Last Sunday saw a piece of such unbridled joy it could do nothing but bring a smile to the face of anyone watching. It wasn’t the birth of a baby or the exchanging of wedding vows. Neither was it a child celebrating excellent exam results or even a parent witnessing the success of their offspring.
Or perhaps it was. You see on Sunday a young man called Thibaut Pinot, a 22 year old French professional cyclist, won the biggest race of his short career; Stage 8 of the greatest race in the World, the Tour de France. France hasn’t had the greatest of success in it’s own showcase event recently; let’s face it, they’ve only had 29 stage wins this century and haven’t managed to win the overall title since Bernard Hinault wore yellow in 1985. Put that into perspective, Mark Cavendish’s 21 stage wins since 2008 exceed those of the whole of France.
On Saturday the race passed through Thibaut’s home village of Mélisey, where his Father is the mayor. Old school Tour tradition had it that a rider passing through their home town would be in a breakaway, or perhaps be allowed to lead the peloton through the village to receive the respect and applause of those who helped them get there. The Eurosport commentators told us all about him as the race entered the town and I was expecting to see him soaking up the adulation of the crowd. But he was nowhere to be seen. Until the next day.
Thibaut’s Directeur Sportif, team manager to those football types amongst you, is a man called Marc Madiot. He is renowned for his passion and was no mean cyclist in his younger days, winning a number of Tour stages and Paris-Roubaix twice. He has managed the FDJ-Big Mat team since its inception in the late 90’s and overseen some notable successes, though the Tour de France trophy cabinet has been fairly bare recently, with only four stage wins since 2007.
Sunday’s Stage 8 was a tough one, with some notable, though not terrifying climbs. Pinot, at 22 the youngest rider in the race, struck out in pursuit of Frederik Kessiakoff, who had looked very good early on, eventually passing him on the final climb of the day. Behind, the big guns of the Tour were in pursuit, with attacks from both Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali on the descent closing down Pinot’s advantage. But then came the intervention from his boss Madiot, who eschewed the option of spurring his rider on via the team radio for a more direct approach. Watch the video. The excitement the passion and the joy may just as well be that of a Father supporting and urging his son on to greatness. Whatever, it’s brilliant and if it doesn’t make you smile you have a heart of stone.