The Tour de France stops today in Occitania, with the 17th stage between Saint-Gaudens and Peyragudes. It will pass through several towns, including Valcabrère which is not on its first Big Loop. In this small town of 140 inhabitants, it is a day of celebration.
La marseillaise à pétanque 2022, 61st edition of the world
Valcabrère, about thirty kilometers from Saint-Gaudens. It is a small town like the country of Comminges has many. A quiet town, with a beautiful historical heritage. The Saint-Just basilica is the pride of its inhabitants. There are few public services here and no bar or restaurant. So when the Tour de France happens, it’s a day of celebration. Necessarily…
Jean Verdier hangs the last blue-white-red flags on the facades of the main street. He has been mayor of this town since 1983. “It’s not the first time the Tour de France passes through Valcabrère. It must have happened 3.4 times already, I don’t remember exactly” explains the mayor. “The Tour is part of the village’s activities. We are happy that it is here, it is a real pride. There used to be village festivals, but they have disappeared. Today the Tour c is a bit like our village festival” he said with a big smile. Before continuing his preparations, he concludes: “I would have liked to do more, with entertainment. We could have been on TV.”
It’s 10 o’clock. A Tour de France car passes by with a sign announcing “Roads Closed”. From now on, Valcabrère is no longer accessible by car. The town will remain isolated from the world until 2:30 p.m., when all the runners have passed.
Five Toulouse gendarmes have been securing the city since 9am. “There are no barriers, so we have to be very careful” explains this agent who preferred to remain anonymous. “The real danger is when the caravan passes. People take risks and go on the road to collect objects. This is where it gets dangerous” explain. “And when the runners pass, our biggest concern is the children and the animals crossing the road.”
The town square, right next to the town hall, is starting to come to life. The first ones are there from 8:30 in the morning, like Alain and Yvette de Cintegabelle (31). “We know this town very well, my daughter got married here” says Alain, 64 years old. “It’s the third stage we’re on, I love cycling, it brings back childhood memories” adds this retired man.
“My father was a cycling enthusiast. From the age of 6 I did at least one stage a year” confirms Yvette. “Our pleasure is to see people, the Tour is part of the French heritage” explains this hospital worker.
We continue our journey through the village. Here and there, residents have set up in their driveways, with camping chairs and something to occupy themselves before the arrival of the advertising caravan. A little further on, near the Valcabrère exit, a group of university students from Barousse settled on an embankment. “We’re coming for the caravan, I hope we have a bob pigou” laughs Eloise Madrou, 14 years old. “We, the Tour de France, are not particularly interested in us, it’s more for the atmosphere and it’s an opportunity to see each other with friends” adds 14-year-old Jeanne.
The real enthusiasts – those who follow the Tour de France in various stages – settle a little further, near the fields, at the entrance to the village. A small group of caravans is parked on the road. This is where we find the so-called “Roger the Català”. This 72-year-old Perpignan came with his wife Eliane.
“We arrived last night and slept there. We were looking for a quiet place without too many people” explains Roger Mateu, 72 years old. “We came to the Tour de France thanks to my granddaughter, who was a fan of Thomas Voeckler. Since 2011 and the purchase of our motorhome, we have been there every year. We were hooked on the game” Roger smiled. “I like the atmosphere between us, the conviviality of these moments, the snacks with friends” explains Eliane who is on her 15th Tour de France.
11:40 a.m., there is traffic on the main road. Police motorbikes go by at full speed. An official vehicle announces the arrival of the advertising caravan “That’s it, she’s coming” suggests a boy to his mother, eyes full of hope.
The colorful advertising vehicles follow one another at full speed. Some objects are thrown into the crowd, some land on the road. To the displeasure of the gendarmes who are on alert. “They used to send us goodies (candy) by the handful. Today it’s… one. The caravan has changed a lot” calls Corinne who came with her friend Joan. “It seems to me that they pass too quickly, we are full of hope, we are happy and then nothing. All this because of this…” laments this resident of Valcabrère. Another resident who overheard the conversation added: “Anyway, with the caravan, it’s to each their own.”
The town catches its breath. The first runners should arrive in an hour and a half. It’s time to restore. Like this group of elderly people from an Ehpad in Rieumes (Haute-Garonne). Fabrice Richer, the director of this establishment, is a resident of the town. So he took the opportunity to offer them a way out.
“They’ve only been talking about this for a week. Some haven’t slept in two days. They’re just happy to be here.” he says. André Rouaix, 72 years old, confirms it. “It brings back memories. I’ve seen the Tours de France in my life, I’ve seen the best. Pantani, Hinault…” explains this pensioner, who continues to pedal. “A certain humanity emerges from the Tour de France” he describes with a touch of nostalgia.
The atmosphere suddenly becomes a bit feverish. The incessant sweep of official cars and motorcycles announces the passing of the riders. Everyone pulls out their smartphone and takes their place on the road. A hush settles, suspense is in order. Everyone watches the entrance to the village, where the runners must arrive.
It’s 1:36 p.m. The first runners enter Valcabrère. At full speed It is difficult to tell them apart when one is not in the know. We barely have time to see them when they are already gone. A minute of happiness, and again. We find Alain and Yvette at their place, near the town hall. They are happy, that’s what they came for. “I saw the yellow jersey and the polka dot jersey, I’m happy. You have to have a good eye” Alain jubilant. A little further on, a lady regrets it. “It’s still going really fast. I didn’t see much.”
The street sweeper just passed by. The riders are already far away, the Tour de France in Valcabrère is over. It’s impressive to see how quickly the town empties. The roads are open to traffic, the tourists leave. Calm returns to the town. It’s 2:30 p.m., the party is already over. Only a few French flags remain hanging. A memory – among many others – of the passage of the Gran Bucle in this small town of 140 inhabitants.