Juliette Labous: "I feel the pressure mounting."

As one of France’s promising up-and-coming cyclists since the junior category, Juliette Labous has been rising a little higher each year in the hierarchy of the best female climbers. At 23 years of age, she carries on her shoulders the greatest French hopes for a good result in the general classification, provided she is chosen by her DSM team, which is not in doubt. She feels ready to aim for the Top 5 in this first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, a year after she finished seventh in the Giro Rosa. The Bisonta native has just gotten a boost of confidence after winning her first World Tour race, the Tour of Burgos, in mid-May, just before her training stage in Tignes (25 May to 15 June).

You were born in Besançon and have always lived in the area, but Labous is a Breton surname (pronounce the S), and it was in Finistère, in Kerlouan, that your brother taught you how to ride a bicycle on the paved terrace of a gîte.

Yes, I must have been three years old. I remember falling into a flower pot! There were a few falls, but then it was all over, and I've never stopped since. Every summer, we spent a week in Finistère. My paternal grandfather is from there. But otherwise, I'm franc-comtoise!  

You have a sister, ten years older, and a brother, five years older. It was thanks to him that you developed a passion for cycling.

Yes, Quentin made me want to do it. I followed him everywhere. He was my role model! Quentin started with BMX, and I followed him. It was the same for mountain biking and then for the road. Our parents supported us but never pushed us. One day they brought in trucks to lay down soil to turn our garden into a mini-BMX track!  

Your brother stopped his studies at 18 to give himself a chance to go pro.

Yes, school no longer suited him. It was now or never, but it didn't work out, but it could have.  

By achieving this yourself, do you feel fulfilling a dream for two?

A little bit. Yes and no. My brother taught me a lot and always gave me the right advice. He wasn't lucky enough to meet the right people and for everything to go smoothly, which was my case.  

You were trained at the Besançon hopefuls centre, under the supervision of Matthieu Nadal, before joining the professional ranks as soon as you left the juniors with your current team. Was this the very first team to contact you?

Yes, they did after the Richmond Worlds, when I was a J1. The team's sporting director had contacted me on Facebook.  I didn't know at first if it was real! He arranged for me to do training camps at the beginning of J2, and our relationship developed naturally. They took youngsters to the "Talent Days" scouting camp every year. It went well, and I won a stage at Albstadt in the Nations Cup. After that, they said to me: "You are welcome in the team! FDJ contacted me, but it was practically a done deal with Liv-Plantur (the former name of Sunweb and DSM). I wanted to join them because they were a foreign team, and I wanted to experience the Dutch cycling culture. It was a dream; there was little question about it.

At the time, Marianne Vos was a particular inspiration to you.

Yes, because she won everything! Women's cycling didn't get much media coverage in those days. In the few races we saw, it was her or Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. Julie Bresset also inspired me with her Olympic title in London (in mountain biking). I had my idols in BMX when I was younger, like Laetitia le Corguillé. I took a photo with her when I was very young. I ran into Laetitia again two years ago during a seminar in Dijon. She and I took another picture together and had a good laugh. I learned that she had named her daughter Juliette!  

As a child, could you identify with the male riders watching the Tour?

No, not really. I liked watching, but as there were no girls, I couldn't say I wanted to do it. It was like becoming a professional; the idea didn't come until later. But I went to see the Tour when it passed by my place. It happened two or three times. I remember the time trial in Besançon in 2012. We went to ride the day before to try to see the pros! It left an impression on me. There is another thing too: during a training camp with the Franche-Comté committee, Sandrine Guironnet took us to see the Route de France in Arc-et-Senans... I recently spoke to Evita Muzic about it because she was there too. Watching all those female teams motivated me. I had the impression that they were pros, even if, at the time, this was not the case.  

You will be the best French chance for the general classification, to aim for a top 5. How do you feel about the pressure you'll be under with a month left to go before the race?

I can feel it starting to mount. I am hearing more about it from the general public to those around me, but I think I'm ready for it. I was the only representative at the Olympics last year, where I was already feeling the pressure. Generally speaking, it's not something that holds me back. It doesn't scare me too much.  

Have you talked with Romain Bardet about this? He has been in this role for a long time and has also ridden for DSM since last year?

No, but there would indeed be something to talk about! We talk sometimes. It was complicated last year because of Covid and the bubbles to be respected. At the last meeting with the men's team, we had a good chat with all the French riders, including the newcomers, Romain Combaud and Léa Curinier.  

Do you have any idea what your friends and family have in store for you for the two stages in the Vosges? La Planche des Belles Filles is only 100 kilometres from Besançon.

No, but I think there will be a lot of people! It's going to be something special.  

Do you have a fan club? No, not officially!  

But you can count on the support of your parents. Your brother told us that they have said they only want to follow a few stages. But he thinks they are lying and will, in fact, do the whole thing!

It's not impossible! I don't think they will be there in Paris, it's a bit difficult, even if only logistically. I believe they will be too eager to come after watching a stage or two on TV. They have already deviated from their initial plan! At first, they were only talking about the last three stages. They are starting to say they could come and help the team on the white paths of the fourth stage!