30 years old, Marion Rousse has already worn multiple caps in the world of cycling. ASO, the Tour de France organizing company, added a new one to her Sunday, October 10, by naming her patron of the Grande boucle female version, a task she says she is “honored”.

“When I was a little girl, I watched the Tour de France on TV with admiration and when I started my career, I knew I was never going to get the opportunity to race it,” Marion Rousse said on Instagram. “I was very proud to be thinking of me to take care of this women’s Tour de France with Zwift, and especially because we want to do everything possible for little girls to dream of participating in it.”

Marion Rousse will have the difficult task of resurrecting the women’s version of the most prestigious cycling stage race on the calendar. The event has never been sustainable, despite a pioneering race in 1955, multiple successful editions in the 1980s and the three victories of Jeannie Longo, and a long lapse in the 1990s and 2000s.

A life dedicated to cycling

Marion Rousse seems, however, to be the woman of the situation to impose the “Tour de France women with Zwift” in the calendar. She is one of the most loyal ambassadors of women’s cycling. At the beginning of October, when the very first women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix, she stated in The Parisian : “We feel that women’s cycling has finally found its place.”

The native of the North, who has “never missed an edition” of the cobblestone classic, knows what she is talking about: she has dedicated her life to cycling. It is difficult to do otherwise when you are born near the Belgian border into a family of lovers of the little queen with three cousins, former professionals (David and Laurent Lefèvre and Olivier Bonnaire).

Despite a favorable family breeding ground, Marion Rousse still has to take her first license behind the back of her father. From her early years, she kept the memory of a benevolence of a peloton that was nevertheless exclusively male in the youth categories.

“At that time I had idols, but rather male, sprinters like Robbie McEwen or later Tom Boonen“, she recalls in Without Filter. Logical when you know that examples of great cycling champions are missing, with the exception of Jeannie Longo.

Marion Rousse during her victory at the French road cycling championships in 2012.
Marion Rousse during her victory at the French road cycling championships in 2012. © Philippe Huguen, AFP

Marion Rousse leads her boat and manages to join the French team as well as a sport-study in Cambrai. In 2012, during the same year, she became champion of France Espoirs and Élite. A small feat that opens the doors of the Lotto-Soudal, one of the biggest formations in the world.

From the saddle to the TV

Still active in the platoons, she was approached by Guillaume Di Grazia, editor-in-chief of the “Kings of the pedal”, Eurosport’s flagship cycling show. At first simple interviewed, she is quickly offered a position of consultant for the Tour of Spain 2013, so passionate she is on the set.

“I finally had this double life for two years, with results in my sports career necessarily in half. I had this feeling that I could do much better in both areas. I finally had a discussion with Guillaume to devote myself fully to this profession that I liked and that allowed me to prolong my passion,” she explains in Sans Filtrer. “At 25, it’s young to be retired, but with 19 years of cycling behind me, I couldn’t have any regrets. I left without a state of mind this pressure of results behind me.”

She retired from the sport in 2015, at an age when most cyclists have not yet matured in terms of competitiveness. A retirement partly motivated by the precariousness within the women’s peloton, where only a handful of athletes earn their living well enough to devote themselves only to their careers, leaving the others to juggle two jobs. In an interview with Libération in 2017, she will say she is now better paid “than when [elle était] paid to smic in his cycling career”.

“When we take her with us, she is still a pro but there is nothing to gain in the women’s bike. You sleep in dormitories, you change in mom and dad’s car, that’s the reality,” says Guillaume Di Grazia in the team.

She is fully blossoming in her new vocation. Her colleagues unanimously describe her as a great worker, always on the lookout for details thanks to her network in the pro peloton. From the relative confidentiality of Eurosport, she switched to France Télévisions, where she became the first woman to commentate on the Tour de France. Proof of her success, she is the winner of the Best consultant award 2019 awarded by the Trophées de la reconversion.

“Woman of” ?

Despite her brilliant cycling career and that flourishing as a TV consultant, Marion Rousse has been confronted with the sexism of those who refer to her as a “woman of”. In terms of private life, she was first the wife of AG2R-Citroën racer Tony Gallopin. Now she is the accomplice of Julian Alaphilippe, the French double world champion, with whom she had a child in June 2021. A son, Nino, who was also involuntarily one of the stars of the Tour 2021: many signs have bloomed on the side of the roads to greet his birth while his father dedicated his victory on the first stage to him.

Although the consultant strives to remain professional in all circumstances, even when commenting on the performances of “Loulou”, the relationship stirs suspicion, even mockery. On September 5, 2020, in the middle of the Tour de France, she is caricatured in bed with the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider in L’Humanité. Faced with the outcry, the newspaper apologized, withdrew the cartoon and stopped its collaboration with the cartoonist Espé, who said he wanted to “evoke the porosity between media and sports” before conceding “a mistake”.

“I have a little more emotion but I am professional. People don’t care that I’m Julian’s girlfriend, I’m here to do my job, to bring as much information as possible to people and I take my job really very seriously,” she had reacted in the team after the controversy.

Climbing the ladder to the Tour de France

In 2019, she was appointed deputy director of the Tour de La Provence. The following year, she also became deputy director of the Tour de Savoie Mont-Blanc. New experiences that allow her to discover parts of cycling that she knew little until now.

It is therefore natural that Christian Prudhomme, the boss of the Tour de France, thinks of her to take the reins of the future women’s event.

“If the event is destined to become the reference race of women’s cycling, it was obvious to call on the best ambassador of this sport, known and appreciated by the general public as well as experts,” said Christian Prudhomme, who should also be present at the race next July. “And his immediate enthusiasm to join us confirms the momentum that brings the event to life.”

“Women’s cycling has evolved a lot in recent years, thanks in part to ASO, but it lacked a benchmark stage race with a real media resonance,” said the young retired pelotons.

On Thursday 14 October, she will make her first outing as director: during a ceremony at the Palais des congrès in Paris, she will reveal the course of the race and its eight stages, which will take place from 24 to 31 July.

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