cycling Women’s Tour de France: “I wasn’t unhappy,” says Jeannie Longo

Women’s Tour de France (July 24-31)

You are the last on the list of winners of the women’s Tour de France. What inspires you about its revival, thirty-three years later?

It makes me a little nostalgic and at the same time brings back good memories. When I watch the Men’s Tour on TV, I feel the same way. The ascents of the pass, all this crowd on the mountain (Editor’s note: at the time the women’s Tour de France was held at the start of the men’s Tour de France)… I remember a climb to Joux-Plane (Haute Savoie). ) or the organization car in front of me had to drive with both doors open to keep the spectators away (laughs). He was wearing the yellow jersey… It’s great to see the race start again.

Your three victories in the Tour de France (1987, 1988, 1989) necessarily have a special place in your immense record…

I place them on a par with my Olympic title (obtained in 1996 in Atlanta). When I competed in my first Tours de France in ’85 and ’86 (second overall behind Italy’s Maria Canins), I was a road sprinter. The first year I won five stages in the sprint, the second four and the double green jersey in the points classification. Then I lost weight and won the general classification three times (ahead of Canins). I also remember going down the Champs Elysées with Stephen Roche and Greg LeMond (who had successively won the men’s event) to greet the crowd. It was touching.

What was the women’s Tour de France in your time?

Our starting city was different from the boys. Then we did the last 80-100 kilometers of its route. Sportingly, it was the duels with Maria Canins. When I saw Vingegaard release Pogacar at the Granon Pass ten days ago, it made me think about where I had managed to get rid of him the first time in Luz-Ardiden.

Women’s cycling has developed a lot in recent years. How do you see its development?

In our time, you know, some selections were also very structured. I was also the first to create a branded French team (Euromarché Sport Grenoble) in 1988. It was professionally done, with training courses etc… Women’s cycling is benefiting from the rise in power of women in society. There is a general movement of women. Well, girls have to be careful anyway, everything is cyclical. Men watch. Currently, it is the trend, women are in power everywhere, so much the better for women’s cycling.

Can you imagine such a development?

What I didn’t particularly imagine, is that it comes to this point. In the late 80s, we all had a good start with the Olympics, the Tour de France, all the stage races we had, we went to Colombia in February, we had Criteriums according to -Tours, the Six Days… It was great . And then it went down like mayonnaise, like egg whites. Unfortunately, they saw us as competitors (in men’s cycling). At the time, a woman could be said to be ugly on a bicycle (Editor’s note: refers to comments made in 1987 by Marc Madiot). Now, we no longer have the right to say that. That said, I’ve never been, shall we say, for the imposition of women. We prevail because of our qualities, because of who we are.

Would you have liked to race in 2022, to be at the start of the women’s Tour de France?

I wasn’t unhappy. I’ve always been given a lot of publicity. In the United States, when I won the Tour de Colorado, it was something. I’m not frustrated. My fans probably could have seen more of me on TV. On the other hand, team strategies have changed. I remember back in my day, some girls were willing to sacrifice themselves for me to lose. We don’t see that anymore. Leaders now have the best role. I watch the women’s bike on TV, sometimes I moan to myself.

Will you follow the race on TV?

Yes, of course. They even invite me to the Champs Elysees to start. I know some girls like Audrey Cordon-Ragot, who I gave an award to in Brittany when I was little and who I later ran with, and Juliette Labous. I also remember a race in the Jura: that day, I had decided to ride hard for the last 30 kilometers to train. I had a great time getting to the girl in the lead. This child was little Juliette, she was a young woman. She’s toned, I like it.

In the newspaper L’Équipe, Cathy Marsal, who ran in your time, was not kind to you. He recently said you’ve done more women’s cycling than anything else. What do you answer?

Yes, I’ve heard of it. I don’t want to think too much about it. That means she doesn’t know me, and for a girl who has lived with me for a while, that’s sad. It is an absence of maturity. I should still know everything I’ve done. What can I say? I changed the whole of women’s cycling in the 80s, the regulations, the equipment. And then, I continued to ride the bike for I don’t know how long because the organizers called me to say that there would be no race if I didn’t come. I put together the first brand team, voluntarily relaunched the Women’s Tour that was contested in August in the early 90s, found all the stage cities and major sponsors, etc… When my friends read this , they were disgusted.

Have you ever suffered from your image?

What we say, you know… What I remember is the positive. Every day, every day, they thank me for my career. Look, just this morning, a lady at the bakery: “You look like Jeannie Longo.” When he found out it was me, I won’t tell you… And on the sports bike, if you know how happy people are to ride next to me. So if anyone wants to talk bad about me…

Would you like to be a sports director?

What would have bothered me was spending three or four hours in a car. I would have liked to train, I would also have liked to do a time trial. In France, this discipline has been left aside.

You continue with your bike, we have seen your name in the rankings of some cyclosportives…

At first, I didn’t really like it because they put me in the front line and I was scared to have 1,000 people behind me. I got used to it. This allows me to compete in many different regions, sometimes I even win. I also participate in some Ufolep category races with the men. Otherwise, I walk a lot. And then, I skied all winter, I got my revenge for the previous season, the covid one. Deep down, I will remain a great athlete.

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