Faces of Le Tour: part three
There’s far more to the Tour than just 200 cyclists making their way around France. There are literally thousands of people that work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly for the biggest annual sporting event in the world.
And that’s not to mention the millions of fans that watch the race by the roadside every year.
Throughout this year’s race we’ve been meeting some of the people that bring life to the Tour de France, from the hard workers that make the race happen, to the multitude of supporters that make the Tour the great spectacle it is.
Florence Pommerie – Tour de France medical director
Florence Pommerie is one of the most important people at the Tour de France. As the chief doctor on the race she is responsible for coordinating the response to any medical issues that might befall the riders. We caught up with Florence in the Pyrenees.
I’ve been head doctor for five years now at the Tour de France. Usually I work in an emergency room in Paris so we get used to seeing accidents. I am also the medical director of the Rally Dakar race.
Mutual Assistance, where I’m the director, works in the repatriation field. So when someone is sick in the US for instance, we bring them back via air ambulance. So being in the emergency room is actually my second job. I also have four children so that’s another job too.
We have seven ambulances, two cars and one motorcycle at the Tour de France. For the third year we also have a truck with X-ray and echograph machines and a radiologist. We have two surgeons as well — it’s a small surgery, but it’s good for the cyclists as they don’t have to go an emergency room and wait because the hospitals are sometimes out of the town finish.
My first Tour de France was when Alexander Vinokourov fell and broke his femur; I was overwhelmed with so many big falls in the first half an hour. After this race and this Tour I could see that it is not a game. This is a dangerous sport, I couldn’t imagine how dangerous it was.
It’s not a race where you can just place a family doctor in the situation — you have to put a doctor who has really trained in an emergency medical situation.
Risto Usin and Gerd Kodanik – Bora-Argon 18 mechanics
They’re among the hardest behind-the-scenes workers at the Tour de France and indeed at any bike race — the mechanics. Gerd (left) and Risto (right) are both from Estonia and both work with Bora-Argon 18. We caught up with them both in the closing days of the Tour.
RU: The beginning the first week is the hardest time of the Tour, getting into that Tour rhythm. Everyone is stressed more in the first stages, guys are nervous and it’s much more work for us. But now after the cobble stages and the TT and with the fast stages over, it’s more calm.
Yesterday I was in car two so I got a three-hour sleep in.
I got my start as a mechanic by going to one race with a really small team and now I’ve been doing it 11 years — its been a knock-on effect from team to team. I think my favourite memory from the Tour was last year with the team’s seventh place and finishing in Paris — really cool. We got to celebrate with a “little” champagne in the evening.
Jody Holland — Garmin marketing specialist
As the biggest event on the cycling calendar, the Tour de France is an important time for cycling brands to be active and visible for fans. Among the multitude of brands on the ground is Garmin, represented in part by Jody Holland.
Here at the Tour I host some VIPs — we have a hospitality program. From day to day we have customers, retailers and contest winners from all over the world. Day to day I’m with our guests — they’re getting to meet some of our riders now which is pretty cool.
I’m also the man, or woman on the ground for Garmin. We deal with equipment and make sure our riders have the right equipment, the latest and greatest.
This is my third Tour. Two years ago I was here for a week and last year was my first Tour in its entirety and this is year two.
There are so many memories and random things that pop up. Waiting at the top of a mountain waiting to go down we’ve met people that have shared their meals with us. I met Didi yesterday; I got my photo take on the side of the road with the devil.
People on the side of the road will be screaming ‘GPS!’, ‘Garmin!’, ‘Dan Martin!’, ‘Talansky!’ so there’s so much positive energy out on the road. That’s really cool because on course it’s a bit of a parade and you’re waving at people and everyone’s waving and happy. It’s really fun and it’s a great way to represent our brand.
Oscar Quintana – Orica-GreenEdge soigneur
Few members of staff are more important to the smooth operation of a team than the soigneurs. Part masseuse, part chef, part servant, these hard workers put in long hours to ensure everyone else — including the riders — can do their job with as little hassle as possible. We caught up with Oscar on a very hot day in Utrecht at the start of the Tour.
