In seventeen years of existence, the women’s cycling team FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futursocope (previously called “Vienne-Futuroscope”, from 2006 to 2013, then “Poitou-Charentes Futuroscope 86”, from 2014 to 2016), has had its share of difficult times. Stephen Delcourt, who has been the general manager since 2013, has experienced the anguish of not being able to make ends meet; that of having to give up starting the following year; that, too, of being unable to keep up with a booming sector.

Since the beginning of 2022, the only French team playing in the elite division – the Women’s World Teams (WWT) – has been sportingly on cloud nine: thirty podiums, nine victories, including those of the Italian Marta Cavalli on the Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche wallonne, in April, or, at the beginning of June, those of the Australian Grace Brown, new arrival in the group, on two stages of the Women’s Tour in the United Kingdom. And, one month before the big return of the Tour de France women, the general manager can finally breathe: he knows he will have the means to stay the course next season.

His team announced, Monday, June 20, the arrival of a new co-sponsor, the Suez group, as well as the three-year extension of the commitment of the Française des jeux (FDJ) with the structure, i.e. until 2025. As of July 15, FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope will therefore become FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope, before bearing the name FDJ-Suez from 2023.

“By providing our support to this team, we are giving it a little more the means of its ambitions, welcomes Sabrina Soussan, Chief Executive Officer of Suez since January 2022. This will allow Stephen Delcourt to pursue his recruitment policy at the highest level. and to offer the team the conditions favorable to its success, with a permanent staff and essential sports infrastructures. »

After an economic model

Until then, the training could count on the support of 110 partners, including many communities. But, explains its general manager, it was coming to the end of its economic model. “If we wanted to continue at the highest level, we needed to significantly increase our budget. Only the private sector could allow us to do this, ”summarizes the person concerned.

With this agreement, it goes from 10th to 7th budgetary rank of the fourteen teams of the elite. “We will be able to offer contract extensions to the girls. We want to give them the means to flourish and to have visibility in their careers and also in their lives as women, rejoices Stephen Delcourt. With the ambition, in the background, to continue the training of young runners, as we did with the 1998-2000 generation. Shortly before Monday’s announcement, one of the faces of said generation, the 2021 French champion, Evita Muzic, signed an extension of her contract until 2025.

If the case is sizeable, it is because the existence of the teams is entirely based on sponsorship: cycling does not benefit from any ticketing revenue, the television broadcasting rights are entirely captured by the organizers of the events and the transfers riders do not generate any compensation between formations.

Recent moves in women’s cycling towards professionalization, in the wake of the creation of an elite division in 2020, have heightened the need for money. “When we arrived in the women’s peloton in 2017, the sector was embryonic. Few races, low or non-existent salaries, almost no television broadcasting and even less of the Tour de France, ”sums up Stéphane Pallez, president of the FDJ group since 2014.

More race days to consider

Today, WWT riders have a minimum salary of 27,500 euros per year – which will be increased to around 30,000 euros from 2023, i.e. the equivalent of the salaries of the Continental Pro men’s teams (second division) – , with health insurance and the possibility of taking eight months of maternity leave.

At the same time, the calendar has expanded. In 2021, the elite women’s circuit only had seven stage races out of the 24 scheduled for the season. It now has 25 events, including twelve over more than one day – including two meetings lasting more than a week – for a cumulative total of seventy-one days of racing, when the women had some. played less than forty the previous season.

However, as with their male counterparts, the women’s World Tour teams must participate in each event of the first division or risk losing their license. An increasingly difficult task in terms of staff, costs incurred and logistics. Next season, more than eighty days of racing are planned.

“Over the past three years, Women’s World Tour budgets have increased by more than 20% each year. It’s huge even if we start from very far away, underlines Stephen Delcourt. The average budget was 1.4 million euros in 2020, 1.7 million in 2021 and 2.4 million in 2022. The arrival of Suez allows us to stay in curves. »

The gap with the biggest teams, whose envelope is around 3.5 million euros annually this year, remains substantial, but the ambition of the French formation is to be part of the long term. What, officially, Suez intends to support: “Our objective is to allow the new FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope team to demonstrate its full potential and, through it, to all of women’s cycling to continue to develop”, assures Sabrina Soussan.