aboard the broom wagon, at the wheel of the loose runners fighting time

Those who watch it usually have a bad day on the bike. Despite refreshments and encouragement, the broom wagon remains feared by runners. Between Briançon (Hautes-Alpes) and Alpe d’Huez (Isère), Thursday 14 July, franceinfo: sport took place on board the vehicle, the time of three out-of-category passes, and the day after a stage that he had already weighed his legs up to the Coll du Granon.

“Upstairs, the real start is given!” Aboard the sweeping wagon, Radio Tour informs the rider, Stéphane Bezault, and the referee of the French Cycling Federation, Jean-Pierre Boutin, of the start of the race. The day before, they were the first to see Mathieu van der Poel give up and get in his car. They hope to follow a few runners late in the 12th stage: “Sometimes we follow a small group with 20 boys, sometimes we follow a single offside rider, says Stéphane Bezault. But stages like these in the Alps are usually the ones where most people are seen behind.

The position of the broom wagon respects very specific rules. “We stand behind the ambulance as long as no driver has fallen, then we go back behind the sports directors’ cars and in front of the ambulance when there are delays. It also allows the referee to control the smooth running of the race. behind ‘, explains Stéphane Bezault, the driver of the vehicle for five years. If in the past pilots systematically boarded the broom wagon when they retired, now the vast majority prefer to finish the stage behind their team’s cars. “From the start of this Tour, we only picked up Kevin Vermaerke and Gianni Moscon, but they didn’t stay with us and we left them in their car a little further away.”explains the driver.

With three out-of-category passes on Thursday, the stage is enough to scare off unscrupulous mountain runners. If everyone passes the Col du Galibier correctly, the first runner behind, Cyril Barthe, is seen after his descent. “He’ll have to go home, or he’ll spend the day alone.”, warns Stéphane Bezault. Mission accomplished a few miles further on for the pilot of the B&B Hotels-KTM team.

Gathered, the platoon begins the ascent of the neck of the Croix de Fer with quite high averages. “The sprinters will have a very difficult time”, points out Jean-Pierre Boutin. The referee was unimpressed, and booked him for diving. “In the mountains, we’re used to seeing him from behind”the two men observe. “They have to form a group quickly, so they will help each other to keep up.explains Stéphane Bezault. The danger is to be alone. ”

This danger quickly awaits the Frenchman Victor Lafay, far away and alone, in front of the broom wagon, as the day before. “I’m sick from the sixth stage. I have trouble breathing, so it doesn’t oxygenate my muscles, I have pain and it hurts. I don’t have strength, it hurts everywhere.“, he will explain on arrival. But the Cofidis rider is holding on to catch up with the Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, who are returning to take on their leader, Fabio Jakobsen.

The vehicle of the Belgian formation is the last car of the team present in the back, as there are so many men. Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl staff also give supplies to Victor Lafay. “I thank them. They gave me gels, fruit pastes, cans. We have to help each other and finally, in this level of difficulty, we are no longer just cyclists, we no longer take into account the teams.”will say runner Cofidis.

Victor Lafay in trouble at the end of the race of the 12th stage of the Tour de France, July 14, 2022. (HORTENSE LEBLANC / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

Despite these supplies, Victor Lafay lost the wheel of his comrades in disgrace four miles from the top of the Croix-de-Fer pass. At the wheel of the broom cart, Stéphane Bezault approaches him to cheer him up and bring him charged energy gels before departure: “Go Victor, it’s to help you get back to the fast steps!”. Even if the runner stays in the driver’s hand for a few seconds to grab those welcome supplies and breathe a little, the referee doesn’t bow. “It’s tolerated, it doesn’t change the race at the point where they are”explains Jean-Pierre Boutin.

At 25 kilometers from the finish line for the back runners, the distance with the race leader is 23 minutes. Then the question of time arises. “There should be no one to let go, but it will break the rhythm”, observes the referee. A few miles higher, the first runners cross the finish line and the referee starts his time. The time allowed to reach the top of the Alpe d’Huez is calculated: Victor Lafay and his companions then have 44 minutes and 19 seconds to reach the finish line in time, under penalty of disqualification and return home.

Warning, several Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl riders picked up the pace and Victor Lafay was only with Fabio Jakobsen and Mikkel Honoré. “They don’t have to lose more than five minutes per kilometer, that would be 45 minutes late and they would arrive out of time”. Two kilometers from the finish, the delay of the three riders is estimated at 34 minutes. “it will be hot “, bufa Stéphane Bezault. Finally, the three brave ones take advantage of the last two kilometers, less pending, to cross the line to 40 minutes and three seconds of Thomas Pidcock, the winner of the day.

“At one point I wasn’t calm, especially when I saw Fabio’s teammates go ahead, I thought we must be a little limited, but I trusted them and I couldn’t drive faster anyway.”, says Victor Lafay, relieved and smiling. As the audience celebrated the passage of the runners to the last, the passage of the broom wagon marked the end of the show.

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