"There is never any chance"

“There is never any chance”

On the occasion of the creation of the cycling section at the Racing Club de France, the president of this new section and former high-level cyclist, Séverine Desbouys, speaks about the ambitions of this project.

What are the reasons that led you to take charge of the cycling section of the Racing Club de France?

This project for me goes beyond a section, it is a project around mobility with the creation of a cycling section. It comes from a meeting 4 years ago, with Philippe Baudillon, the current president of the Racing Club de France. And it is true that my background as a business leader, a former athlete, but above all my vision of 360° mobility weighed in the balance. After many discussions with Philippe (Editor’s note: the president of Racing), I took part in a mission from August 2020 to August 2022 on “Knowing how to ride a bike”, so cycling for children with the government and we also talked about it a lot. Then he said to me 2 years ago, listen, give me a few days, I really have to talk to you about a project. A week later, he explained to me that he would really like me to accompany him and build a project around mobility for the Racing Club de France, with vocations for health, children, around local authorities. It is not a simple appointment, it is first of all the creation of a project at the administrative level in a section and it goes beyond that. From having a helmet, a jersey. On the contrary, it is really a project that reflects the commitment of the Racing 2027 project too. As we see today, we see bikes everywhere, there are more bikes than cars in Paris, we see children with a commitment and fundamentals around cycling, the practice of cycling at school, which I directed. I am very attached to the Racing Club de France because historically, my coach Cyril Guimard was the coach of the triathlon section in 2017. And I have been immersed since 2007, in this world, it was like an obvious thing to do. And for me, perhaps also a visible way of answering the questions of the people of whom I was in this environment of mobility and as a woman with a successful reconversion with a theme which was: mobility.

Are you apprehensive about being appointed head of the cycling section of the Racing Club de France given the many challenges involved?

I may seem pretentious, but I would say no, because the project, I repeat, I was lucky that the president told me, you start from a blank sheet and you are the one who builds it, who constructs it. So today, perhaps, the last thing that has not yet been built, is perhaps the basic thing, but which exists within Racing, that is to say that there is no sports section. There are not for the moment people who are going to put on a bib and go running. I wanted to do things in order and so no I am not apprehensive because everything we have built are things where I already have expertise, I have worked for around thirty local authorities on urban planning and their cycling plan through the attractiveness of cycling in tourism, health, education, with construction groups, such as Vinci among others. I know the associative model because I am the president of a robotics club, which is why I also have the associative model of how we work with people, how to have volunteer status, how it is managed.

And whether it’s the Racing Club de France, a legendary club with a certain network as I mentioned, I’ve been involved and introduced through people who have been close to me since 2007, so I’m very comfortable with that. And whether I’m a woman or not, I think that today, we’ve come looking for skills, expertise and knowledge of the environment above all. And then, I think that a lot of people know me, in government in the cycle sector, the communities, the Ministry of Health. It’s a pretty great moment. Nevertheless, it’s still a team effort. That is to say that this project is also the project that must be the first visible and concrete building block for the president and the prospects for modernizing the Racing Club de France. I’m proud that this project is getting off the ground and there are already a lot of requests. So, it’s a lot of respect and a lot of satisfaction.

What are the objectives of this new cycling section?

You’re going to get to know me, but I like to do things in stages. Before winning the Tour de France, we’re going to train for other events. There will be a build-up and I’m also like that in my business, things have to go at a certain pace in terms of structuring, it’s a new section. It’s a new project that goes beyond simple sports sections. We also have to evangelize people, we have to support them. Moreover, I talk a lot with the different presidents because the idea is not to shake them up, it’s precisely to show them that in the digital age, in the age of sport, especially with the arrival of the Games, there are new ways of working. There are ways that can also help them. And, for me, that was important. The number one priority was that in terms of on-site infrastructure, we are based in La Boulie, which is one of the three sites of the Racing Club de France, it was to structure and rethink sites for the bicycle project. Today, we are going to deliver 84% of the infrastructure, so we have a bicycle workshop that has been delivered, we have a bike shower which will be for cleaning the bikes, we have what I called “The bike house” with a bar, a lunch that will welcome people, whether they are members or whether it is the possibility of also welcoming young people, communities. We will also have two connected bike rooms, a room fittingchanging rooms and a treatment room. We also have a concierge for people who want to leave their bikes.

And, we signed a partnership with the Lepape group “en selle Marcel”. A fairly comprehensive partnership. And the choice also to be able to work with the Lepape group, rather than a brand, was really to have a service and to have things nearby also for the different members too. And then an involvement because they are launching their bike school. That is ready today. We have a learning platform that is redesigned on a hockey field. Indeed, on the site of the Boulie of the Racing Club de France, there is golf, field hockey. There were three fields, two of which are no longer used and I expressed my wish to be able to redesign this hockey field and build a learning platform that goes from a small balance bike course, a course of knowing how to ride a bike, to a course of pump track once the children know how to do up to a flat, a part of getting back in the saddle for adults. And especially a point that was close to my heart, a part for people with reduced mobility. That is very important. We are in perspectives where we see the population aging and the key to good health also passes for this age group on mobility. This infrastructure part, is there today.

We have also set the membership, the entry ticket. So there will be an entry fee and a membership for the different populations. And, we officially launched the opening to members at the beginning of July, so the member part is ready from next week. At the same time, we started “cycling holidays”. I am very attached to something that I have worked on, mastered, delivered which has been a real success, namely Knowing How to Ride a Bike. We are entering the summer holidays with the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and we have set up cycling courses from July 7 for children. These courses will consist of understanding what a bike is, getting back on a bike, playing with it, learning to ride a bike, also knowing that we are asked all the questions to do. A small workshop too, on knowing how to eat well for tomorrow, getting to school not by bus but on foot or by bike. The second partner we have is the French Cycling Federation (FFC), so we’re also going to do bike rides that we’re going to call “Come ride with my champion of tomorrow”. For me, it was important to me that we also help young women or young boys. We’re lucky to have the FFC in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, so a few kilometers away, and to be able to bring rides twice a month, on Saturdays, with a young adult, in the company of a French champion, a member of the French Team and who can ride with people and introduce themselves. Because it’s true that this exchange side with cycling enthusiasts and especially a population like Racing, those are very important things. Finally, our cycling jerseys were made official on July 7.

And then we’re going to, we’re also going to launch this connected bike part. Because as I mentioned, we have connected bikes. And the goal is to be able to create a dynamic during the men’s or women’s Tour de France with Zwift where you can pedal in parallel with the Grande Boucle on Zwift, that was also the idea. The next point is to set up cycling courses in August with champions, we have partnerships that are underway that I won’t mention for now.

Finally, a point that seems essential to me, from the start of the school year, we will collaborate with the town halls of Buc, the town halls of Jouy, the town halls of Versailles, on the practice of cycling at school, on the practice of cycling in retirement homes, the practice of cycling in the context of medicalized health homes and also with a lot of work done with the industrial zones and the companies that are based in these local authorities. It was important to me that this project, with the approval of both the president and the steering committee, that it be an overall project, that it be an effective project and with very concrete things, and it is something that ultimately resembles me. That is also why I agreed to get involved and I put my name on it. And then, the little wink is that I am actually from Vichy and the common point between Vichy and the Racing Club de France is the blue and white colours, and it was pointed out to me and it’s true in fact, there is never any coincidence in life! (laughter).

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