Facebook starts Vichot mania at Tour Down Under

The power of social networking has created a new star at this year’s Tour Down Under, in the form of French neo-professional Arthur Vichot. While it’s Vichot’s debut in the ProTour, the 21-year-old has fans wearing Allez Vichot Allez shirts and painting ‘Go Vichot’ or ‘Allez Arthur’ with a French flag on the road.

“There are more ‘go Vichot’ than ‘go Lance’, it’s amazing,” said Vichot.

The Française des Jeux rider was picked randomly by a group of cycling enthusiasts – led by Daniel Searson – in Adelaide, South Australia. They created a Facebook fan club for the rider, which has amassed 560 fans in two week and seen Cyclingnews inundated with requests regarding the rider during its live coverage of the race.

“We are from the Port Adelaide Cycling Club,” explained Aimee Alsbury, who finally had the chance to meet her idol prior to the start of stage four in Norwood.

“Only two weeks ago the idea came up to create an Australian fan-club for an unknown rider who would be doing his first race here, who had never been to Australia before and doesn’t speak English,” said Alsbury. “We went through the start list and we found Arthur on Facebook. That’s how we got to know that he came second at the U23 French championship. The club has grown from words of mouth.”

During his first training ride with local cyclists in Adelaide last week, Lance Armstrong was asked by Alsbury: “Do you know Vichot?” The seven-time winner of the Tour de France had never heard this name but he was told: “You’ll know him by the end the Tour Down Under.” That’s exactly what’s happened.

Today’s fourth stage featured the rider’s name painted with the French flag at the base of the King of the Mountain climb. Vichot is the nephew of Frédéric Vichot, who was a stage winner in the Tour de France in 1984 and 1985 and was known as the world’s best downhill rider at the time.

“It is fun that this story occurs to me,” said Vichot, who has already been selected in his team’s Paris-Roubaix lineup.

Vichot’s supports have told him there will be more ‘Go Vichot’ signs painted on Willunga Hill tomorrow. He’ll be offered one of the increasingly famous T-shirts by the Port Adelaide Cycling Club at 6 PM on Sunday in the Hilton Hotel’s lobby. Space permitting, the fan club is hoping as many of its 560 members as possible attend the ceremony.

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