“Attack by Tadej Pogacar! Jonas Vingegaard stays in his wheel!” At the front of the Tour de France leader car No. 2, Sébastien Piquet talks about the movements of the race every day on the radio in Radio Tour. The internal Grande Boucle radio is broadcast in all vehicles following the field. An essential information function for the media, but also for the sports directors, made aware of the progress of the race and the needs of their riders.
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Helmet screwed on, microphone, notes and roadbook in hand, Sébastien Piquet lives his 18th Tour de France in the heart of the field. As a former journalist, in 2005 he took advantage of the departure of his predecessor, John Lelangue, now manager of the Lotto Soudal team. “ASO [Amaury sport organisation, qui gère le Tour de France] offered me a trial ride at the Tour of Qatar and obviously it went well since I went on to the Tour de France and I haven’t missed a single since.”, he says. Sébastien Piquet also referees at the World Championships and at all the other races organized by ASO, including Paris-Roubaix.
Positioned behind the field on the flat stages, or behind the group of favorites in the mountains, Sébastien Piquet has a privileged view of the race. “During my first mountain stage, in Courchevel, in 2005, I got shivers when I realized I was following the yellow jersey closely. When you follow the favorites and there are attacks like this year, I often have a big smile on my face. and goosebumps. For someone who loves cycling, this is the best place in the world, but that shouldn’t be overstated”he laughs.
Close to the riders, Sébastien Piquet represents an important relay for their wishes. “My priority is to inform the sports director’s cars because I have the field in front of me and sometimes I have a rider who raises his hand to ask for a bottle or sometimes he shows me his rear tire which punctured to call his car. and change his bike”says the announcer.
From the side “less pleasant memories” represent the falls, with “runners screaming in pain on the ground”. that speaker must announce it “on the Radio Tour as soon as possible, so that the medical service can intervene and the vehicles are informed of the danger. All without mistaking the identity of the riders, as it is important for journalists, commentators and many certainly for their sports directors. In general, informing we in the fall, so about the fallen runners.'”.
After 18 years of service at some of the biggest cycling races in the world, the announcer recognizes the riders quite easily. “After three weeks of racing, I generally also know their bib numbers by heart”. If in doubt, he has a card with these numbers, which he also uses to remember the position of the riders. “We work with three information bikes placed at different points in the race. The front one gives me the breakaways’ bibs, which I circle with a certain color on my grid, then the next bike gives me the riders interpolated, which I circle with a different color, and so on, then inform the following vehicles”explains Sébastien Piquet.
With his hands busy with his notes, the speaker uses a pedal to turn on his microphone. Different channels are available to tap into the radio intended for all vehicles, to communicate only with the information bikes, to interact with the marshals, or to only speak to the cars in the direction of the race.
“As soon as I press the pedal, the microphone is on. But I have to be careful because sometimes I turn to my pilot to say something to him and I have to have the reflex to press the pedal. times I had talked about my sandwich and everyone had heard it, it made people laugh in the cars”he laughs.
Although the tone sometimes gets carried away as the race accelerates, Sébastien Piquet tries to remain as understandable as possible. “I remember Bernard Hinault saying to me in 2005: ‘Kid, stay calm. Because if you get excited, you’ll annoy the sporting directors, who will be racing anyway'”. However, the tone can turn out to be more violent when it is necessary to replace cars and motorcycles correctly, sometimes stubbornly, in the line of vehicles so as not to disturb the runners.
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In the event of an incident, the reporter must also keep cool and remain measured. “This year, during the neutralization, I was behind the field and it was at the front that the demonstration took place. So informants told me what happened and we, in the car, immediately had the reflex to take the times because we knew that we would neutralize the stage, then restart the race with the same gaps. Then, under the supervision of the chairman of the jury of commissars, I indicated on the radio when the groups could resume”he says.
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The stages end in a paradox for Sébastien Piquet. He is the first to officially announce the winner on the Radio Tour… even though he never sees the finish line. Once the line is crossed, the speaker’s day doesn’t end there as he dons another journalist hat and takes to the podium to conduct interviews with the riders on behalf of the organization.