“confused but delighted…”
Born from the simple idea of supporting a rider who few had heard of, the Arthur Vichot Fan Club quickly gained members from all over Australia. The man behind the concept explains how it all began and the ramifications of a forum post before a major race.
(This is a flashback to RIDE #48 and a Back Page column by Daniel Searson.)
• Confused: unable to think clearly, bewildered. Delighted: Feeling or showing great pleasure. (Combined — how Arthur Vichot felt about his new fans)
How did this obsession with Vichot come to be? It started with a simple observation and grew into something bigger.
The superstars of our sport get it all: hordes of fans after every stage, media interviews, a healthy pay cheque and Twitter accounts that get read by more than three people. What about the rest? The tireless domestiques? The neo-pros having a crack at the big time? Riders who train every bit as hard and are amazingly talented in their own right but are locked in obscurity until they win something huge?
A couple of weeks before the start of the 2010 Tour Down Under, I posted an idea on the Port Adelaide Cycling Club’s forum under the title: ‘Operation: Support an Obscure Pro’. The idea was to choose an unknown professional cyclist coming to the race and cheer him on at every possible opportunity. The rider had to be relatively unknown in Australia, preferably non-English speaking and not expecting to hear his name yelled out. As a result of our support he would be, in the words of my initial post, “confused, but delighted”.
I wasn’t sure about how I’d select the ideal candidate so I got in touch with a friend of mine, Alex Bates, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure cyclists due to countless hours spent clicking away in the Pro Cycling Manager computer game. His suggestion was Vichot – it was his first year in a ProTour squad and Google yielded little information about his career so far. Perfect.
We had no idea what we had started. Within a couple of days the idea had been picked up by a Brisbane-based internet forum, and from there it spread onto a few other websites and forums. Arthur’s Facebook fan page began to be inundated with messages of support from Australians. And he hadn’t even left France yet!
I began to worry a little when I saw that some messages being posted were blatantly untrue (eg. “I have followed your career for years”). Well, I guess it could have been true, but I had my doubts. I was worried that people were latching onto the “confused” part of the plan, while ignoring the “delighted” element. I hastened to make some amendments to my original post to clarify that we were meant to be lending genuine support, not having a laugh at Arthur’s expense.
Once Arthur had arrived in Adelaide, the newly formed fan club really began to kick into gear. We gathered before the opening criterium, six of us armed with A3 sheets of paper, each of which contained a letter spelling out ‘Vichot’. We met up with two of the guys from Brisbane who had made T-shirts in their hotel room reading ‘Allez Vichot’. They got autographs and a photo with a very confused looking Arthur Vichot after the race. It had begun!
During the week we managed to get some more T-shirts professionally printed at very short notice, courtesy of Tom at Legacy clothing. They moved like wildfire, selling as quickly as they could be produced, and were soon distributed to fan club members. For the final four stages of the race it became commonplace to spot a fellow Vichot supporter in the crowd. I lost track of how many other spectators asked me who this mysterious Vichot was. After explaining the idea, we usually ended up with more members.
Without wanting to openly support the vandalism of public roads, I must give some major credit to the anonymous Vichot supporters who splashed his name across some of Adelaide’s finest climbs. Of particular significance was the vertical lettering on Checker Hill that took up the entire width of both lanes. Apparently it was large enough to be spotted by someone from a passenger jet on the way home. Additionally, many hours were spent ensuring that there are now enough Vichot signs painted on the slopes of Old Willunga Hill to make you dizzy reading them all.
As the race wore on more and more Vichot supporters met up with him for photo opportunities. I think due to Arthur’s limited English, he was still a little unclear as to what was happening. Fortunately, one of the members of the fan club, Aimee, managed to catch him while a French-speaking reporter was nearby. Finally, it was explained to him via translation what was going on. Thankfully, Arthur loved the idea. He was incredibly happy with the support he had been receiving.
Our operation also began to receive attention from the international media, including CyclingNews.com, USA Today, and even L’Equipe. I received a phone call from a French radio station in Arthur’s home region which was very happy to hear that he was receiving such a warm welcome overseas – although I think the French lady interviewing me got more of a laugh out of my accent than anything else.
And so we come to the end of the race and the meeting on the steps of the Hilton Hotel. We had procured a Port Adelaide Cycling Club jersey as a gift – size small, of course… these guys are all tiny! Arthur pulled the jersey on over his T-shirt, posed with us for a few group photos and then ran up to his hotel room, returning shortly afterwards with a Française des Jeux top in return. Then, as we were all gathering autographs on our T-shirts, he handed the Sharpie marker over to us and asked us all to sign his new jersey.
I think we were all reminded that professional cyclists really are regular guys who just happen to ride a bicycle really well and they get to do this for a living. Arthur seemed genuinely happy with all of the support he had received, and very humbled. I was relieved that the “delighted” part of the plan had come to fruition and he no longer seemed “confused”.
The formation of the fan club had many unexpected benefits. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it brought us all together for a common purpose. We met fans from interstate, took them on rides and had a beer with them. It gave us a great sense of achievement every time ‘Vichot mania’ made it into the media, although we were saddened that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen never gave it a mention during the coverage of the race.
We will continue to follow Arthur’s career for years to come, but there are other obscure pros out there who need your help. Support an obscure pro today!
By Daniel Searson
See how Arthur and his team-mates went in Le Tour 2012. Coverage in RIDE Cycling Review #57. On sale early in September 2012.
RIDE Media publishes both RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling, as well as the Official Tour de France Guide (Australian Edition).
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