Stage 5 was a tribute to the soldiers of World War I. Driving my car ahead of the race, I felt some emotions again as we passed by Mont-Saint-Eloi near the battle field where 1909 Tour de France winner François Faber lost his life.
We’ve seen a lot of cemeteries but they weren’t new to me. Many races are organized in north of France and Picardy. We’ve seen Notre-Dame-de-Lorette during the Four Days of Dunkirk recently. Oleg Tinkoff looks down on those “non-televised provincial races that nobody is interested in,” as he said this Spring. But we have 105 days of professional racing in France this year, not only the Tour de France, and many people are interested in all of them. They form the foundation of our cycling scene and contribute to make the Tour de France so great.
Formerly known as Tour de l’Oise, the Tour of Picardy also takes us on a regular basis to those places where the scars of World War I remain visible. Paris-Roubaix or the cobblestones we’ve had on the course of the Tour de France this year aren’t really the Hell of the North compared to what the soldiers have endured.
The history of our sponsor, FDJ, has a direct link with World War I. A lottery was founded to assist the “gueules cassées” – the broken faces – as were named those who came back disfigured from the war. It became the national lottery, the historical French “loto,” and eventually the Française des Jeux, our backer since 1997. Next year it will be the 20th season of our pro team. Last year as it was the centennial of the beginning of World War I, and we wore the emblem of the Bleuets de France – the young fighters – on our cycling jerseys during the Tour.
I was myself influenced by a military man as a teenager who wanted to become a cyclist. Richard Marillier was a colonel and the technical director of the French cycling federation when I first joined the national team as a junior for a training camp in Autrans.
At the end of the camp, he came to announce the selection for the world championship. That took three minutes but before that, he made us all sit on the grass and he gave us a lesson of history about the Resistance in that region, the Vercors, during World War II. Hearing that speech at the age of 18, you can’t forget it and you understand the meaning of representing your country at a world championship and becoming the French champion. Marillier is 91 now and I keep in touch with him.
Cyclists are often called “warriors.” There are good reasons for that. Australians Adam Hansen and Michael Matthews deserve to be admired and respected for their courage this week. They’re injured; they obviously suffer badly and they keep racing. I found it funny reading this week the quotes of tennis player Richard Gasquet,who said at Wimbledon that fortunately they have a pain-killer injection daily. The cyclists of the Tour de France can’t…
We’ve lost William Bonnet, one of our riders, due to a serious crash. I went to see him at the hospital in Huy. It was pretty ugly. He’s got broken vertebrae but his condition could have been worse. We’re just happy to listen to him joking on the phone or on whatsapp. One of these days, we’ll have a live telecast with him at the hospital in Paris and the other riders in the team bus for France Televisions. We’ll wait for him to come back racing as long as it’ll be needed.
Race officials have done well stopping the race. It was just common sense. Seeing his crash has completely broken Thibaut Pinot’s legs off. He’s had bad luck himself but the Tour is not over for him. When I look at past result sheets in Paris, someone who is six or seven minutes adrift is quite high on GC. We had to put him back in the game after the hectic start. He still has plenty of opportunities to do well in the mountains so we’ll wait and see before changing his goal. He remains at the Tour for GC.