Former French road cycling champion who became a consultant for French television, Marion Rousse will lead the Women’s Tour de France from next summer, the route of which she will reveal on Thursday.
Cyclist, French champion, TV consultant, ambassador for women’s cycling, race management… At only 30 years old, Marion Rousse has already worn many hats in the cycling world. ASO, the organizing company of the Tour de France, added a new one to her on Sunday 10 October, naming her patron of the female version of the Great Loop, a task she said she was “honored”.
“When I was a little girl, I watched the Tour de France on TV with admiration and when I started my career, I suspected that I would never have the opportunity to run it”, reacted Marion Rousse on Instagram. “I was very proud that people think of me to take care of this Tour de France women with Zwift, and especially because we want to do the maximum so that little girls dream of participating in it.”
Marion Rousse will have the difficult task of resuscitating the female version of the most prestigious cycle races by stage on the calendar. The event has never been able to last, despite a pioneering race in 1955, multiple successful editions in the 1980s and three victories for Jeannie Longo, and a long decline in the 1990s and 2000s.
A life dedicated to cycling
Marion Rousse, however, seems to be the woman for the job to impose the “Tour de France women with Zwift” on the calendar. She is one of the most loyal ambassadors of women’s cycling. At the beginning of October, when the very first female edition of Paris-Roubaix took place, she declared 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’s hard to do otherwise when you are born close to the Belgian border in a family of fans 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 had to take her first license behind her father’s back. From her early years, she keeps the memory of the benevolence of a peloton, however exclusively male in the youth categories.
“At that time, I had idols, but mostly male, sprinters like Robbie McEwen or later Tom Boonen”, she recalls in Without Filter. Logical when we know that the examples of great cycling champions are lacking, with the exception of Jeannie Longo.
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 to Lotto-Soudal, one of the biggest teams in the world.
From the saddle to the TV
Still active in the pelotons, she was approached by Guillaume Di Grazia, editor-in-chief of “Kings of the Pedal”, Eurosport’s flagship cycling program. At first simple interviewed, she was quickly offered a consultant position for the Tour of Spain 2013, she is so passionate about the set.
“I finally had this double life for two years, with results in my sporting career necessarily mixed. I had this feeling that I could do a lot better in both areas. I finally had a discussion with Guillaume to devote myself fully to this profession which I liked and which allowed me to extend my passion “, she explains in Sans Filtered. “At 25 it’s young to be retired, but with 19 years of cycling behind me, I couldn’t have any regrets. I left this pressure of results behind me without qualms.”
She therefore retired from sports in 2015, at an age when most cyclists have not yet reached maturity in terms of competitiveness. A retirement partly motivated by the precariousness within the female 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 Liberation in 2017, she will say that she is now better paid “than when [elle était] paid at the minimum wage in his cycling career “.
“When we take her with us, she is still a pro but there is nothing to be gained in the women’s bike. You sleep in dormitories, you change in mum and dad’s car, that’s the reality”, explains Guillaume Di Grazia on the team.
She blossoms fully in her new vocation. Her colleagues unanimously describe her as a hard 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 comment on the Tour de France. Proof of her success, she won the 2019 Best Consultant award awarded by the Reconversion Trophies.
“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 her to her status of “wife of”. On the private side, she was indeed first the wife of AG2R-Citroën rider Tony Gallopin. Now, she is the accomplice of Julian Alaphilippe, the double French 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 flowered on the sides of the roads to greet his birth while his father dedicated his victory to him on the first stage.
– Le Gruppetto (@LeGruppetto) June 26, 2021
Although the consultant strives to remain professional in all circumstances, even when commenting on “Loulou” performances, the relationship stirs up suspicion and even mockery. On September 5, 2020, in the middle of the Tour de France, she is caricatured in bed with the rider of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step in L’Humanité. Faced with the outcry, the newspaper apologizes, withdraws the cartoon and stops its collaboration with the cartoonist Espé, who said he wanted to “evoke the porosity between media and sports” before conceding “an error”.
“I have a little more emotion but I’m 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 reacted in the Team after the controversy.
Climb the ranks until 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 about 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.
🚴 This is the cycling info of the day. France tv consultant Marion Rousse has been appointed Director of the Women’s Tour de France. Christian Prudhomme and the former champion, express themselves on this unexpected announcement.#TourdeFrance pic.twitter.com/rQHZiDhaQ7
– francetvsport (@francetvsport) October 10, 2021
“If the event is intended to become the benchmark race for 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 by experts,” said Christian Prudhomme, who should be also present on the race next July. “And his immediate enthusiasm to join us confirms the momentum that brought the birth of the event.”
“Women’s cycling has evolved a lot in recent years, in part thanks to ASO, but it lacked a benchmark stage race with real media resonance,” responded the young retiree from the pelotons.
Thursday, October 14, she will make her first outing as director: during a ceremony at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, it is she who will reveal the route of the race and its eight stages, which will take place from 24 to 31 July.