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"We were right to believe in the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift"

With the first edition hailed as a great success, the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift director is keen to do more, and better. Certainly she (Marion Rousse) and route director Franck Perque have served up a spicy route for this year’s second edition – and it should provide plenty of exciting action. BY LOUIS DOUCET



The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is heading south-west in 2023. On Sunday 23 July, as

the men’s Tour finished in Paris, the women’s peloton set off from the volcanic slopes of

the Puy de Dôme, travelling from one end of the Massif Central to the other over six stages,

before launching into the Pyrenees to take on the mythical Col du Tourmalet, and then a final time trial in Pau. There’s certainly potential for lots of explosive action on the second edition of the biggest event on the women’s cycling calendar.


We caught up with Marion Rousse to chat about the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift and here's what she had to say.


Q: Looking back on the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, what are you most satisfied with?

A: To have witnessed a real Tour de France. We were sure that it would be, and it was. It was a real fourth week of the Tour, a show that drew fans to the roadside. People were ready for it, they wanted to see the champions and they made no distinction between the men and women. There was the same fervour, with people dressed up in costumes, children waving signs bearing messages of encouragement and, of course, little girls who did, perhaps, imagine themselves racing in the Tour de France one day. It was a great party.


Q: Which comments touched you the most?

A: Riders often told me that they could really feel a difference to other races. Many thanked me for turning their dream of having a race that could make them visible into reality. They were moved because they weren’t used to an atmosphere of that kind, even though they’re out on the roads all year round. They’d never experienced anything like this.


Q: And how did you deal with the criticism, principally about the crashes?

A: I almost had to smile about the criticism of the crashes because there’s such nervousness on the early stages. Riders battle for position, and, inevitably, you see some crashes. The same issues always produce the same results. The men are regarded as heroes because

they get back on their bikes, while the women supposedly fall because they don’t know

how to ride. But I think the majority of people quickly understood the situation.


Q: But the fact that it was a success must offer encouragement, and must fire your energy

and confidence as you organise the second edition...

A: We’re telling ourselves that we’re on the right path and that we were right to believe in it. We were able to recreate the magic of the Tour for the women.

Now we want to do more, to do better. Having achieved more than we expected, we can’t wait to move on to the next edition.


Q: This year the start won’t take place in Paris. Is the race asserting its independence from the Tour?

A: A little, but the main aim is to put together a different kind of test on a sporting level. By starting in Clermont-Ferrand, we will have winding, hilly stages from the start, which will

make the race even more interesting.



Q: At first sight, the 2023 route is a step up in terms of difficulty...

A: Route director Franck Perque and I thought very carefully about what worked. We didn’t

want to throw the girls onto a series of big passes. For example, we really liked the stage on the white roads last year. It was a crazy spectacle and, in addition, it kept the feeling of suspense alive.

So that’s what we’re looking for in the opening days of the 2023 race. Then, there will be a typical ‘Classics’ stage. Racing into Rodez will almost be the equivalent of Liège-Bastogne-Liège – in fact we’re even exceeding that distance, covering a total of 177km. People don’t

quite realise how difficult this will be.


Q: The first encounter with the Tourmalet in 1910 was a major landmark in cycling’s history.

Will women’s cycling also move into another dimension with the mountain finish?

A: We wanted to have this mythical finish. The objective is to maintain suspense right

to the end. By choosing this high mountain finish followed by a time trial, we’ve opted for two very different exercises that can produce a climactic finale. This climb will be historic

in any case. I can assure you that whoever’s the winner on the Tourmalet, they will frame the photo. It’s the same for the men – a victory on Alpe d’Huez, the Ventoux or Tourmalet has a

special flavour.


Q: What are your dreams for the next few Tours?

A: We mustn’t move too fast, we must run in tandem with the evolution of women’s cycling. There’s no point in having 36 000 plans in mind. Above all, I want to keep listening. We need a few ideas, but good ones. That said, at each meeting with Christian Prudhomme, we talk like the passionate people we are! And we’re not setting any limits because, as a general rule, when we speak to our different stakeholders about an idea, they want to support us, which means that our wildest dreams are feasible. I get lots of offers from potential stage towns, everywhere I go, every day when I travel. And the mission of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is the same as that of the Tour, namely to go and visit everyone.



EXPLOSIVE ACTION EXPECTED

This year’s Tour de France Femmes will see the Massif Central whittle down the number of riders with title ambitions prior to a breathtaking Pyrenean finale.


The opening stages, on roads that are rarely flat, will provide lots of opportunities for breakaway specialists. There are plenty of potential launchpads that could shape the race: the treacherous Côte de Durtol on the run-in to the finish in Clermont-Ferrand, for example, and all manner of other hurdles on the stages across Puy-de-Dôme, the Cantal, the Corrèze, the Dordogne, the Lot, the Aveyron and Tarn. During these rollercoaster stages, which include a tough finale in Rodez, the GC favourites will have to stay constantly vigilant in order to avoid an upset.


After a rapid transition to the Toulouse region, the peloton will launch itself into the high mountains. The Aspin and then the Tourmalet, where there’s a summit finish, should prove decisive. But there’s also good reason to believe that the suspense could be maintained to the final day: if the time gaps aren’t too big, the time trial around Pau could lead to a late reshuffling of the cards.


Thanks to its contrasting flavours, this second edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift should provide a spicy cocktail, one with the potential for explosive action – and that won’t permit the slightest show of weakness by those with real ambitions.

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