In a period of only two weeks, the Australian fan club of French rookie Arthur Vichot has swelled to more than 1000 members via an internet campaign that started on Facebook prior to the 2010 Tour Down Under.
On Sunday evening, about 50 of those fans gathered in the lobby of the Adelaide Hilton after the final stage of the race to present to the French neo-pro with one of the group's customized t-shirts, a jersey of the Port Adelaide cycling club and a bottle of local wine to take home with him to Besançon in the region of Franche-Comté near the Swiss border.
"I’m touched," said the 21-year-old, who had been amazed to receive such a warm welcome in South Australia. Randomly chosen by the group before his professional debut last week, he made his fans laugh when he said: "My teammates were happy for me that you cheered so much, but they were a little bit jealous too."
Vichot-mania had swept along the roads of the Santos Tour Down Under with a peak reached as his supporters inscribed "Allez Vichot" on Old Willunga Hill.
Daniel Searson and his friends have no intention to put an end to their campaign. "We’ll build him up," said one of them. "We won’t do the same thing for another rider next year. We want to make sure that Française des Jeux will send him to the Tour Down Under again next year."
Vichot's team manager Marc Madiot is aware of the unbelievable success of the Vichot-mania in Australia. The phenomenon has been reported in France, but also on USA Today.
"We’ve been lucky that the guy we picked played the game and didn’t turn us down," said the fans. "Arthur has been very approachable and friendly." The group informed the young cyclist that they will stay tuned all night when he’ll compete in Paris-Roubaix next April. A number also promised they’ll travel all the way to Europe to cheer on him again once makes his way into the Grand Tours.
Appropriate to local custom, Vichot sealed his relationship with his new Australian friends by having a beer with them at the pub.