Cycling is big in France, especially in July, and as the nation’s attention turns from the Tour de France to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, France’s female heroes take centre stage. At every stage start and finish, and along the route, screams of “Audrey! Audrey!” ring out. Children line up hoping to score a bidon, adults ask for selfies, and it’s nearly impossible for the former French champion to get anywhere in the race village.
“I don’t know why actually,” Cordon-Ragot told Escape Collective at the start of the fourth stage in Cahors. “Probably because I’m one of the oldest riders in the field and I’ve been there for a while so people start to know me a little bit.”
Cordon-Ragot has been a constant presence in the women’s peloton since she signed for Viene Futuroscope (now FDJ-Suez) in 2008. She’s ridden for teams like Wiggle High5 and Trek-Segafredo and is always the first to speak up for the whole peloton when the need arises.
She represented France at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games but wasn’t named to the Tokyo 2020 team even after she won both the road race and time trial at the French nationals.
France has always been a part of Cordon-Ragot’s identity. It is in her blood, and one scan through her social media shows how much love she has for her country. She admires French male cyclists as well, none more than Thibaut Pinot.
Now, female cyclists shouldn’t need to be compared to male cyclists; to be described as the female version of some big-name male pro. They should stand alone. But in this case, Cordon-Ragot brought up the comparison herself. Her aspiration? To become the female version of Thibaut Pinot.
“I think all the Frenchies want to be the female Thibaut Pinot because first of all he’s talented on the bike, he’s been a really great rider, and yeah when you see these last stages in the Vosges with all those people in this corridor …” she said. “I was at massage at the same time and watching it and I had goosebumps on my arms. I was like ‘Woah.'”
“Next year will be my last Tour and I wish I had the same, somewhere in France, those people coming for me. I guess that stays a dream, but still, it was something very special and only Thibaut Pinot can bring this.”
Every rider loves the sound of their name echoing through their thoughts. It’s something they imagine when they’re doing intervals alone. No one’s name echoes in France like Pinot. Cordon-Ragot might not have hundreds of people with signs lining the roadside, but over the years her riding and her personality combined have amassed her an impressive hoard of fans. Especially at home in Brittany.
“When I go in Plouay I think it’s always something special and people cheering for me a lot,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the Tour will come in Bretagne next year and I won’t live that, but my home region loves cycling and I’m lucky that I am born in Bretagne.”
If you’re wondering why Cordon-Ragot is worth making a sign for, take a look at her lengthy career and more specifically the last two years.
While Cordon-Ragot doesn’t have the same amount of near-misses as Pinot, over the years she has acquired the same amount of respect from inside the peloton. Especially while riding for Trek-Segafredo, Cordon-Ragot spent hours in the front of the peloton, selflessly working for her leaders. In those days live coverage would start well after Cordon-Ragot had made a dent in the race – an unfortunate outcome of only 90 minutes of mandatory coverage.
In that way, Cordon-Ragot embodies the same tragic hero archetype as Pinot. Someone who has given this sport everything, and walked away with very little in the way of results.
Cordon-Ragot also rides with the sort of panache Pinot is so famous for. She’s aggressive in races, she loves to attack, to take the race into her own hands and give it everything, even if she comes up short. But in one critical way, she is different from Pinot. She is outspoken, often coming off as loud compared to some other women in the peloton, about the issues surrounding the sport.
This trait has earned her a reputation in the peloton and in cycling in general, but she embraces it.
“I am probably talking a lot in the media about women’s cycling so people know ‘Oh, she’s the one always opening her mouth’,” she said. “And yeah, some people like it and some people don’t. But it is what it is.”
Cordon-Ragot was the voice of the peloton during the recent CIC Tour Féminin Pyrénées which was called off after two stages due to dangerous conditions. Her nickname in the peloton is the General because she is always reprimanding someone who’s done her wrong, but that extends to those who wrong the women’s peloton as well.
During our conversation, ahead of the fourth stage of the Tour de France Femmes, Cordon-Ragot casually dropped that the 2024 Tour might be her last.
“I’m starting to say it but I also see a lot of riders telling that they’re going to retire and in the end have been signing for another year so I don’t want to be this kind of rider,” Cordon-Ragot clarified. “I prefer not talking so much about it because you never know what can happen. But still, I have some projects, I wish I have a family soon, and yeah I feel like when I see children I really want my children so it’s really difficult right now to not think about.”
