France’s Newest Rising Star: Marion Bunel

Written by: Neil Cormier
Posted 2 weeks ago

At just nineteen years old, Marion Bunel has already surpassed expectations this year as a neo-pro for the UCI Continental team, Saint-Michel Mavic Auber 93. Signed by the team in August 2023 as a stagiare (apprentice pro), Bunel immediately proved her worth by racking up several top-ten finishes, as well as an impressive eighth place overall at last year’s Tour de l’Avenir Femmes.

Since then, she’s had standout performances this year at the Santos Tour Down Under in January, and at the UAE Tour in February, where she stayed with a select group of riders up the iconic Jebel Hafeet climb (10.8km at 6.8%) and catapulted into fifth overall on the GC. Her aggressive riding continued into the spring at the Tour of Normandie, where she attacked and soloed for 45 kilometers in stage 4, helping her finish ninth overall on the GC.

Hailing from Normandy, the same region that produced legendary cyclist Jacques Anquetil, Bunel was born into a cycling family that is now in its fourth generation. As a youngster, she took to cycling immediately, eventually becoming Champion of Normandy eight times across the disciplines of track, road, and cyclo-cross.

“I began cycling at a very young age, five,” Bunel tells ProCycling Women in a recent interview. “It began in my family with my great-grandparents and continued with my grandparents who met at a bicycle race when my grandmother asked my grandfather, a racer, for an autograph. Cycling continued with my father, who also raced, and eventually with my sisters and me.”

Given Bunel’s age and the increased TV coverage of women’s cycling in the past few years, one might assume that Bunel grew up regularly watching women’s races. However, it is only relatively recently that she started following the women’s peloton on TV.

Women are capable of really strong performances, as much as the men, I think that's what’s appealing and people realize it

“I agree that a few years ago when there were women’s races on TV, I couldn’t really get interested in them, and I preferred to watch the men’s, even though I’m a woman, but it’s true there’s been a kind of boom, a new energy, that women’s cycling today is much more interesting, much more credible than before. And yet, before, it was also (credible), but there was not all this interest. Women are capable of really strong performances, as much as the men, and so I think that’s what’s appealing and people realize it.”

So far, Bunel’s race program has been a mixture of WorldTour and Elite races. When asked if she’s had any difficulty adapting to the WorldTour level, Bunel acknowledges that the racing is more demanding and results are harder to obtain, but that the transition has been good so far.

“I haven’t had too many difficulties in the peloton,” she says. “You get used to it quickly. The speed of WorldTour races is faster, the riders have more specific roles, like to ride at the front or set the tempo. Where in national or amateur races, many teams don’t have set roles and objectives. In the amateurs, riders are waiting and looking at each other, but among the pros, it’s always moving. If you stall, it’s like a passing train and you can’t miss it.”

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of competing at the WorldTour level is developing an effective strategy and tactics. As Bunel explains, what works at the Continental level doesn’t necessarily work at the WorldTour level against the best teams and riders in the world.

“You can’t try the same effort that you perhaps do at the Continental level. It’s true that the tactics change in the (WorldTour) peloton, since there are leaders, world champions, etc. We ride our race with them in mind. The goal is not to make their task easier by working for them, they are already strong enough, so there is a reflection, namely: how are we going to succeed in beating them.”

As far as Grand Tours are concerned, the possibility of Bunel racing the 2024 Tour de France Femmes is undecided and it may be that she will have to wait until 2025 for the opportunity. But as a climber, she does feel that she may be better suited for the longer Grand Tours rather than the shorter stage races.

“It’s possible (2024 TdFF), but it’s also possible that it’s next year (2025). Right now, I don’t have a bib number on my back, so it’s not decided. I think that these races (Grand Tours) can suit me since several stages in a row is not something that bothers me. On the contrary, I rather enjoy them.”

Like many climbers, Bunel’s future success may be determined by how well she can improve on her weaknesses rather than capitalize on her strengths. Time trials and sprinting are two areas especially that she recognizes need work and could be improved.

“Yes, I would like to work on my time trialing to try to improve in this discipline so as not to be penalized too much (lose time). Above all, not to lose time when there is a time trial in a stage race. And my sprint too, I don’t have a very good top speed, so when I arrive with a group in the sprint, even if the group is small, I often get beaten. It would be good if I can refine my sprint a little to be able to win group sprints. It’s better being alone (soloing) but it’s not possible all the time.”

Like many of her teammates, Bunel follows her own individual training program when she’s at home in Caen, occasionally riding with a local group or her father if it fits in the program. Power data doesn’t play as large a role in her training as does heart rate, but Bunel believes there’s room for improvement with such data.

“Training is quite classic, it’s individual and I don’t train with the team when I’m in Caen. So, it’s on the roads of Normandy where I do fairly standard training, endurance sessions, short sessions, split sessions, that’s it. I have a lot of room for improvement with (data), it’s something that I’m still just discovering. I have a power sensor, I have figures, but I don’t necessarily train based on these figures, my training is based on my heart rate, it’s the indicator that I look at in my workouts. If I am more tired, if I am in shape, to know if I have made a maximum effort, or if I still have more left.”

So far, Bunel’s season has shown consistent progress and she hopes that the second half of the season will be as successful as the first half.

“I hope to continue on this momentum for the moment, it gives me in any case the results that I have had since the start of the season, and motivates me enormously to continue, since it’s still incredible to already achieve (good results), so, I hope that it continues.”

While it’s still too early to know if Bunel will be selected by her team for this year’s Tour de France Femmes, one thing is for certain – we’ll be seeing her on the WorldTour podium in the near future.

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