Marion Rousse during a presentation of the Tour de France Femmes at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Image Credit: Reuters

The first edition of the women’s Paris-Roubaix race last year silenced most of the sceptics and attitudes to women’s cycling are changing, the race director of the Tour de France Femmes said.

On a rainy, muddy day in October 2021, Lizzie Deignan emerged as the first winner of the women’s Paris-Roubaix after mastering the slippery cobbled roads in northern France that men have raced on for more than one hundred years.

The second edition will be held TODAY while the Tour de France Femmes will take place from July 24-31, 33 years after its last edition.

“There’s nothing to actually do to change mentalities,” Marion Rousse told reporters after a presentation of the Tour de France Femmes at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Lots of sceptics

“All we have to do is show (that women can do it). The last sceptics who think women have nothing to do on a bike will change their mind after seeing the race from the road side or after turning on their TV. That’s all there’s to do.

“There were a lot of sceptics before the women’s Paris-Roubaix last year. They were saying ‘oh la la, women on cobbled roads how are they going to handle that?’. And it was raining that day and I can tell you that after the race a lot of people said ‘chapeau’.”

Rousse explained that Paris-Roubaix was a turning point.

“Things have changed since then,” she said. “When you see the races today you can’t say women have nothing to do on a bike.” Men’s cycling, however, remains a masculine environment.

“With the Tour de France Femmes we want to show that women can have key roles, responsibilities,” Rousse said.

“It should not just be women handling women’s cycling and men only being involved in men’s cycling.”

Rousse, a former French champion, is the partner of world champion Julian Alaphilippe. She has been one of the three commentators on the men’s Tour de France for main broadcaster, France Televisions, since 2017.

“I’m not the only woman who can talk about cycling. There’s a lot of women who can be involved,” she said.

No regrets

In 2020, Cherie Pridham became the first woman to hold the role of sport director in a men’s team, Israel Cycling Nation.

While she does not regret ending her career in 2015, the 30-year-old Rousse, also the deputy director of the Tour de La Provence, would be forgiven for wondering what could have happened if women’s cycling had been further developed during her racing years.

“There’s a long way to go before mentalities change completely but things have started to evolve,” she said.

“When I was riding, I was barely getting paid and that’s why I stopped. I needed to pay the bills so I had to turn that page very early. It could have been different.”