Tour de France Women: Marion Rousse, Madam Director

After fifteen years spent in the red car at the front of the peloton, the boss of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, has his share of anecdotes: the minutes of panic when he learns that a team bus is blocked in the middle of middle of the finish line in Corsica; a minister who refuses pee breaks before being taken by a pressing urge in the Col du Tourmalet… This Saturday at the end of May, on a train that leads to Haute-Saône to meet representatives of the region , the former journalist regales his audience under the amused gaze of Marion Rousse. “I’m also going to have to know how to handle situations like that, is that what you’re telling me? », she asks him. From Sunday July 24 in Paris, the 30-year-old will take her place in the back of the red sedan that we see on the Grande Boucle, for the eight days of racing for the women’s version.

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A cycling consultant for France Télévisions since 2017, Marion Rousse has “didn’t hesitate for long” when Christian Prudhomme and Amaury Sport Organization offered him this mission. The former professional runner (2011 to 2015) is aware of what this competition represents in the quest for visibility and recognition for the women’s peloton.

Its objective is clear: to contribute to setting up a lasting Tour de France Women, identified and expected by both riders and spectators. In short, to avoid the premature end of its previous version, which had six editions, between 1984 and 1989, before being interrupted, for lack of economic viability. “I am so happy to see the evolution of the environment and to be able to be an actor in its development.she summarizes. I’ve had years when you felt like you didn’t exist socially. »

“I was not paid to ride a bike”

Marion Rousse grew up in a family of lovers of the little queen. “I was still in the stroller as my family took me to the side of the road to watch my father, who was competing in first class races”says the Northerner, whose cousins ​​Olivier Bonnaire and David and Laurent Lefèvre went to the professionals.

A very cycling family perhaps, but the father does not imagine his daughter doing one for a second when she expresses the desire: “It’s too hard, you’re too young, and besides, you’re a little girl. » Words neither mean nor malicious, she insists. Just indicative of an era. “I went to register in secret with my mother. It lasted maybe a week. Afterwards, we both went on the road, he followed me on his bike and showed me how to rub or ride like in the peloton… ”

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On her bike, the teenager imagines herself as a sprinter like the Australian tightrope walker Robbie McEwen, or queen of the cobblestones, like the Belgian Tom Boonen. In 2011, at 19, she signed a professional contract with the Vienna Futuroscope team. “I only had a pro for the word, because I wasn’t paid to ride a bikeshe says. I had a part time job [contrat de sportive de haut niveau à la mairie d’Etampes, dans l’Essonne] and I trained in the evening. At the time, there were three or four paid girls, a little more than the minimum wage, who could do that 100%. There were huge differences in level, and the races were less interesting. »

Two years later, she joined the Lotto team (Belisol Ladies) where, on the men’s side, evolves Tony Gallopin, her companion met in 2008 – they divorced in 2019. When the latter takes the yellow jersey on the 9e stage of the Tour in 2014, Marion Rousse splits the crowd to jump on her neck. The general public discovers the one who, despite her title of champion of France in 2012, is confined to the status of “pretty blonde of the champion”.

A passion… which does not feed her

Cycling is a passion… which does not nourish it. Tired, she ended her career at 24. The sequel has already begun. Marion Rousse works as a consultant for Eurosport on men’s races – a first in France. His second career began with a participation in the “Kings of the pedal” in 2012. A year later, he was asked to comment on the Tour of Spain. “I took more and more pleasure in commenting on the bikeshe recalls. In addition, it allowed me to stay in the environment that I love and earn more money doing it. »

This shy woman hadn’t imagined such a career change, but she has the advantage of working, keeping up to date with the latest echoes from the peloton and being able to identify the riders at a glance: “I don’t do it on the bib or the helmet, but more on the general stature, on the way of pedaling. »

In 2017, her popularity accelerated when she joined France Télévisions. For the first time, millions of viewers follow the Grande Boucle with a female voice alongside Alexandre Pasteur and Laurent Jalabert. It is a dizzying challenge for her. “I had both this incredible opportunity to talk about my sport to millions of people and the fear of not being able to be accepted by another audience. »

A former Tour commentator himself, Christian Prudhomme imagined very quickly giving, through Marion Rousse, a face to the rebirth of the women’s event – ” the evidence “according to him, especially since she had a taste of the function as deputy director of the Tour de la Provence since 2019. Here again, she launched herself off the cuff, under the impetus of her friend Pierre -Maurice Courtade, even if it means discovering everything. “Plotting courses is quite easy. On the other hand, everything related to relations with the communities, establishing and managing a budget, prefecture meetings… Sometimes, I said to myself: “My God, what have I done?” »

To support his protege on “his” Tour, Christian Prudhomme has postponed his vacation by a week. “I’m not here to coach her, but to dub her with elected officials, like Jean-Marie Leblanc [son prédécesseur à la direction du Tour] did it with me. He accompanied me for three years and he disappeared from view. »

“The most important people are still the runners”

Marion Rousse, she is not about to regain anonymity. The consultant has become a voice that counts, and a face that speaks to the general public. His private life contributes to this. Since 2020, she has been the companion of Julian Alaphilippe, the double world champion. In June 2021, the couple welcomed their first child, Nino. The young mother regularly checks her mobile phone, where she receives news from her son. “How is Julian?” », “How is the little one?” »the people he met during his wanderings ask him endlessly.

This solicitude, she welcomes it with benevolence. However, when their relationship was made public, she was the target of criticism – among other things: how to remain impartial when her job is to comment on the performance of her companion? In “C to you”, on France 5, the 1er September 2020, the person concerned replied: “People, I don’t think they care that I’m Julian’s girlfriend!” I’m here to do my job, provide the most information, and I take my job very seriously. »

On April 24, Marion Rousse was about to go on air when Julian Alaphilippe suffered a serious fall during Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That day, however, she held the antenna. “If I can no longer show a little detachment, I will have to stop this job [de consultante] »she concedes.

Marion Rousse measures the paradox. Retired for seven years, she embodies women’s cycling. Aware of the “seen on TV” effect, she recalls that ” the most important people for the future remain the runners”. His greatest victory would be that the generation of Juliette Labous, Evita Muzic or Marie Le Net (all born between 1998 and 2000) ended up eclipsing his notoriety.

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