22 juin 2018

The mirror of the Tour

By François PAOLETTI

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In Eddy - Ma saison des classiques en version 1973, François Paoletti immersed himself in the reminiscences of Eddy Merckx, and set himself the task of recalling the great classic race routes in which the «Cannibal» surpassed himself. In his Monuments du cyclisme (Monuments of Cycling), he had roamed through the places, stages of anthology and the hell of the paving stones that forged this cycling legend. His latest book, Miroir du Tour (The Mirror of the Tour) takes a closer look at ten of the most memorable stages of the Grande Boucle. Ten chapters, which include the 18th Tour, dominated in 1953 by Louison Bobet.

Following a new genre

François Paoletti positions himself as a Tour follower, albeit according to his own criteria. Neither professional racer battling it out at the heart of the peloton, nor a true follower, in a car bringing up the rear, but as a bike rider, taking on the ten-stage course of the Tour de France, the race that history has placed ahead of all racing memories. He decided to «jump on the bandwagon» as had Antoine Blondin in 1954 when inaugurating the series of 500 offbeat columns that confirmed his literary reputation.

Celebrating champions

Each stage he rides and and comments on focuses on a famous rider. Eugène Christophe, René Vietto, Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Roger Rivière, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thévenet, Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault are all in turn heroes in these chronological chapters. François Paoletti doesn’t take on the character of the champion, nor does he claim to race in their name. He gives the reader a subtle reinterpretation of their trials and tribulations, and of the moments of glory. He rubs shoulders with their presence for an instant on a pass or on a bend in a village, with a particular memory of the racers and of the caravan.

«Ever since the Tour chose to take on the mountains, the greatest of the champions also chose to perform on those stages. It was on those slopes that they chose to write their repertoire, and there that they played their scenes: the Alpine passes of Izoard, Ventoux, Galibier, Télégraphe, as well as those of the Pyrenees.» 

Ten stages of a legend  

The aim of this Miroir du Tour is to revisit the scenes of past exploits. To experience once again the rush of courage and of doubt. To climb the mountains and bring the memory to life once more. And that memory sometimes goes back many years. When François Paoletti rode the 310 kilometres that lie between Bayonne and Luchon, he relived the long hours of the great epic experienced by Octave Lapize in the Pyrenees during the 1913 Tour. When he took on the 256 kilometres from Thonon to Briançon, crossing the Télégraphe and the Galibier passes, he paid homage to Jacques Anquetil’s great 1957 performance in the Alps. And by launching an attack on the route from Briançon to the Alpe d’Huez, it was to better recall «“The Badger» Bernard Hinault’s moment of eternity with the American Greg Le Mond, crossing the finishing line of the 18th stage hand in hand in the 1986 Tour.

Louison among the chosen 

Chapter 3 of Miroir du Tour is a eulogy to Louison. An occasion to recall the panache of the champion who had commented on his achievement, on July 22nd 1953, with a modest «You don’t fool around when you’re climbing the Izoard.» Like Louison, François Paoletti climbed the Izoard alone. He didn’t meet Fausto Coppi, Louison’s «brother in arms» taking photos of the ascent. He couldn’t imagine that he heard cheering crowds at the triumphant arrival of the champion in Briançon down below. He was simply perpetuating the memory of this stage in the anthology that had sealed Louison’s first Tour de France victory. 

Izoard Pass km 154

«In the Casse Déserte, twin steles commemorate the memory of Fausto and Louison, but I chose not to stop there to pay them homage. Where the route goes back down for a few hundred metres I gathered speed again to tackle the last two kilometres with a light heart and hardened muscles - here you’re still at over 10 %. At the peak, I got off my bike and let Louison speed on towards his victory: a bouquet of flowers, two kisses and a golden jersey at Briançon.»

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Miroir du Tour - Tana Éditions – May 2018

Preface: Thomas Vœckler

Photos: Romain Helbach

Direction artistique: Matthieu Mifschitz

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