Tour Guide – Prudhomme Welcome (2010)

RIDE Media has produced the official Tour de France Guide (Australian edition) since 2003. The 2012 edition will be on sale mid-June. During the production period, we will be looking back at certain features from over the years. In this flashback we present a Q&A with the race director Christian Prudhomme from the 2010 Official Tour Guide. Interview by Jean-François Quenet.

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Flashback: 2010 – the centenary of the Pyrenees in the Tour de France

Race director Christian Prudhomme sees the abundance of eligible teams as a sign of the current health of cycling. He offers the 198 competitors many opportunities to blow apart the race with a course that includes elements for the Classics men early and climbers later, in a tribute to 100 years of the Pyrenees being part of the Tour…

The high point of the 2010 Tour, the Tourmalet or Arenberg?

Christian Prudhomme: “History commands us to celebrate 100 years of the mountains in the Tour de France. ‘Avatar’ is presented as a new starting point for interactive cinema, because the journey in 3D is as revolutionary as the advent of silent film. In the same way, when the riders of the Tour had to confront the mountains, the race changed people. To pay the necessary homage to what the mountains have brought to the Tour, we have built a course that is more mountainous than preceding Tours.

“Our roots are in the cols of 1910 – Portet-d’Aspet, Ares, Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque – but that doesn’t prevent us from also adding some new climbs for the 21st century: Pailhères, Ax 3 Domaines on the plateau of Bonascre and the Port de Balès, sealed in asphalt on both sides in 2006 and borrowed by the Tour in 2007. The reintroduction of cobbled sections on the course of the Tour de France is another diverse aspect that we have offered to the participants.”

Does the organiser fear that the cobbles will wreak havoc?

Christian Prudhomme: “In any case, I hope that the cobbles won’t be avoided and in a way ‘rubbed out’ by the candidates for the yellow jersey. We wanted the whole first week to be animated. A crucial time in the 2009 Tour was the third stage to La Grande Motte when Armstrong gained 41 seconds on Contador.

“This time, there will be significant portions on the opening weekend in the Dutch province of Zeeland that will allow gaps to form in the wind. I was fortunate to have Cyrille Guimard as my consultant at the world championships in Chambéry in 1989. He repeated to me: ‘Cycling functions on the same principles as sailing.’ The wind is an essential element in competitive cycling. Those who know how to play the game, have an often unknown advantage over their adversaries.”

On the condition that the riders don’t hide from it…

Christian Prudhomme: “As organisers we offer the ingredients to prepare the best meal possible, but we don’t provide the seasoning. That comes back to the riders and their managers – allow me to emphasise the role these play – to add some pepper, salt, condiments, mustard, some mayonnaise… I call on their talent and on their ideas! I would like, in the strategic places in the Tour, that there are some sectors that are exposed to the wind, some cobbles, some medium climbs and also high mountains, they take the risk of losing if they attack even if there is still 40km to the finish.”

If not, only symbols remain. What’s beneath the cobbles…?

Christian Prudhomme: “From the sporting perspective first of all: I dream of a rematch between Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, the protagonists of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

“To borrow the cobbles and finish the stage at Arenberg, this is also paying homage to the miners who worked, sweated and sometimes gave their lives on this land. It’s a wink to [the 1962 world champion] Jean Stablinski, a great from the past who left us three years ago. The idea of the finish of the third stage in front of the easel of Arenberg, we owe to Jean-François Pescheux. It is meant to be an homage to the people of the North, to Emile Zola and to the cinema which gave us Germinal.

“The Tour de France, in general, is more than sport even if – when we follow it – it is sporting interest that guides us mostly.”

For two years, the effect of the agricultural world has been visible in the coverage. French people showed their talents to the helicopter images, what is in store for us this year?

Christian Prudhomme: La forme de l’Hexagone – the shape of the country, we cover it well. It will be about showing what France has to offer. We were touched by the message of the farmers of Seine-et-Marne: ‘Proud to feed you’. Last year, the federation of the Drôme region won this competition that we organise with the FNSEA thanks to its theme ‘From farm to fork’. The Tour comes from the country and from the land, therefore there is a natural link to the products of the territory.”

This brings a certain contrast with the global figure that is Lance Armstrong. How is he perceived on the eve of the second Tour of his comeback, probably his last, at 39 years of age?

Christian Prudhomme: “He remains the star who spiced things up in 2009, who brings the promise of a thrilling edition of the race again. Armstrong II, that of seven consecutive victories, was the symbol of brute force, of a robot. Armstrong III is a different character, singled out by his tactical intelligence. He makes the whole world understand that cycling isn’t a sport where whoever wins is the one who pedals the hardest. He brings his innate sense of communication and of the formula, proof is in his murderous quote from La Grande-Motte: ‘You don’t need to be a Nobel prize winner to know that you have to ride in front when there’s wind.’ It’s to him that we owe the ‘Dallas’ side of the event.

“We can love him or not, but the fact is that [Lance] gives the Tour de France a dimension which goes beyond sport.”

He created his team RadioShack and voilà the teams are falling over each other to participate in the Tour de France.

Christian Prudhomme: “The appearance of new formations has forced us to select 22 teams – instead of 20 these past years – the maximum according to the rule which, fortunately, limits the peloton to 200 riders. It is proof of the health of cycling which was found, for the first time, last winter in a ‘market’ type situation similar to the football leagues. New teams arrived with leaders harmoniously divided up. In this context, the choice of BMC Racing team was obvious since it counts in its ranks the world champion Cadel Evans, who has also twice finished second in the Tour de France. His win at Flèche Wallonne, in which he also dominated over Alberto Contador, comforted us in our decision.”

Is it good for the Tour to have a huge favourite?

Christian Prudhomme: “Contador is unquestionably the favourite. He is the ultimate climber and he has demonstrated a physical, mental and moral mastery at every test. Last year, he erased on the Tour his burning hunger from Paris-Nice. This year, will he shrug off his allergy to the Col de l’Ospedale from the Critérium International, his third place at Flèche Wallonne when we saw him as winner just a few metres from the line and his failure at the summit of l’Alto del Morredero on the Vuelta a Castilla y León when faced up against Igor Anton? The story isn’t written. He has a few rivals: his former team-mates, Armstrong, the Schleck brothers and the formidable Liquigas team, who really have the terrain at their disposition to attempt to beat him.”

A key moment is programmed at the summit of the Tourmalet. Can we not fear the fixed positions like at Ventoux last year?

Christian Prudhomme: “Everything will depend on the power struggle at this particular moment. At Ventoux, from a sporting point of view, we were left hungry for more, but what a stadium! The excitement of the public – half a million spectators – was incredible and this finish at altitude had created the environment. I remain, in any case, convinced that the last mountain stage must be placed as close as possible to Paris, even in the case of a time trial on the eve of the finish like this year. We must attempt to maintain the suspense as long as possible.”

By Jean-François Quenet

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