Women’s Tour de France: Director relishes chance for girls to ‘identify with champions’

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After a brief professional career that included a French championship in 2012, women’s Tour de France director 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 on July 24, is so important for girls who aspire to become professional cyclists.

She is part of a "lost generation" of cyclists who never had a chance to race in a women’s Tour de France, an event that ceased operating in 1989. Now the director of the first professional version of the women’s Tour de France, Marion Rousse, 30, told FRANCE 24 she feels "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 perennial event, and a profitable one in partnership with online cycling platform Zwift. Rousse hopes above all that this year’s race, set to take place from July 24 to 31, inspires fans to become professional riders.

Rousse spoke to FRANCE 24 during the French road cycling championships on June 25.

FRANCE 24: What does being director of the women's Tour de France mean to you?

Marion Rousse: Being director of the Tour represents many 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?

Rousse: From an athletic point of view, the women would be able to last three weeks. The Giro Tour (the women’s Tour of Italy) is a little longer than the Tour de France and already has 10 stages. However, we have to compare what is comparable, and this is not the case when we measure ourselves against what is done on the men’s side.

There are about 30 riders on the men’s teams, so they can afford to send groups to several races (that could be scheduled before, during and after the Tour). There are only about 10 riders on the women’s teams. So if the Tour de France blocked out three weeks of the cycling competition calendar, it would be at the expense of other women’s races. We don't want that.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the ecosystem of women’s cycling is still weak. So we shouldn’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 under the same conditions as the men, with the caravan on all the stages and with the same lodgings. And we’re not closing the door on 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?

Rousse: Words can’t 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 cycling world.

The cycling world is slowly becoming more inclusive for women. I am proud of the idea that young girls will be on the side of the road in July to catch sight of the Tour. They will finally be able to identify with the champions. When I used to go see the stages of the Tour, and train in the evening by following the route, I identified with Robbie McEwen (an Australian rider who won the Tour’s green jersey for points from stage finishes and intermediate sprints three times). These girls will finally have women as role models.

FRANCE 24: Some people see the women’s Tour as an attempt to adopt feminist values for marketing purposes. How would you respond to these critics?

Rousse: I would tell them that this is not the first women’s cycling event for ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation, the French company organising the Tour de France, among other competitions). It has been promoting women’s cycling for a while: Tour de Qatar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Flèche Wallone and now Paris-Roubaix. We’re 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, not a second-class one. 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 (men’s) Tour de France to be our big brother and become a real fourth week of the Tour.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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