RESTORING THE HEALTH OF CYCLING’S AGELESS CENTENARIAN
The Tour de France is cycling’s most prestigious race. This year will be the 100th edition of the grand tour, but the sport has never faced greater challenges following admissions of drug use among some of its leading riders. Race director Christian Prudhomme is determined to restore the sport’s credibility.
Nothing symbolises cycling more than the Tour de France yellow jersey. It’s the 100th anniversary of the great race and you’re releasing a special design to coincide with that. I guess there was a bit of pressure on the designer to get it right?
I don’t know if they were under a lot of pressure. But I really like what the designer has done. I know that le coq sportif is a brand that is linked with the Tour de France. One of the more famous scenes was just after the Second World War when the Swiss winner, just before he won, he took out his comb and brushed his hair back. There’s also been the first Australian in the yellow jersey Phil Anderson. So there’s a lot of history with the jersey.
Cycling aficionados love this sort of stuff though. They’ll remember the jersey for the 100th edition. Are you confident they’ll be happy with it?
What I really like with this year’s design is this is the first time ever they’ve put the letters “HD” on the back. “HD” stands for Henri Desgrange. He was the creator of the yellow jersey. So we always see the logos of the brands associated with the jersey, and that’s great, but this year I think it’s very important that we see HD. Without HD there would be no yellow jersey.
It’s a pretty special piece of clothing isn’t it? It’s like the green jacket in golf.
Yes exactly. It’s a symbol of victory for all sports. People in general talk about the yellow jersey and drop it into conversation. In France, even in parliament, politicians talk about the yellow jersey. It is a very strong symbol of a champion.
They’ll be riding for it again next month. So who do you think will be winning it?
Haha. I don’t know. I know that in the world of cycling, particularly in the English speaking world, there is more and more popularity for the sport. Cycling is strong. And I think for the third time in a row the winner of the Tour de France will speak English. But if he speaks French I will be equally happy.
Every year you make changes to the course. How do you think the changes for this year will impact on the Australian hope Cadel Evans?
What I think for Cadel Evans is as he gets older he needs to do harder races that test him physically. So I think it’s a good idea that he has chosen to do the Tour of Italy before the Tour de France. I think that is a good move for him. I would of course have been very happy if he chose to do the Critérium du Dauphiné which is our course in France in the lead-up to the Tour de France. But I understand why he’s doing the Tour of Italy.
Given all the controversy in cycling, especially over the past few months, does the yellow jersey still hold the same esteem and credibility as it always has before?
The yellow jersey is still credible. The proof of that being that Lance Armstrong didn’t get to keep it.
You mentioned Armstrong. He’s been stripped of his seven titles. How do you feel when you look at the list of winners and there is a gaping hole there where Lance Armstrong’s name once sat?
There is not a hole. There is a line through the name because we can’t forget. If it was rubbed out we would forget. If it’s not rubbed out, we don’t forget. We can’t forget. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen. It’s very different. With the line through the name we can see that it happened and we have to remember it can’t happen again.
How did you feel watching Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey? He wasn’t exactly do cycling’s image any favours.
It was all prepared and calibrated. It was a military operation. The problem is that through the media machine these days, everything is already said. We already knew what was going to be said beforehand. What is incredible is he admitted guilt after denying it for 10 years. But of course we already knew that he was guilty.
Before you were the Tour de France Race Director you were a journalist. What would you have asked Lance Armstrong that Oprah Winfrey didn’t?
I’ve got nothing to ask him. I’d rather talk about the next winner. Today’s riders are what I’m concerned about. I don’t want to focus an image on yesterday’s riders.
Part of that future if the Australian team Orica Green-Edge. Do you like the idea of an all-Australian team being a part of the Tour de France?
Yes absolutely. It’s a way to build Australia’s presence in cycling on the world stage. Since Phil Anderson won the yellow jersey 32 years ago and Cadel Evans won the tour in 2011 it has grown. There is a fabulous race in the Tour Down Under and Orica Green Edge is a great team. It’s very strong. There are a lot of people on the roads supporting with their passion for the riders and the sport and a lot of people watching on television. All of that as an ensemble is making Australia a great cycling nation. For me it’s a logical step-by-step building process to make Australia a great cycling nation.
You have talked about your dream to bring the Tour de France to Australia. Is that just a way of keeping us in your corner?
I’m not just saying this for my pleasure. I’m being honest. My honest sincere feeling is that because of all those contributing factors I just mentioned, if Australia was a little bit closer to France I would have a start to the Tour de France here in Australia. There are a lot of countries far away from France asking to have the start of the race in their country. To have the start of the race in another country we need the racers, the passion, the supporters, the teams and the champions. Australia has all that. But it’s too far away unfortunately.
One of the highlights of the Tour de France for me is all the lunatics running along the road in crazy costumes yelling out and trying to keep up with the riders. It’s pure comedy. Things could get crazy if you opened that door to Australian crowds.
Security is an obsession of mine. We see them running but they’re not running that fast. It’s more annoying than dangerous. If you as media could tell supporters to applaud with your feet instead of your hands, and keep your feet still that would help us. Haha.
I think that might be a very difficult message to get across here.
Well as long as we don’t see kangaroos jumping along behind the riders it will be ok.
Never before has there been so much emphasis placed on the famous yellow jersey. Athletes Talk caught up with Hilton Seskin from le coq sportif.
You’ve been charged with coming up with something that marks the 100th edition of the Tour de France, making it unique yet keeping with tradition. How have you managed to do that?
There’s things on the jersey that have never been seen before. You’ve got the Moor’s Head which is actually the insignia of where the race is starting now. It’s got some of the reflective signs of the Tour de France which is very relevant because the race is now finishing at night for the first time. We’re also bringing back some of the heritage from 1951. We’re putting the colour back on. It’s all just relevant in keeping the history of what the yellow jersey of the Tour de France is all about.
It’s one of the most famous pieces of clothing in world sport isn’t it? But it’s more than just a jersey right?
Obviously we’re biased but we think it is. It’s such a prized possession. Whether it’s the Ashes or whatever major event it is it’s usually a cup or a trophy. But this is a jersey. It belongs to somebody. It’s like the green jacket. It’s really something special and if you talk about the yellow jersey everybody knows about it. It’s iconic. It’s the jewel in the crown for le coq sportif. We’re involved in a lot of sports but the yellow jersey for cycling is the pinnacle. Even then though, if you look at golf there are lots of golf tournaments every year. But this the pinnacle cycling event in the world.
Cycling has gone through some dark times of late. How do you feel when the pictures of Lance Armstrong in your yellow jersey are shown all around the world, constantly?
I think drugs in sport, it’s boring. It’s old. It’s not new. We don’t want to be encouraging it. Unfortunately it’s like anything in life. There are rules and regulations and people break them. We don’t really focus on that side of it. Ultimately there are 99% of the riders who do play by the rules and that’s who we follow. That’s who we focus on.
Who’s going to be wearing it at the end of this year’s race?
I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. Let’s hope for Cadel Evans. I think he’s got a chance. They say he’s got old legs but hey he’s got a chance. I think he’ll be hungry this year. But Bradley Wiggins is obviously going to be the favourite.