Riding is Life


Marion Rousse and her partner Julian Alaphilippe are shown at the start of the 2022 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. She is an accredited media member while he has the rainbow jersey of World Champion.

Marion Rousse is not playing Patrick Lefevere’s games

After years of berating his own riders, the Soudal-Quick Step manager might have finally hit a live wire.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 21.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Patrick Lefevere may have finally done it.

For years he’s used the media, ever willing for an explosive quote, to disparage his own riders, either with a view to firing them up to perform if they are underperforming, or to give them a good kicking on their way out the door for a more lucrative contract offer.

Sam Bennett, Yves Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen, these are just the more contemporary names, but the 69-year-old Soudal-Quick Step team boss’ ire has most recently been reserved for Julian Alaphilippe.

His two-time World Champion has underperformed since signing a “mega contract” in April 2021 off the back of a campaign that saw him capture another Tour de France stage win and yellow jersey, and more importantly the rainbow bands of the World Champion’s jersey. While he would go on to repeat those achievements that summer, four victories since autumn 2021 is not exactly what Lefevere, or Alaphilippe for that matter, would have hoped would be the return from one of the highest-paid riders in the peloton.

“Julian is a good guy, but after he signed his mega contract, he no longer performed,” Lefevere said in a recent interview with HUMO, the latest of a number of interviews where the team boss has expressed displeasure in his French rider’s performance.

“I like my riders, but it must remain fair. As you get older, you have to take more care, you have to train harder and you can’t throw your hat at it. He now has to make the click and fight for it.

“Too many parties, too much alcohol … Julian is seriously under the spell of Marion [Rousse, Alaphilippe’s partner]. Maybe too much. Julian is a young dog full of energy – you should let him cross in the yard every now and then. And you must also say: this far and no further. There is still a bad boy inside him.

“I spoke to him in November last year, in the presence of Marion and his manager Dries Smets. I said: ‘It cannot continue like this. If you mess up one more time, I’ll fire you on the spot.’ The message was received. He is getting back together.”

Lefevere rarely minces his words, and usually gets away with it considering he has a Belgian press (and to a lesser extent, an international press) that feeds off of his headline-grabbing remarks. He is also a popular mainstay within Belgium and has the billionaire backing of his team co-owner Zdenek Bakala. Usually, it’s Lefevere’s way, or the highway.

Alaphilippe has kept his head down as riders are prone to do, especially in a contract year and also as he tries to focus on lining up for Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as Soudal-Quick Step’s leader. However, his partner, Rousse, former pro racer, television commentator, and director of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, was not having it.

Marion Rousse at the start of a Tour de France Femmes stage. She is wearing a blue dress and poses with a slight, confident smile in front of a TdFF banner.
As director of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, Rousse doesn’t exactly coast on Alaphilippe’s coattails or lack for important work.

“Whatever Mr. Lefevere’s feelings towards me, it is unacceptable to attack our private lives as he is doing,” Rousse posted to Twitter/X on Wednesday afternoon. “So no, I don’t drink alcohol, ever. I [even] missed [it] for the holidays too because with a 3-year-old we prefer to be in shape in the morning ;)”.

Of course, Rousse won’t have published her statement without Alaphilippe’s consent, but she has her own considerable platform and power within cycling, and is more able to speak up against the personal attacks on her family than riders are.

She also alleges that Lefevere has tried to stop her from working in order to help Alaphilippe in his career, with the pair having had a son in January 2021.

“You will not succeed either, as you have already mentioned to me, in stopping me from working to keep myself busy and stay close to Julian during his career.

“The jobs I carry out fascinate me and know that I have lots of projects. But I tell you, under no circumstances will I allow you to talk about my private life. Please now stop talking indiscriminately and show more respect … and class.”

Julian Alaphilippe and Marion Rousse at the start of a race; both are wearing masks and Rousse is facing Alaphilippe while pointing to something off-camera.
Caption competition …

We’re not sure if Lefevere has ever let anybody have the last word, so expect this to not be the last on this matter.

Meanwhile, in a PR move to make you slightly wince, the Soudal-Quick Step media machine is continuing full steam ahead, releasing the second episode of their new ‘The Wolfpack Howls’ podcast series the morning of Rousse’s response (although recorded well in advance, no doubt). What does it feature? A 30-minute interview with none other than … Julian Alaphilippe!

As predicted, Lefevere has issued a follow-up statement to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, saying the remarks he made were in 2022, but not addressing the sexist remarks to Rousse:

I am considering making a statement on Twitter, because once again my words in English – without the context of the interview – sound heavier than I said them in Dutch.

What did I say? José De Cauwer is my witness: not last year [the conversation he had with Alaphilippe], but in November 2022 I took Julian Alaphilippe aside in Diegem [at a team meeting]. To say: things cannot continue like this. Either I let you go, or we’re going to do things differently from now on. My message was: ‘talent alone will no longer work. You get older and have to live differently.’ Julian has performed big numbers in the Tour, but at the time they were no other, or less pronounced, top performers such as Mathieu Van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič that he is now competing against.

There was a period with too many parties, but I have to say: he hasn’t had a drink since our conversation in November 2022. Not within the team and not outside the team. I have spoken to people who were with him on the internship in Sierra Nevada: not a drop more. And training has never been a problem, he has always continued to do so.

At a certain point Julian lost his self-confidence. He remains valuable to the team. He says that press conferences stress him out, but he is actually a perfect sandwich man. He recently went to Cologne for a publicity assignment at Safety Jogger, no problem. Publicity-wise, he remains God in France. Only: I also want results and there have been too few. It must be more than the Faun-Ardèche Classic.

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