My epic 2005 interview with Tour de France legend Raphaël Géminiani

“I have 45 minutes to give you and not one more,” ex-cycling champion Raphaël Géminiani told me bluntly over the phone. See you Saturday at 10 am at my house. Seventeen years have passed since that call and the report that followed, but it still feels like it was almost yesterday. A memory as shocking as a bit of shame that I want to confess today in favor of this section dedicated to the back of a report published in the columns of L’Éveil. In the summer of 2005, then 19 years old and a journalism student, I took my first steps in writing with a substitute fixed-term contract from June to August, just to learn the craft. One morning, at the editorial conference, there was talk of the Tour de France from that year, Le Puy was the finish city. I throw out the idea: “What if we asked Raphaël Géminiani for his opinion on the stage? The former professional from Auvergne, based in Puy-de-Dôme, is a reference in the world of the little queen. “Good idea, Christophe, you’ll take care of it,” says the editor-in-chief. As a big cycling enthusiast, this report is a great gift for me, the opportunity to talk to the former champion, traveling companion of Coppi, Bartali and Bobet or even the sporting director of Jacques Anquetil.
On D-Day, at the appointed hour, I rang the bell of the house of the “Grand Fusil” as it was nicknamed, in Pérignat-sur-Allier, a stone’s throw from Clermont-Ferrand. From the peak of his 80 years (that year) with his recognizable voice, he prevails. “Hello, are you the journalist who wants to talk to me? Go ahead, I have three quarters of an hour to give you. But you are a child! »

“Okay, we can talk about cycling together, are you taking anything? »

Then I politely begin to introduce myself, notebook in one hand and camera under my arm. My gaze quickly falls on the black and white photos hanging on the living room walls. Coppi, Bartali, Anquetil and I ask my host almost without realizing it: “Excuse me, but isn’t the runner Roger Rivière? “Do you know Roger Rivière yourself, boy?” In one sentence I won Raphaël Géminiani’s trust. “Okay, we can talk about cycling together, are you taking anything? I’m out of coffee, but I’ll find something. »
Immediately, I begin the interview and very quickly he evokes his memories of the Tour de France. Pro from 1946 to 1960, the former champion explains like no one else his life, his friends, his victories, his defeats… And very quickly a name emerges, that of Gino Bartali who inspired Gém’ for a long time time “I remember the races in Italy where people kissed the road after they passed, it was crazy,” he recalls as he prepared a drink.
Frantically, greedily, I jot down in my notebook the anecdotes that happen when I notice in front of me a glass that he has just put down. He continues with his anecdotes, the great walks of the Tour, etc. It’s hot at the end of June and I take a sip from the glass. Makes me sick… Whiskey and sparkling water. Embarrassed and for fear of offending the Grand Rifle, I dare not say that the drink in question is not my cup of tea.
The clock in the living room is ticking and 45 minutes have already passed. Of course I don’t say anything. Here we’re talking about the 1951 Tour where he blew the hearts of the French with a second place overall, the best climber’s jersey and a stage success. “Koblet was strong, but within the France team, we didn’t get along. But especially at the end of this Tour, I was happy to see my name in front of Bartali’s (Editor’s note: 4th overall), my idol when I was little. »
I drink the old runner’s words as much as my glass that I try to get rid of once and for all by swallowing what’s left in a gulp. The rookie mistake… As the interview continues, my glass, like Géminiani’s, fills up. And that damn whiskey with soda water again. This time, a little more confident, I dare to gently push the glass away, but Gém looks at me.

She’s watered down and then it’s snack time anyway. By the way, do you ride a bike?

Flattered, I tell him (with pleasure anyway) about my very modest “career” and we end up talking about the Auvergne peloton, the news among the professionals, the latest controversies… Let’s be honest, for a cycling fan, I treat and without fully realizing it, chain the sips to try to hold back the time… New mistake of youth.
To please me, Raphaël Géminiani discovers old photos from a thick folder which he comments with his legendary joke. Here the Tour of 1958, the one that left “more regrets”, there Louison Bobet “and his great class” and especially Jacques Anquetil, of whom he was, in addition to the sports director, the confidant.
The clock strikes noon… already! The whiskey begins to rise and I put the pen down to “write the discussion” as if nothing had happened. “We won’t be parting like this. Finish the drink and come to the kitchen, we’ll have a bite. A little solid welcome to wash down the whiskey. A la carte, salad, local charcuterie and, of course, a second cycling course. All washed down with red wine, although I manage to get away with helping myself to watering this time. And for dessert? Local cheeses with a “red gun”. I admit it’s hot “under the hood”. However, I still have enough lucidity to change the digestif for a coffee.
My little notebook is almost completely obscured. It’s 2:45 p.m., time to leave, four hours after the initially agreed time. I thank my host and take a few more photos before saying goodbye and heading to my car. Driving in these conditions is out of the question. Without being drunk, I’m far from sober. Luckily I don’t work that day. A step away from the parking lot where I parked, a nice lot offers some coolness. I decide to land there to collect my thoughts. I am finally pulled from my nap on a bench in the sun. A glance at the clock makes me jump to my feet: it’s 5pm. My face flushed from the sun, I go to the nearest pharmacy to get a breathalyzer. Verdict: I can leave. I return to Haute-Loire with a slight headache, but full of memories.
The next day I set about with anxiety and application (in the water, I promise) to write an entire page about this meeting with Raphaël Géminiani. A page posted on July 3, 2005 that I saved religiously with the interested party card, received a few days later to thank me for the article. An encounter and quite an adventure for the young journalist he was. In 2017 I returned to Pérignat to see Raphaël Géminiani, still 92 years old, for a new article. This time, I settled for a soda. It must be what is called experience.

Christophe Darne

To take a canteen, colloquially means to drink beyond reason.

Christophe Darne36-year-old Christophe Darne is a graduate of the Tours journalism school. Originally from Beaulieu, he worked in the written press and on the radio (RTL, Radio France ) before returning to Haute-Loire in 2011 as a journalist forwake up . Responsible for the sports section for several years, he also carried out several special editions including Puy Secret II and Puy de Lumières. Christophe Darne is editor-in-chief of The awakening of Haute-Loire

since September 2019 and departmental director of securities of the Center France group.

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