Here at the Tour we have four soigneurs — everyone does different things. Normally one is working in the truck, preparing the lunch packets, the sandwiches, all the food for the sport directors. Another one prepares the coolers with the drinks. Today the guys will go through maybe 200 bottles with this temperature — they won’t drink 200 but maybe they take one and the other one they pour over their head.
Another soigneur is working with the guys at breakfast, helping the chef in the restaurant and also preparing for the food for tomorrow. And we have one guy who is going to the hotel with the truck and they will prepare everything for tomorrow including the race food.
When we arrive at the hotel after the stage we start with the massage. Normally we decide on the first day of the Tour which riders we will do and we stay the whole Tour with these guys. Normally we take two guys each — and the team’s osteopath does one.
Normally we start at 6 o’clock and we finish just before dinner around 8 o’clock, sometimes 8:30. After dinner we go to the truck and prepare some things for the next day. We have to clean the cars, put more bottles in the coolers. Normally we finish around 10-10:30pm. Here at the Tour we get up around 6:30 in the morning — it’s a long day.
This is my fourth year with the team but my 14th Tour de France. One of my favourite moments was the first yellow jersey with Orica-GreenEdge. With my other teams we won some stages, we also won the king of the mountains but never the yellow jersey. I remember two years ago when Gerro and Darryl got the yellow jersey — it gives me goosebumps even talking about it.
My first team was Euskaltel and in the first year in the Tour (2001) we won one stage in the Pyrenees in front of all our supporters. Everyone was crazy and we won the stage with Roberto Laiseka. For me, these are the big important moments.
Aman Punjani and Sarvesh Sangarya – cycling fans and aspiring racers
As the biggest and most popular cycling event in the world, the Tour de France attracts fans of all nationalities, including from those nations we don’t tend to associate with road cycling. Indian fans and aspiring racers Aman (left) and Sarvesh (right) visited the Tour in its opening week and we caught up with them there.
SS: I’m from Bagalore in India. I’m racing in Belgium for two months and today I came to watch the Tour. I’ve been dreaming of racing in it for the past four years. Everything I’ve done in the past four years is aimed at achieving this.
AP: I’m 17 years old and I’ve been racing for two years and I dream of becoming a pro. Hopefully the first pro from India.
Everyone cycles in India but as a racing sport it’s not popular — we have about ten races a year maximum. This is across the whole country, so I may need to travel 300, 400 or 500 miles to head to somewhere just to race. The problem is the races start at 6 or 7 in the morning.
SS: Back in 2010 I was riding to school but back then I wasn’t very good at sports because I was very lean. I watched the Tour de France and noticed that many of the riders were lean and I thought I may be able to do this sport. I picked the bug up from there.
My first memory is Andy Schleck and Contador battling it out with each other, and Andy taking the win up Tourmalet. It’s a race that lingers in my mind every time.
I look up to Simon Gerrans. I read that he is not a born prodigy and he has had to work to get to the level he is. I find myself with similar traits.
Jenna Corrado – NBC TV presenter
In many ways, the TV journalists are the ‘rock stars’ of the Tour de France press contigent. They’re the teams with the greatest access, the greatest reach and the greatest presence, thanks to unwieldy cameras at the finish line and big trucks in the technical zone. We caught up with Tour de France newbie Jenna Corrado as the Tour wound to a close.
This is my first year covering the Tour and my first cycling event. I’ve never covered cycling before and I got bit by the bug. I absolutely love it, I’m obsessed.
Back home in the States I cover all different sports — football, basketball, baseball — but this is a really big deal for NBC and they kinda just threw me into the fire. But I’m surrounded by some of the best mentors in the business and the sport. It’s been quite the learning curve.
It’s like the Superbowl meets the circus. It’s a huge event every day but we’re moving around — it’s tiring, especially the start line. I always have this anxiety of getting the interview, fighting off the scrum, getting in the questions then you have to race to the car in order to get ahead of the actual race, beat them to the finish and then you kind of start all over again.
Sometimes at the finish, well most of the time, you can’t even see the last 2km of the race so you have to piece together all the bits of information and then think of intelligent questions to ask.
Stage 3 definitely stands out; the huge crash. I felt like I was in a movie — I just could not believe the scene. All the road rash and everyone was so tired and exhausted following off their bikes. It was something I’ve never seen before.
Dave Everett and Shane Stokes contributed to this article.