Until the time Cordon-Ragot does retire, she is soaking in the glow of the Tour de France Femmes, this year even more so than last. In its second season, the women’s race has distanced itself from the men’s race, literally, starting in Clermont-Ferrand instead of Paris. And while last year the Tour de France Femmes drew crowds, this year the race has fans.
“This second Tour is a bit different than last year because people are coming because they know the riders,” she explained. “When last year they were coming because they were curious, you know? So you can see like a different public of people really knowing about us so I think it also makes a huge difference.
“People know our names, which is something special. We still have to improve that because I think more than just watching at the race they need to watch other riders and this is the next step in Tour I think. It’s starting so I have good hopes and I’m pretty positive about it.”
In some ways, it’s a miracle Cordon-Ragot even made it to a second Tour de France Femmes. Her final season with Trek-Segafredo ended with a health scare, just before the Road World Championships, where Cordon-Ragot received a barrage of anger from the French fans for backing out of racing in Australia.
“My absence from the upcoming World Championships, which many people have allowed themselves to call whims, fear of losing, disrespect of the French team … and I pass, is due to a stroke, which I was a victim of, last Sunday,” Cordon-Ragot wrote on her Instagram in September of 2022.
“I couldn’t stand up,” she told Human Powered Health ahead of the 2024 Tour de France Femmes. “I realized that my body was not working and when you’re an athlete you know what the normal feelings are. I was sure something was going wrong, my body was not reacting the way it should and this was not normal lightheadedness.
“The first thing I asked the doctor was ‘Can I be a cyclist?’ It was more important for me to know if I could still be a cyclist than to know that yes, I was about to die. I had to prove to myself and everyone that I could be a cyclist again.”
Always determined to keep fighting for her dreams, Cordon-Ragot persevered, focused on her recovery and health, and ultimately decided her career was not going to end this way. She was set to ride for the women’s B&B Hotels team in 2023 as one of their star performers. Unfortunately, that story ended in heartbreak, but when the team folded she landed seemingly on her feet at Zaaf.
We all know how that went …
Still, ever the fighter, Cordon-Ragot kept the dream alive and was picked up, on the eve of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, by Human Powered Health. In her 16th season as a professional cyclist, she was given new life.
As she set forth on a new adventure with her new team Cordon-Ragot set her sights on the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
The first year of the women’s Tour had been a whirlwind. All week the women were bombarded with media requests and attention from fans. And while there’s always been interview requests and fans on Instagram asking you to send them your old jerseys, with the numbers on and unwashed (yep this happens all the time), it’s never the amount of attention the Tour de France attracts.
“I was happy at that moment to finish,” Cordon-Ragot said of the final stage of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes. “It was a stressful week where we got a lot of attention every day, so I was exhausted. It took me one hour to come down from the summit because I had to stop at least 15 times for pictures which was great, but it was a double feeling of ‘we accomplished the same Tour and this is history, but wow I’m really glad it was finished’.”
Now, Cordon-Ragot pilots a team of relatively new riders to the WorldTour, along with Alice Barnes who previously rode for Canyon-SRAM. She is set to race another season, and she’s determined not to hang up her bike unless it’s on her own terms.
“The sentence I always had in my head was that I am going to be the only one who decides when I am stopping,” she told her new team. “That’s what pushed me to keep on fighting for myself, my career and for the careers of the others involved in the same story as me [she helped some Zaaf riders find new teams after the collapse]. I had it in my head the whole time, just keep fighting Audrey, because it was not fair and I hate unfair situations.”
Cordon-Ragot may not have the same level of fame as Pinot, at least not yet. But she has all the makings of a hero. So, the task set forth to the fans of cycling and fans of Cordon-Ragot is to write the Frenchwoman an anthem like Pinot has, and to line the road with signs. And if you’re reading this, Thibaut: Audrey is always open for goat-sitting.
“I always said to Thibaut … I could be goat-sitting whenever he wants,” she jokes. “I have space enough in my garden, I can have them, look [after] them for a week no problem, and for sure I’m an animal lover so I will have some animals when I retire.
“And my other dream is to, in my second life, be a cow. In a mountain. I really love it and [they have] beautiful eyes.”
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