How many are there? Twenty, thirty, forty or even more? Hard to know, their role is more often in the shadows, the general public hardly sees them and no precise record lists their number. Every summer, many former Tour de France riders go on a Tour, but this time behind the scenes, to offer their experience, to do representation, to drive cars in the race. “Every year there are more! »balances this regular of the com and the Big Loop.
Follow the stage of the day from the given start
Retired sometimes only a year, as for forty years as Raymond Poulidor, ambassador of the brand LCL until the 2019 Tour de France, all these ex-champions are happy on the side of the roads for three weeks. They are seen in the starting village on the morning of the stages, in the VIP stands on arrival, after the race at the service stations, in the hotel in the evening … They form one of the contingents of the Grande Boucle. One of the many unofficial caravans on the Tour.
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Let’s introduce things first. Apart from television or radio consultants, sports directors or managers, there are two types of former riders who present more discreetly on the Tour. First there are the so-called “ambassadors”, then on the other side the “VIP pilots”. Sometimes some may have the double hat. There are those who work for ASO, the organizer of the Tour, the giant, and others who have been hired by the main sponsors of the event: Skoda, Krys, LCL, etc …
“But why are you wearing a yellow T-shirt?”
“We’re recruiting a lot of veterans for the Tour as motorcycle or car drivers, confirm the ASO. To drive at race level, you not only have to drive well, but you also have to know the bike race, know when to pass the peloton, which side, and so on. And that, former professionals are better placed to be operational. And then their second asset, for former professionals, is that they are the best at telling anecdotes to guests, to elected officials. They talk about their memories, they go back to the highlights of the Tour, it’s interesting. »
Philippine Lauraire, director of PRLP, a press relations agency for the Tour’s associated brands (Krys, Cochonou, Logis-Hotels, etc.), knows the subject well, as she rubbed shoulders with all these former pilots throughout the event. “As for the associated brands, not all of them are linked to the world of cycling the rest of the year, and they have to rely on experts in the field to manage their guests. A guest asks for an explanation. Krys, for example, can invite an optician who doesn’t know much about it, and having that experience is crucial. » Obviously, the more technical aspect of racing driving is the other real advantage. “ It is part of our criteria, yes. Our PR (public relations) drivers must have knowledge of racing, know the basics of this particular driving. Being part of this sport, at a high level, is easier for that … ”
Professional teams are also looking for VIP drivers to transport guests from sponsors who support them throughout the year. “It’s very important to ussays Elisa Madiot, head of relations with partners and institutions of the Groupama-FDJ team. When we receive guests, these former pilots talk to them about the team, behind the scenes, explain the mechanics, the strategy. In the course of a day, for the arrival of a VIP, it is almost essential to have this connoisseur. » From now on, in fact, everything revolves, thoughtfully, around what is called the “customer experience”. “Brands are looking for this, to give their guests the little secrets, to give them the impression of being part of the adventure, of having a bit of exclusion. » Recruiting an old runner fits this scheme perfectly. “When Sandy Casar, who knows everyone, allowed you to take a photo of a guest with Poulidor, he was very grateful … The goal is also there. »
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“It allows us to stay a little longer in our sport”
Sandy Casar, precisely. Like many former riders, the former FDJ team cyclist, now Krys ambassador, left his daily activity for three weeks to enjoy a break on the Tour, where he won three stages throughout his career. “What motivates me, obviously, is that it allows us to stay a little longer in our sport, but in a different way. I know I’m no longer able to do it as a rider, I’ve had good times on the Tour, and coming back without pressure makes us relive those good times. the Tour is a party, smells, memories, colors, I like to share them and make them discover. The Tour, all year round, I still miss it a bit, so I’m happy to be back … “
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Brice Feillu left the peloton in 2019. The Loir-et-Chérien, former stage winner in Andorra in 2019, had made the Tour, in 2020, for Leclerc. He got there thanks to a former colleague, who explained the work to him. Recruitment is often done in this way, through the “environment” of the bicycle. But many also go through ASOs or event agencies (there are four for these types of missions on the Tour), send in their resume, and then go through a more traditional hiring process. This is less the case for “ex-professionals”.
How much do you pay?
