Radio Tour voice Sébastien Piquet 80th Paris - Nice 2022 (2.UWT) Stage 7 from Nice to Col de Turini (FRA/155km) ©kramon

Meet Seb Piquet, cycling’s voice in the eye of the storm

Piquet helps to find order in the chaos of some of the world's biggest bike races.

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There is so much more happening in a bike race than we as viewers and fans can see. One of the most important means of communication in the race caravan is Radio Tour. All the cars and motorbikes in the caravan hear this internal information channel. It’s also an important means of communication to the world outside of the bubble. Radio Tour is the basis of the live-tickers many organizers provide and an important source of information for journalists and TV producers.

In cycling races organized by ASO – like Paris-Nice, Flèche Wallonne and of course the Tour de France – Seb Piquet is the voice of Radio Tour. He travels the world to call out the numbers and names of the riders needing mechanical assistance, food and drinks, or help after a crash. It is a job that keeps him occupied from early morning to late evening. Like all the things that appear easy, it’s far from it.

“I started with ASO on Dakar in 2002,” Piquet tells me from the start of stage 6 of Paris-Nice. “They saw I was a journalist and I also did some Eurosport commentary and that I spoke multiple languages. They were looking for a new voice because the previous Radio Tour operator, John Lelangue, left ASO to work with the Phonak team.

“My first ASO cycling race was Tour of Qatar in 2005. They explained to me how to do the job and it worked out well. Then came Paris-Nice and the Tour de France. And all of a sudden, we are 18 years later.”

Seb Piquet is standing confidently against the red Skoda Superb the ASO uses for the race direction. He always rides behind the peloton or the main group. In the car are driver Pascal Lance, a former rider, the president of the UCI commissaires panel, and Thierry Gouvenou, technical director of the Tour de France.

“They already feed me a lot of information during the day,” Piquet says. “Thierry builds these courses so he knows everything. I also rely on two guys on the motor bikes in the race. In the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix we even have three up front and at the back of the convoy. They relay information to me as well because I don’t have eyes everywhere.”

There are two sorts of race radio systems. The organization provides Radio Tour with all the official announcements of the organizers – think route changes, announcements from the UCI jury, and of course the current race situation that Piquet constantly monitors. The teams also use race radios to communicate with their riders. That’s a channel Piquet can’t listen to.

“The priority for me are the teams and the sports directors,” he says. “I need to be efficient and not be wrong with my information. We are at their service but we also provide the information for journalists, TV producers and TV commentators, and the race center on the website of Le Tour. Based on what I relay a TV director, he or she can decide to send a camera bike back to a rider who is about to get dropped for example.

“But I also cater to the VIP guests in the caravan. For them I do a bit more than just race info. I also share some insights, tourist and history facts. We are serious first and foremost but I also share some fun facts. It lightens up the race and sometimes I wake people up.”

To do this job you need passion, knowledge of the sport, and a good stomach, Piquet explains. 

“You also need to stay calm,” he says. “In one of my first races Bernard Hinault came up to me and said; ‘You are doing well kid but stay calm.’ He is right. When there is a crash the last thing you do is shout in the race radio and create panic so everyone in the team cars goes crazy.

“I arrive with the regulator crew every morning three hours before the start so these are long days. Sleep when you can, is my main advice. It’s a very intense job but I can’t really complain too much because I am in a comfortable car and not on the bike.” he adds with a laugh.

Piquet prepares well for every stage but doesn’t haul a big package of papers with him to take into the car. Most of it is in his head after many years of experience. 

“Being at the start early means I can read the papers and talk to people,” he says. “That’s also part of the job. I always have my startlist here and the road book. On the startlist I note the breakaway composition and the results of the intermediate sprints or climbs. I also know where the important points on the route are although Thierry knows that even better than I do.

“No really, it’s my voice you hear on the radio but it’s actually the voices of many more people in one. I have so much confidence in all of them. It’s really teamwork.”

Piquet holds a hand-held microphone or wears a headset during the races.

Piquet’s workplace is the passenger seat of a rather comfortable car. In front of him is a box with four buttons, one to speak with the organization, one for race direction only, and one for commissaires only. The most important one is the one where he communicates with all the cars and motorbikes in the race. He wears a headset and operates the microphone with a foot pedal. On his lap are the papers he needs and a pen. Every 100 kilometres the car stops for a natural break. 

“I accidentally pushed the pedal so everyone could hear what we said one day,” he says. “It’s such a habit that you push it when you want to talk. It was innocent though. I was discussing the pickles on my sandwich. Later, I heard many people in the caravan laughed.”

Since those first races in 2005 Piquet has seen every corner of France from the front seat of the car. He has travelled to countries like Qatar, Oman, Norway, Belgium and all the world championships since 2012 because he works for the UCI too. He carries not only all the experience with him but also many memories.

“You often remember the crashes,” he says. “You need to stay calm but what you see is often emotional. You see riders on the road, face down. Your voice automatically changes then. It is hard to see.”

What Piquet says on Radio Tour is important. It changes the strategies of the teams when he announces a crash or a mechanical. If the team captain is dropped or the main sprinter has a flat tire in the final, teams need to change tactics. “Always double check”, is his strategy because it’s better not to say anything than to relay wrong info. However, sometimes he makes the inevitable mistake.

“First you announce the crash so everyone is aware there is danger ahead,” he says of the procedure. “Then I name the teams involved. Then when we get closer and it’s less chaotic, I name riders. Sometimes you make a mistake. It happens. It was on the Tour de France and I was given the information by one of my colleagues. He called out a crash by Mark Cavendish. It was at 1.5 kilometers from the finish. So, I announce on Radio Tour that Cavendish crashed. Two minutes later he wins the stage.” 

Despite the fact Piquet has been in his job for 17 years in a row, he is still visibly happy and very passionate about what he does. He feels privileged. 

“I am in the front seat watching the best riders in the world in some of the most beautiful places in the world,” he says. “A memorable stage was the Tour de France echelon stage in St Amand Monrond in 2013. In races like Paris-Roubaix you are on historical ground. Also discovering new places like the amazing landscapes of northern Norway in the Arctic Race or the Saudi landscapes of Al-Ula make me realize how privileged I am.

“You see the crowds open up in front of you like the Red Sea before Moses on a climb like Alpe d’Huez. The Tour de France is the pinnacle of our sport and you are part of its history. It’s a great privilege.”

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