Well, we didn’t have to wait too long to get the news that it would be Marion Rousse taking the reigns for the women’s instalment of the iconic race. ASO, the organising company of the Tour de France, named her patron of the Grande Boucle Féminine early this October.
It’s no small task to be responsible for presenting this groundbreaking event to the public, representing the interests of both athletes and sponsors, and ensuring that everything runs smoothly leading up to and on the big day. So, who is Marion Rousse? And what can we expect as she comes into her own in this potentially transformative role in pro cycling?
A dream come true
Cyclist, French champion, TV consultant, ambassador for women’s cycling, and accomplished race manager, the 30-year-old Rousse has already managed to achieve a great deal. Characterised by her bold and enterprising approach, she has forged her own path and clearly isn’t scared to take chances. Director of the Tour de France Femmes, though? This might just be her biggest gig yet. She reacted to her appointment on Instagram by saying:
“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. 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.”
A life dedicated to cycling (despite the financial instability of the women’s peloton)
Yet, although it was unexpected, she has in some way been working towards this moment her whole life. Born close to the Belgian border to a family of cycling enthusiasts, including former professionals David and Laurent Lefèvre and Olivier Bonnaire, Rousse caught the cycling bug early.
Acknowledged for her prowess at a young age, she raced professionally between 2010 and 2015, earning the French National Championship road title in 2012 and spending three years in a Lotto–Soudal jersey. Despite a promising start in the peloton, though, she retired from the sport in 2015. At 25, an age when most cyclists have not yet reached maturity in terms of competitiveness, her choice could not have been an easy one.
Indicative of a situation that many hopeful young women cyclists have faced, her retirement was at least partly motivated by the precariousness within the female peloton. As it stands, only a handful of athletes earn their living well enough to devote themselves only to their careers, leaving most others to juggle two (or more) jobs and fighting to do the sport they love. In an interview with Libération in 2017, she was pretty open about the fact that she was now better paid “than when [elle était] paid at the minimum wage in his cycling career.”
Carving out her own space
In addition to gaining financial stability, Rousse has been a familiar voice on French race broadcasts and has held the position of deputy director for the 2019 Tour de Provence and 2020 Tour de Savoie Mont-Blanc since trading in her racing jersey. Yet, as is the case with so many women operating in the world of sports, she has had to face her share of sexism and misogyny on her way up.
Despite her independent success, Rousse has often been reduced to her status as wife to a powerful man by the media. In her private life, she was indeed first the wife of AG2R-Citroën rider Tony Gallopin and is now the partner of Julian Alaphilippe, the double French world champion, with whom she had a child in June 2021.
And even though she has undoubtedly succeeded in making a name for herself professionally, she has had to navigate a media that seems to think themselves entitled to make assumptions about her relationship status and sexual behaviour. For example, during last year’s Tour de France, the daily publication L’Humanité printed a drawing featuring Rousse and her cycling champion companion, Julian Alaphilippe, together in bed. Naturally, she was frustrated at being reduced to her sexuality rather than taken seriously as a voice that commands respect in the sport.
Faced with the outcry, the newspaper apologised, withdrew the cartoon, and stopped its collaboration with the cartoonist responsible for the drawing who said he wanted to “evoke the porosity between media and sports” before conceding “an error”.
Onwards and upwards
Well, if ever there were a power move to put her naysayers in their place—accepting her current role would be it. Poised to be the woman who puts the Tour de France Femmes on the map, there’s no doubt that Rousse is among the most loyal ambassadors of women’s cycling.
Shortly after being officially named Director, Rousse spoke about her role and the importance that a long and successful Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will have on the progress of women’s cycling:
I’m very honoured to be the director, a role that is close to my heart, and one I want to do well. We were lacking a flagship stage race, and now we have it. Our goal is to make it last and put women’s cycling back in people’s hearts.
It was important to tie the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift into the myth of the Tour de France – first of all by respecting the 100-year history of the event, and then by taking into account cycling’s current evolution and grounding the route in modernity.
The overall ambition is to create a stable ecosystem that allows us to establish the event in the long term. In addition to the indispensable support of the local authorities hosting the race and the broadcasters showing it, this ambition is only possible with the significant support of private partners, which allows us to establish, right from its creation, the flagship event of the women’s cycling, all while helping it grow in the future.
It sounds like a good plan to us, Madame Rousse! Stay tuned for more coverage leading up to the event, and feel free to get in touch with We Love Cycling to let us know what the Tour de France Femmes means to you.