How much do they pay? Between three and eight thousand euros for three weeks on the Tour. Interesting, then. Especially for athletes who sometimes just throw themselves into their recycling. “Honestly, it’s a very nice job, says Brice Feillu. In the end, when you stop your career, you say to yourself “I would be surprised if you did,” but when you are offered a job like that, when you know the cost of living, it would be c … to say no. I also liked it, although at first it’s hard to get into it, it’s a rhythm to have, the kilometers in the car, the attention it requires … ”.
The fatigue is not comparable to what he experienced as a runner, obviously, but it is there, palpable. “Sometimes it’s almost harder than as a runner! admits laughing Sandy Casar. There, the days start very early, three or four hours before departure. Then there’s the whole race, you’re in your car, there’s the post-race. After cleaning the car, return to the hotel. When you are a runner, before and after the stage, you are pampered, you have the physiotherapists, the cooks … There, it is exhausting. Knowing that there is also stress during the day when you are in the race, when you advance in the runners … In the evening, around 6 pm, it is not uncommon for you to take a nap … ” Brice Feill agrees: “After three weeks of Tour like this, you get knocked out when you come back. It’s a more general fatigue. Let’s also say that you don’t recover in the same way because you don’t take care of your body like when you were a runner …”.
What is a typical day like? They arrive at the starting village the morning before the stage, chat with their guests, introduce them to other former riders, sometimes even the current ones just after signing. The ex-champions then pick up their guests ’food tray and head to their vehicle. Then they march to the stage and find themselves behind the peloton, or in the race behind the escapes, or stop at various places to watch the runners pass. After the stage, they accompany their guests to the VIP clubs, then make sure they leave on the shuttle that will take them back to their vehicle that they left at the exit. Then these VIP drivers will wash their car, inside and out. “It takes them a good hour”, they tell us. Every evening, it is not uncommon to find at the gas stations near the arrivals a dozen well-known former cyclists pampering their car, joking together, redoing the stage, remembering the good times … Comic scene, recognize it , which runs twenty-one nights in a row, throughout the Tour.
“This influencer only thought of his Instagram photos”
For three weeks, these former champions see all the colors. “I remember taking guests to a team time trial. I was talking to them, someone knew the bike, he explained it to me, he talked about his outings, but he came in the evening, and she came to me and said, ‘ “But why is this pilot wearing the yellow jersey?”river Sandy Casar. “I had an over-excited person with me, very happy to be there, in the window taking in the air. But so happy that bim, on the first descent of the neck, was not missing, he was ill … ”, says Brice Feillu. The former climber also relates that one day he was “With an influencer. At first glance, he was friendly. But the fact is that in the end I could see that he didn’t care to be there, that he only thought about his photos on Instagram, all that … ” What they also fear is disappointing their guests. “When we promise to see runners and there are no attacks, when we don’t see runners, it’s complicated …”, says Sandy Casar.
Most of the time, though, your days are pleasant surprises. Sylvain Chavanel, the record for participation in the Tour (18 Grandes Boucles), has been an ASO ambassador for a year. “I was picked up and I gladly accepted. You like contact or not, but it’s transmission, and I like the idea. I like to exchange, share something. People give it back to you, it’s super friendly. And you, just bring your experience. » “Every day is different, but sometimes I meet the same people from year to year. Over time, we share, comment on our activities, remembers Sandy Casar. “We talk about everything, not necessarily the bike, says Brice Feillu. It can also be interesting for your industry, in everyday life. I, today, am real estate, and I know the people I had in the car were interested in me, we had exchanged our numbers, and it can always be helpful. » The Tour car, in the background, like accommodation in a Ligue 1 stadium, where business is talked about …
“Show them what cycling really is”
Sandy Casar also wants to return every summer for another reason: “Theirs show what cycling really is. We have been criticized, and many do not know very well what cycling is, that it is not just about cycling, that there are tactics, and so on. » He also packs for the Tour every summer for the atmosphere. “We live in privileged and prolonged moments. We see other old runners again, talk and share with them, and these are moments I didn’t have as a runner. We are part of a team. As a runner, you’re in your bubble. There he rediscovers old people, people of another generation. We go shopping again, it’s great … We all have our life elbow to the side, but this is a special moment. It’s like a summer house, a little break … “