return to Puy de Dôme, to continue the legend

return to Puy de Dôme, to continue the legend

2023-07-09 11:46:23

Two men shoulder to shoulder, panting under the sun, in full effort. And the silence around or almost. Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar who settle their accounts, on the pedal, in the last kilometer of the Puy de Dôme. The staggering image of the Tour de France 2023?

This is obviously what all cycling enthusiasts will dream of on Sunday July 9 for the finish of the ninth stage on the famous Mont d’Auvergne. Because the Grande Boucle is indeed back there for the first time in thirty years. A very long absence, due to multiple factors.

Since 1988, the site has been listed with the Chaîne des Puys as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and included in the Natura 2000 network. Access to it, closed to cars and two-wheelers since 2010, is only possible via a small train. rack, and it was unthinkable for a long time to perch the great circus of the Tour de France at an altitude of 1,415 m.

An arrival without an audience, a first

But Christian Prudhomme, who has nurtured this project since his arrival in 2004 within the organization of the Tour, ended up winning the support of the leaders of the department who manage the site. The Tour therefore returns, but with very special conditions. Including a total ban on the public in the last four kilometers of ascent, a real first.

If certain passages on the course of the peloton have already been the subject of exclusion of spectators – for example on the wall of Péguère in Ariège for risks of rockslide -, never a finish took place in a kind of huis closed. Unique perspective? Without a doubt. But who should make the event all the more sacred and give it a major impact, as in the past during the most glorious hours of the Tour.

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Christian Prudhomme also likes to summon the legend of the Grande Boucle. Above all, he cherished his project by thinking of a key year: 1964, the time of the clash of the titans between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor. Which, in the rise of the puy de Dôme, signed one of the most significant episodes of the cycling odyssey.

A great bluff

This July 12, 1964, between the elegant Jacques and the popular “Poupou”, it is indeed an explanation at the top that is expected. Anquetil is in yellow, fifty-six seconds ahead of his dolphin in the general classification. He knows that on the kind of long climb (13 km), and with a high percentage to finish, that the venerable Dôme offers, he will not be comfortable. Especially since he is in poor shape, tired, perhaps, by his grueling victory in the Italian Giro two months earlier.

So he hopes to hold on as long as possible. The evening before, his sporting director, Raphaël Géminiani, offered him a cunning strategy: not to cling to the wheel of Poulidor, but to ride alongside him, elbow-to-elbow. To impress. So Jacques Anquetil runs. « Coup de bluff », will retain the observers. Still, the mano a mano lasts, and here is the frozen image for posterity. So much so that almost no one remembers the winner of the day, Julio Jiménez, who escaped much earlier with Federico Bahamontes. No, all eyes then and since have been on the magnificent giants.

900m from the finish, Poulidor finally takes off. He picks up a bloodless Anquetil, “subjecting the collapse of his whole being, showing the face of a victim, struggling only like a drowned man already seized with unconsciousness and ready, without knowing it, to let himself sink”says Jacques Goddet in The Team. It does sink, but not quite. Losing in less than a kilometer forty-two seconds on Poulidor. But saving for fourteen seconds his yellow jersey, which he keeps on his shoulders three days later in Paris.

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Vingegaard and Pogacar are asked to be up to it

The retains this duel in the sun, a possible moment of changeover, and then no. Poulidor would remain “Poupou”, the eternal second. Much later, the good Raymond will assure that the Tour for him that year had been lost elsewhere and on several occasions, often by bad luck. That this July 12, in fact, he too had suffered and could not do better. “I think we weren’t both good”, he simply summarizes. Except that this is not how the novel of the Tour is written.

Sunday, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar are therefore asked to be up to it. Regardless of the distribution of roles. The Puy de Dôme will judge. In 1988, for the last performance before the long parenthesis, it was a certain Johnny Weltz who won after a flight of more than 100 km, ahead of Rolf Gölz, his breakaway companion, by forty-three seconds. . Johnny Weltz was Danish. A sign ?

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