Between 1984 and 1989, the « ancestor » of the first Tour de France Women started (early) as a curtain raiser for the boys and turned into a Franco-Italian duel between Jeannie Longo and Maria Canins. The Haute-Savoyarde has won the last three editions, but, while the event is reborn this year, it risks having to wait longer to find an heiress. After years of scarcity, tricolor women’s cycling is finally regaining its appetite, but not enough to compete, for this first edition of the new Tour, with the voracity of the Dutch (Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten) or the Transalpines (Elisa Longo Borghini , Marta Cavalli).
“These two countries still dominate, but this season we see a real thrill on the side of our riders. I would have been less optimistic two or three years ago.concedes Marie-Françoise Potereau, vice-president of the French cycling federation. « We are working better on training and we will see the results in the coming years », adds the former runner, who experienced the Longo years.
The manager cites the name of Juliette Labous as the embodiment of French talent. At 23, the Franc-Comtoise has changed in dimension this season with a success at the Tour de Burgos and a mountain stage victory at the Giro d’Italia (combined with a 9e place in the general). “Juliette will be looking to get the best possible result for the team in the overall standings,” assures its sporting director within the Dutch team DSM, Albert Timmer.
Juliette Labous belongs to this generation of riders born between 1998 and 2000 and arrived at the right time, that of the professionalization of women’s cycling, according to Stephen Delcourt, manager of the FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope team. “Juliette Labous, Evita Muzic, Marie Le Net or Clara Copponi with us fell directly into World Tour teams [l’élite du cyclisme féminin, qui regroupe quatorze formations], very well structured at the exit of the juniors, he notes. They were able to train and make a living from cycling straight away. »
The boss of the only French team in the World Tour insists on the impact of the introduction of the minimum wage in 2020. “We have always had successful runners among young people, but they did not always find the right structure to turn professional”he continues, while welcoming the efforts made by Cofidis or Arkéa to develop their female version.
Shine « to become role models »
In the early 2000s, France missed a first bend, as if stuck in the very individualistic model of a Jeannie Longo. In the Netherlands, Rabobank invests – in addition to its men’s team – in its women’s training. For French women, the only gateway to the professional world is to integrate the Vienna-Futuroscope structure (current FDJ-Suez) or to go abroad like Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, at Rabobank.
World champion on the road in 2014, « PFP » was a locomotive without too many wagons behind, with the exception of Aude Biannic (Movistar) or Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo), now in their early thirties. . « In 2008, I started from an amateur discipline, practiced by amateurs, thus told Audrey Cordon-Ragot to West France, February 23. Today, she is professional and I have become one too. »
If the Breton woman ended up living from her passion, others had lost her on the way. The most famous case is that of Marion Rousse. The director of the Women’s Tour put her bike away at 24, “frustrated at not being able to make ends meet”despite a national championship title three years earlier.
“At that time, girls had no status or guaranteed salary.recalls Marie-Françoise Potereau. Before, you did not earn your living with the bike, with rare exceptions. Professionalization is triggering a performance phenomenon. »
The public and the media will have to measure their expectations. If Stephen Delcourt sees « Labous capable of approaching the Top 5 » du Tour, or Gladys Verhulst (Le Col-Wahoo) “playing for the win on a stage”, he recalls that Evita Muzic (14e of the Giro) will be at the service of the two climbers of her team, the Italian Marta Cavalli and the Danish Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.
« The French women who will shine on the Tour will very quickly become role models for young girls, wants to believe the manager of FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope. It can be through attacks, a polka dot jersey, a good general classification. » The final victory will be for later. But after all, France knows how to be patient: on the side of the men’s Tour, it has been waiting for Bernard Hinault’s successor for thirty-seven years.