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Back on track: The Marion Clignet Journal 2004
French track legend Marion Clignet retired from racing in 2000, intending to become active as an advocate for women's sport. But after two years off the bike, and perhaps inspired by the other female champions she's encountered while working as a presenter for French TV, Clignet returned to the velodrome in 2003 to the velodrome in a determined comeback. After a solid year building a foundation, Marion's back competing at thehighest level in 2004.
Comeback and retirement
Olympic crusade ended
I guess I'll start from 2002 when I was approached by a sponsor who offered to sponsor me up to Athens, if I were to attempt a comeback. I was tempted as I felt I hadn't 'finished' what I had started, i felt fit and ready to go, and above all I had this silly idealistic dream that with a sponsor to foot the bill id be able to atlast compete like the pro men, that is with little or nothing else to worry about other than getting myself fitter than hell to rip up the boards, road, or whatever was in my way....
I had worked with the product sponsor before but he had sold his company to someone else so now id be dealing with a new person. I had nothing to lose if he agreed to my budget which would cover training camps, racing in the US and Europe, etc. We met once at my house and then again in Paris with my lawyer and a friend who worked in communications. Everything was set...perfect, budget was agreed too, I had logos for clothing made, brochures, was working on some commercial aspects for the company, and so forth.
I had already called up my previous sponsors and all had agreed to support my project, in particular Look, Eurotyre (the Michelin distributor in Toulouse), I had an elite athlete contract with the post office so I was considered as employed and thus expected to work but with this project it was impossible and since I'd be getting paid i put myself on leave without pay to have the time necessary to train full out.
Full out I went. I borrowed a friend's apartment in Spain to train in Rosas where the winds were blowing hard! With the help of Didier Rous, I found a new club in Castelsarrasin and they agreed to do some of the French cup races so I'd have some support. All was going according to plan, though I still had to manage contracts, equipment, training, programs, and logistics of all kinds. In February, one month after I'd sent the contract to the sponsor to be signed I received my first warning that something was up.... or down. By march still no word of my contract and it became clear that this was some kind of bad joke. I was shelled as I had worked with the original owner for a few years and he had been a real help - looks like some thugs had brought him out.
So it was March, I was training a lot with the men and getting ready for my first world cup on the track in three years to be held in Mexico. By March 15th it was over. I no longer had a sponsor, budget - zero. I'd have to make do on my own.
This called for a complete change of program and put me back on the market in search of a sponsor. I managed to come up with a few odds and ends to get by. The season went ok. I won a men's race, which was loads of fun after a 92kms breakaway and rode with the kiwi national team in July, which was also a good time.
The 2004 season started off with a much better kick as the government of Tarn and Garonne (my region) gave me a grant for Olympic preparation and I was able to dig up odds and ends here and there. We managed to put together a French Canadian group sportif with the help of Chris Gorgas in Limoux and Look, as always came through for me with the best in cycling gear, as did Nike with shoes and some clothing.
I trained hard this season doing three different training camps with the pro men and had some awesome races. A bout of seizures had me change medications after 15 years on the same anti epileptic medication in February, causing a bit of a change in my system and above all, causing a lot of concern and apprehension as to where i could go with this. I won the French qualifiers to go to worlds in Melbourne, but I wasn't satisfied with my times at all. I seemed to be flying in training with the guys but not quite ready yet to pour it out on the track. Worlds didn't go well at all. I was never in synch. Ijust never felt like I was there. From there I thought id give it one more shot on the road, since that's where I'd been doing the best. After a month on the track in Australia I went off to Trentino and had a few good rides. French road nationals were at altitude, enough to make me suffer, so my Olympic crusade ended there.
From there I finished with the Giro and had some stellar rides though never for myself. I did have some good moments this season, loads of ups and downs, great training camps with the guys. Aside from the fact that France is extremely sexist in its organization of women's cycling (France is one of the only European countries with no women's pro teams - great coming from the country with the biggest bike race in the world), a lot of the French men I trained with were extremely supportive and have turned out to be good pals.
I haven't had another seizure since my episode before the world cup in Moscow, so the new medication is obviously effective which will in turn lead me to a speaking tour starting in September on the management of epilepsy and sport.
In the near future I have meetings set up with various people to get things moving in France in women's cycling as well as sports in general and I've been asked to coach several men and women. So we'll see, and ill still send in my ever so quiet opinions on this and or that to Cyclingnews. And Lance if you're out there and reading any of this ask discovery to do something really useful like put together a pro women's team as well, eh?