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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No31: Marie-Odile Amaury

Maria David Sponsored
31 Mar 2021

Chairwoman of Groupe Amaury – parent company of ASO, the Tour de France organiser

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photos: Groupe Amaury/DR

As the head of the family organisation established by Émilien Amaury in 1944, Marie-Odile Amaury has a significant empire to oversee.

This €450-million business includes one of France’s top daily newspapers, L’Équipe, and Amaury Sports Organisation, organiser of the Tour de France, Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Roubaix, Tour de Yorkshire, and many other pro races.

And that’s just cycling – ASO also organises many other sports events, including the Paris Marathon and The Dakar Rally.

This is quite a remit for the dynamic business woman, who became CEO after the passing of husband Philippe in 2006. Nevertheless, Marie-Odile, whose interests are as diverse as listening to heavy metal music and playing golf, is savvy and astute, having started her executive career in advertising before moving into publishing and sports events.

Although Marie-Odile doesn’t get involved in organising races, she monitors how events are developing. It is therefore a disappointment to her that Paris-Roubaix, due to stage its first ever women’s race, is again not taking place this spring.

‘At the moment in France, the infection rate is very high, so the Prefect of Hauts-de-France didn’t want to take any risks. He would prefer the event to be postponed to the autumn.

'It’s really a shame as it’s a beautiful race. We hope that with the vaccine, people can get back to a kind of more normal life.’

Women’s cycling has made enormous progress, with the equipment, coaching, and the number of teams. I really enjoy watching women’s racing and I think the riders are amazing

Regarding the women’s pro calendar, Marie-Odile is keen to advance things for women. She explains:

‘The sporting world was masculine originally, though there are some sports where women have found their place quicker than in other sports. For example in tennis, women have been recognised as elite athletes for many years.

‘At ASO we were a forerunner and have been organizing women's cycling races since 1998, with the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, since 2017. We also have regularly organised a one-day women’s race at the Tour de France [La Course by Le Tour de France].

'By racing on the course before the men, they benefit from the crowds, the television coverage, and all the infrastructure already there.

‘We have done that for Paris-Roubaix, and for a number of other races including the Tour de Yorkshire.

‘Women should try to create their own cycling world in order to develop cycling with their rules and systems.’

An ASO women’s Tour de France took place between 1984 and 1989, with 10 stages held on selected days over the three-week period.

After the first edition won by American Marianne Martin, the race was dominated by France’s Jeannie Longo and Italy’s Maria Canins, with British racers Mandy Jones and Denise Burton also competing.

However, the race was not financially viable at that time, as Marie-Odile recalls. ‘Those races couldn’t use the infrastructure of the men’s Tour de France. We didn’t have the financial means to put that in place.

'If it had been successful we would have continued. I think the problem was that we wanted to go big with it immediately. With La Course by Le Tour de France, we started from a more positive, sustainable base, where we could grow the event little by little.

‘We are working on a women’s stage race and we hope to implement it in 2022 or 2023.

‘Women’s cycling has made enormous progress, with the equipment, coaching, and the number of teams. I really enjoy watching women’s racing and I think the riders are amazing.’

When we ask Marie-Odile what she thinks about the place of men and women in the professional field and in sports, she draws parallels between women’s cycling and changes in the world of work.

As well as it being important for changes to occur incrementally, she also recognises the differences between men and women. Rather than trying to do things in the same way as men, she says, we should look at how the differences between men and women can complement each other in order to reach an objective.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘I am convinced that women should not be thinking in terms of men and women,’ Marie-Odile says. ‘Men and women have different qualities, and we can reach the same place by working with our different qualities.

‘I believe very much in the agility of a woman’s mindset. Society is based more and more on service industries where imagination and agility prevail. Women can therefore contribute towards this.

‘Many women hold key positions in our company. We have many women journalists in L’Équipe and in many other functions. In many sectors sometimes women create complexes for themselves to reach executive positions, but they must bring their own assets.

‘If everyone has exactly the same profile, that’s not fun. If you see a play at the theatre and everyone has exactly the same profile there is no plot.

‘So, in the world of work and sport there need to be people with different characteristics that complement each other. And that’s what makes life interesting.’

For women wanting to succeed in business Marie-Odile offers the following advice:

‘Follow your own path and your ambition in a determined way; don’t allow yourself to be dismissed by anyone.’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.