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Q&A: Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme

Mark Bailey
25 Jul 2017

The man behind the absorbing 2017 Tour discusses the magic of the Izoard, how Yorkshire is like Belgium, and his first little red bike

The 2017 Tour de France finished on the weekend, with Chris Froome claiming his fourth Tour crown after the closest GC battle in Tour history. While Froome, Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran and the other riders who fought so hard for the yellow jersey deserve a huge amount of credit for making the race so exciting, so too must Tour director Christian Prudhomme.

It was Prudhomme who masterminded and signed off on what was the most interesting Tour route for decades, setting the stage for Froome and co to do battle on the roads day after day. We spoke to the man himself in the lead-up to the Tour on his hopes for the race, and where he sees the Tour in the broader context of cycling.

 

Cyclist: This year’s Tour de France crosses five mountain ranges: the Vosges, Jura, Pyrenees, Massif Central and Alps. What can we expect?  

Christian Prudhomme: We’re covering all five mountain ranges for the first time in 25 years. The last time was in 1992 in what was more like a ‘European Tour’. It went to seven countries.

But with this route I hope we will see the riders who go for the general classification compete from the very first day in Dusseldorf through La Planche des Belles Filles [Stage 5] to the Col d’Izoard [Stage 18].

I was at La Planche earlier this year and I have these photos [he reveals pictures of a snow-covered peak on his phone].

I think if it is like this it will be impossible to see the winner! But we are OK. It will be warmer in July.

Cyc: The race will feature the first-ever summit finish on the Col d’Izoard. What inspired that idea?

CP: Today when we are talking about the great mountains of the Tour we talk about Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Galibier and the Tourmalet, but for me the Izoard is really the legend of the Tour.

When you think about outstanding scenery, the Casse Déserte [a landscape of scree slopes and jagged rocks on the southern side of the Izoard] is just unbelievable. It is the moon!

The exploits of the great champions in such locations are magnified because of the scenery. The last winner of the Tour who was also first over the Izoard was Lucien Van Impe in 1976, so it has been over 40 years since a rider has done that.

I would be very happy to see the best riders in the world today battling for the yellow jersey on this legendary mountain.

Cyc: With two time-trials, nine flat stages and 10 hilly and mountain stages, do you hope this race has something for all riders?

CP: We hope so! You know we try, as organisers – we’re always dreaming.

Of course, first I am a cycling fan. I used to stand by the roads in France during the Tour. I want to watch the race like a fan as soon as possible.

I don’t want to just be a VIP guest. I am happy to have something to drink, of course, but I am as happy as anybody else to be out with the fans enjoying the action.

I hope this is a balanced route and it is a great race.

Cyc: Isn’t riding in the lead car the best seat in the house?

CP: Yes! I am a lucky man!

Cyc: Do you think bonus times are good for racing?

CP: When I arrived [in 2007] I skipped them, but it was a question of the route.

In 2008 we decided we didn’t want any bonus times because we looked at the course and we saw that it was no help. In 2015 we decided to have the bonus times again because we had one whole week to go from The Netherlands to Brittany at the start so we thought it would be good.

Whether they help or not this year will depend on the gap between the riders after the first time-trial [Stage 1] but maybe they will help change the yellow jersey on one of the days.

I cannot say I hate the bonuses, or that love the bonuses. It really depends on the course. 

Cyc: You’re now involved with organising the Tour de Yorkshire. Are you pleased with the legacy of the Grand Départ in Yorkshire in 2014?

CP: We are very pleased. You have the passion – the passion!

I said a few years ago that cycling fans in Britain are like Belgians. People didn’t understand but I was talking about the amazing passion of the fans.

You are like Belgian people who speak English. You have the same passion for cycling.

In Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year I was looking at a new climb, the Côte de la Ferme Liberte, which is very steep at the beginning, and I suddenly said, ‘Wow, this is like Yorkshire.’

Of course, we have seen these kinds of climbs in Belgium at the Ardennes Classics for more than half a century so we expect them there, but now we see them in Yorkshire too.

We didn’t know about Yorkshire 10 years ago. You have outstanding scenery, and the hills and coasts are very good for TV too.

Cyc: How early do you plan the next edition of the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire?

CP: We are working on three editions in a row for the Tour de France and the Tour de Yorkshire and all our other races.

The guys are very often – always – working on the route and out on the roads to prepare for the next events.

Cyc: You’ve been promoting the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries scheme, which donates old bikes to children. Can you remember your first bike?

CP: I remember my very first bike – it had four wheels. We lived in Paris and at my parents’ house there was a long terrace.

I began to race with my sister and brother on this terrace when I was very small, maybe five or six years old.

Before and after the Tour de France came in July we would do maybe 100 or 200 rounds of this terrace. I remember it well. It was a red bike. I don’t know which brand it was but it was definitely red.

Cyc: How do you find the balance between promoting cycling as a business and a hobby?

CP: You just asked me about my first bike. I am 56 now but I think like almost everybody my age I remember my first bike.

But now we have children who don’t own a bike or don’t know how to ride. Cycling is not just a question of developing champions but of being able to discover life through a bike.

It is not about Chris Froome or Mark Cavendish. It is about education. I believe we organisers have to be useful, not just to come up with great races but to be useful: to show people that the bicycle is a good tool for health, for the environment.

We like watching champions, but cycling is about everyday life.

Cyc: Are you planning any new races in the future?

CP: Other races, I can’t answer, but other kinds of races, yes. Let’s look at women’s cycling. This year there will be La Course for the very first time not in Paris but on the Col d’Izoard.

High, on this legend. And the 20 best riders will ride on the Saturday in Marseille in order of their finish.

So if one rider is three seconds ahead of the second rider she will start three seconds ahead.

The first rider who gets to the finish at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille will be the winner. That makes it easier for fans and people to understand.

We do this because we are saying, yes, we are trying to find something new for the future.

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