After a brief professional career including a French championship in 2012, the director of the Women’s Tour de France Marion Rousse has become a key figure in cycling. In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, Rousse explained why the Women’s Tour, an eight-day race that begins July 24, is so important for girls aspiring to become professional cyclists.
She is part of a “lost generation” of cyclists who never had the chance to race in a women’s Tour de France, an event which ceased operations in 1989. Now director of the first professional version of the Tour of France, Marion Rousse, 30, told FRANCE 24 she felt “pride” in the role.
The northern France native, who has a son with her partner, French cyclist Julien Alaphilippe, aims to make the Women’s Tour a sustainable and profitable event in partnership with online cycling platform Zwift. Above all, Rousse hopes that this year’s race, which runs from July 24-31, inspires fans to become professional racers.
Rousse confided in FRANCE 24 during the French road cycling championships on June 25.
FRANCE 24: What does it mean to you to be director of the Women’s Tour de France?
Marion Rousse: Being a Tour Director means a lot of things. There is a lot of pride. When I was offered the job, I saw myself at the age of six, starting to ride a bike… I remembered how far I had come. For someone who has never been able to participate in the Tour de France, I am delighted to have a role in this spectacular event.
FRANCE 24: This women’s Tour de France lasts only one week, compared to three for the men’s Tour. How do you explain this difference?
Ruse: From a sporting point of view, women could last three weeks. The Giro Tour (the women’s Tour of Italy) is a bit longer than the Tour de France and already has 10 stages. However, we must compare what is comparable, which is not the case when we measure ourselves against what is being done on the men’s side.
There are around 30 riders in the men’s teams, so they can afford to send groups to multiple races (which could be scheduled before, during and after the Tour). There are only about ten riders in the women’s teams. So if the Tour de France blocked three weeks of the calendar of cycling competitions, it would be to the detriment of other women’s races. We don’t want that.
It is also important to keep in mind that the women’s cycling ecosystem is still weak. So don’t think too big. We want to be here in 100 years, so we want to start with eight days. However, this long week (of racing) will take place in the same conditions as the men, with the caravan on all stages and with the same accommodation. And we are not closing the door to a longer women’s Tour de France in the future.
FRANCE 24: Beyond directing a sporting event, do you also hope to inspire future cyclists?
Ruse: Words cannot describe the impact this Tour de France could have on women’s cycling. Whether for men or now for women, the impact of this race goes far beyond the world of cycling.
The world of cycling is slowly becoming more inclusive for women. I’m proud of the idea that young girls will be on the side of the road in July to catch a glimpse of the Tour. They will finally be able to identify with the champions. When I went to see the stages of the Tour, and trained in the evening following the route, I identified myself with Robbie McEwen (an Australian rider who won the green jersey of the Tour three times for the finishing points stages and intermediate sprints). These girls will finally have women as role models.
“When I was little, it was impossible for me to dream of participating one day in the Tour de France, but, young girls, this dream is finally possible for you”, writes Marion Rousse, the director of the women’s Tour, in this publication. Instagram October 10, 2021.
FRANCE 24 : Some people see the Women’s Tour as an attempt to embrace feminist values for marketing purposes. How would you respond to these criticisms?
Ruse: I would tell them that this is not the first women’s cycling event for ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation, a French company that organizes the Tour de France among others). She has been promoting women’s cycling for a while: Tour de Qatar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallone and now Paris-Roubaix. We are part of a continuity.
I thought about that when I was offered the job. I wanted this race to be the equal of the men’s race, not a second class race. Christian Prudhomme, the director of the men’s Tour de France, is just as involved in the smooth running of the women’s Tour. We want the (male) Tour de France to be our big brother and to become a true fourth week of the Tour.
This article has been translated from the original in French.