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Marion Rousse: The TV pundit and former rider building a Tour de France Femmes to last

Marion Rousse gives her thoughts on the route for the first edition of the revived women's race, why she won't miss the Alps, why there's no TT, and more.

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A race to stand the test of time.

The route for the 2022 Tour de France Femmes was unveiled this month to much celebration, and history will be made when the peloton rolls out of Paris on July 24 next year.

Race director of the revived event Marion Rousse wants the event to be more than just a cursory nod to gender equality.

Also read:

A former French national champion, Rousse wants the newly established eight-day race to become a firm feature on the women’s calendar that not only lasts but stands on its own.

“The ambition is to create a stable ecosystem allowing the event to be established over time,” Rousse told VeloNews.

“In addition to the essential support of the host communities and the media broadcasting the Tour de France Women avec Zwift, this ambition is only possible with the significant support of private partners making it possible to create the flagship event of the women’s calendar while increasing the size of the event thereafter.”

Rousse was announced as the director for the Tour de France Femmes in early October. The appointment is the latest addition to her impressive post-racing career.

Since stepping off the bike in 2015, the 30-year-old has built a name for herself as a regular TV pundit and commentator on Eurosport and France Television, and she was appointed the deputy director of the Tour de la Provence in 2019.

She is one of the few women, though the number is growing, to be given the opportunity to take on these roles, something she hopes will have a positive impact.

Also read: Is the eight-stage course the right balance for first Tour de France Femmes?

“I hope I have helped democratize women’s cycling by establishing myself in the media space,” Rousse said.

No Alps, no bother

For Rousse, the final unveiling of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes parcours was an emotional day.

“It was a very moving moment, the morning of the presentation the alarm clock rang very early and yet I woke up with a big smile because I knew that it was going to be a historic day, a day where we were finally going to talk about the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and unveil the route to the whole world,” Rousse told VeloNews.

“I am obviously very honored to be the director of the Tour de France Femmes, this role is very close to my heart. I want to do it well and not to let go of this jewel.”

Also read: Tour de France Femmes: A course to make history from Paris to Planche des Belles Filles

The eight-day route will stay to the northeast of France, picking its way from Paris to the grand finale on the Planche des Belles Filles. It provides a well-balanced parcours that gives almost every style of rider an opportunity.

It lacks a time trial and some lamented the absence of the mythic Alps or Pyrénées, but Rousse believes the mountain ranges won’t be missed.

“The course I love it, it corresponds to lots of different profiles, sprinters, baroudeurs, classics girls – with white roads and the last weekend is very difficult. You will see it the Vosges have nothing to envy of the Alps and the Pyrénées,” she said. “The time trial was not the priority for this first edition, but we are not preventing ourselves from doing anything for the future.”

One of the so-called highlights of the race will be the trip across the gravel on stage four. It, along with the mountainous final stages, will be key in deciding the overall winner, but Rousse says any stage could ultimately be decisive.

Also read: Analysis: What will be the prize money purse for Tour de France Femmes?

“Each stage can be decisive according to the racing philosophy, the long stage between Bar-le-Duc and Saint-Dié-des-Vosges [175km, the longest day in women’s cycling -ed] will be tiring,” Rousse said. “I am also thinking of the stage of the white roads, which will honor the female adventurers, and the Vosges stages, which will be the “justices of the peace” for this edition.

“The diversity of the French landscapes offers varied playgrounds, the “gravel” type sectors often dynamize the race and offer a spectacle which remains engraved in the memories.”

Dreaming big

The men’s Tour de France is one of the longest-standing races on the cycling calendar after it was first inaugurated in 1903.

An attempt to hold a women’s event first came in 1955, which is detailed in Isabel Best’s book “Queens of Pain,” when French journalist Jean Leulliot created a five-day race. While it didn’t leave Normandie, it was dubbed the Tour de France Feminine and it was won by Manxwoman Millie Robinson.

Also read: Why Zwift is expanding from virtual racing to support Tour de France Femmes in real life

It received pushback from some sections of the press at the time and was never organized again, despite being deemed a “success”. It wasn’t until 1984 that another attempt was made. This version lasted slightly longer, with five editions being held, but it too was canned.

Various versions of the race, though none had the backing of the men’s organizer ASO, continued to be held until 2009.

How things have changed for women’s cycling in the last 12 years.

“Women’s cycling has entered another dimension in recent years with the professionalization of teams and riders,” Rousse said. “We wish to continue its development as we have been doing for several years with the creation and development of several women’s events, stimulate vocations and create a veritable bouquet of events dedicated to women.”

Cycling has been a part of Rousse’s life since she can remember but racing the Tour de France was never a possibility for her. Rousse hopes that this bigger, more considered, Tour de France Femmes will not only stand the test of time but inspire young girls to dream of doing something she never had the opportunity to do herself.

Also read: Kasia Niewiadoma: Tour de France Femmes will be ‘great’ for women’s cycling

“To be completely honest I don’t remember my first memory of the Tour de France. I was maybe a few months old when my parents took me to the sides of the roads to watch the Tour go by so it’s difficult to define a precise moment, the first time I saw the riders pass, quite simply because the bike has been in my life since I was little,” she told VeloNews.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t even hope to compete in the Tour de France, so it was very important to add the biggest cycling race in the world to the women’s calendar. For riders but also for all the young girls who dream of one day being able to ride the Tour de France Femmes.”