Tuesday, October 19

Christian Prudhomme: “I want to believe that cycling is no longer the black sheep” | sports

Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, last week in Bilbao.
Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, last week in Bilbao.Fernando Domingo-Aldama

Christian Prudhomme (Saint-Omer, France; 60 years old) is a television journalist, but since 2007 he has been on the other side of the cameras as director of the Tour de France. “Although my job is that of a reporter, running the race is a mission,” he says. In Bilbao, where he spent the weekend, he presented the 2023 exit, “which the Basques have insistently requested”, he assures.

Ask. How is the Health Tour in the middle of the pandemic?

Answer. The health of the Tour is good, the same as always. The impact of the race has been the same as in other years and we are at the top, at the top. It is true that it could not be followed so closely by fans on the roadside, but the television audiences have been satisfactory, because people were at home. Yes it has affected cycling in general because many races were suspended. The base of cycling was damaged.

P. Have they lost financial support after a year of crisis?

R. No, the sponsors are still there. It is true that we have had to make an effort because many of the races that we organize have not been able to take place and more money has been spent in preparing the mandatory protocols for the pandemic.

P. Did you ever think at some point last year that the Tour could not be held?

R. Not really. The worst moment we experienced was in spring, because we did not know when it could be done, but we were moving forward in coordination with the authorities. We hold the pull well.

P. Will they follow the same sanitary protocols this year?

R. We will adapt them. Last year, if there were two positives on the same team, all riders on that team had to retire. It affected 30 members of the group. That was the biggest fear we had, but we managed to establish the measures to avoid it, protect the cyclists and their environment. That worked for us. Now, the advancement of vaccination will make things easier.

P. Will there be some kind of privilege to vaccinate cyclists?

R. Obviously not.

P. Do you hope to return to normal in 2022?

R. We hope, yes. That there are people in the gutters and in the mountains is essential. The proximity of the public gives a different dimension to the Tour, or the Champions League. That there are young people, old people, people of any profession or age, who come to see the cycling champions, who are also waiting to be able to race among the people. We dream of the moment when we can say: Out with masks! That the cyclists see the smile of the people.

“We need an audience in the gutters and in the mountains”

P. The Tour has changed a lot since it started, but the director’s job?

R. As well. The only common characteristic among directors is that we have all been journalists. I worked in radio and television, but I am not doing like Henri Desgrange or Jacques Goddet, who wrote their chronicles or columns at the end of the stages, it would no longer be possible. Now 184 cyclists run and there are more than 2,000 accredited journalists. When Jean Marie Leblanc hired me to succeed him, I did not have the impression that I was leaving journalism, but I have realized that what I do now is like a mission, it is not a job. It has become my life.

P. Where were you most surprised by the impact of the Tour?

R. In Yorkshire, in 2014. In the Basque Country it is more normal to find the fervor of the people, but there were two million people on the street. We did not expect that, it was extraordinary, incredible. There are two audiences that are the best, the one from Flanders and the one from the Basque Country, who understand cycling, know the riders, and cheer. When we got to Yorkshire we saw that it was the same there too. It is a great challenge for the Basque Country to do better and exceed those figures.

P. Do Tour organizers fear the dark times of doping scandals will ever return?

R. As the president of the movement for credible cycling, Roger Legeay, says, keep the flame burning. In any activity, and more so in a sporting activity, there are always people who want to break the rules and cheat, you have to be very careful. I want to believe that cycling, which has been considered as the black sheep, has already overcome that painful past.

“Never have so many young talents appeared at the same time”

P. Cycling seems to have abruptly changed generations. From the winners of more than 30 years, it has gone to those who do not reach 25.

R. It’s amazing. There have always been young champions, like Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault, or like Fignon, but never have so many young talents appeared at the same time. I do not know why. Perhaps in part it is due to the pandemic. The most veteran have had to change their habits, they have not been able to continue with their routine, with their workouts, and the younger ones adapt better to the changes.

P. Only for that?

R. Obviously, there have to be other reasons. Egan Bernal, a young boy, won the 2019 Tour, and we all said that there was a winner for many years, that he could win five or six, and the following year Pogacar appears, even younger. [21 años entonces], and win. I see that they are young and brave, capable of attacking 50, 60 or 100 kilometers from the goal. It is another way of looking at cycling, with a lot of momentum, and that the fans appreciate.

P. The end of the 2020 Tour (Pogacar came back to Roglic on the final clock) was fantastic for its unexpected end, don’t you think?

R. Sure. It is an ending that we would always dream of having. On the clock, he was in the car with the president of the Department of the Planche des Belles Filles, following Thibaut Pinot. I got to the press room, and the people who were there couldn’t be sitting in the chair. They were going around saying: “This is not possible.” Everyone thought that the victory of Roglic, who had dominated the entire Tour with his team, was inevitable, and suddenly a young man arrives and gives the surprise. We put that time trial ending for that. Then you have to see if it works or not. And Pogacar could with all.

P. A winner from Slovenia, a country with little cycling tradition.

R. That is the strength of the Tour. In 20 years time, Slovenia will be a country with a cycling tradition. In France, nobody watched swimming on television, but Laure and Florent Manaudou, medal winners at the Olympic Games, appeared and everyone watched swimming. Champions are attractive to people.

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