Christian Prudhomme has been the race director of the Tour de France since 2007, overseeing a period of great change and expansion as the Tour spread to new parts of the world and touched new cycling fans.
At the start of the 105th edition of this famous old race, we ask the man in charge of one of the biggest sporting spectacles on the planet how it comes together, what a day in his life entails and how you balance preserving great traditions with attracting new faces to the sport.
What are your thoughts about this Tour and what are the main challenges the organisers face putting on such a major event?
Christian Prudhomme: The route of the 2018 Tour is ambitious and modern. It elebrates cycling legend Bernard Hinault, who 40 years ago won the Tour de France in his first participation in 1978. The variety of the stages this year will be ideal for attackers. A lack of concentration from the favourites could cost them precious time during the first days of the race on the plains with windy conditions as they encounter the climbs at Arrée and the Mûr de Bretagne climb, the latter of which will be done twice.
There are then twists and turns to anticipate in the 20 kilometres of cobbles – the most in 30 years – which the riders will have to negotiate to reach Roubaix. In the mountains, there will be numerous chances to create a surprise: the first appearance of the Col du Pré, the shortest stage in recent history and the Col de Portet to name a few.
How do you select the stage-cities and how many years in advance?
CP: We receive between 250 and 300 applications each year. We have close relationships with officials with whom it would be impossible to make this happen. When we design a Tour race-route, we try to cover all the regions in France at least once every five or six years.
With my right-hand man, Pierre-Yves Thouault, and with the Sporting Director, Thierry Gouvenou, and his team we will tirelessly continue to look for places and those intangibles that make the race exciting, while respecting the sites that have made the Tour the legend that it is.
For the past few years we have varied the stages as much as possible, by the length and also the profile. We have adjusted the distance, alternated finish stages either at mountain tops or at the bottom of a descent, featured new climbs, added rolling sections to the flat stages and brought back routes on cobbles or dust-roads like at Glières, this year.
Can you give us a description of a typical day for you on the Tour?
CP: I wake up at 6:30 in the morning. Then I have a hearty breakfast while I read the daily regional press, L’Equipe newspaper and the day’s AFP bulletins. I review the day’s agenda with my team. Sometimes, I give my first interview of the day in the hotel where I spent the night. I then head to the start village about three and a half hours before the start of the race.
I do more interviews with the local and international media. I then meet with the local officials and authorities during the daily official ceremony. I can have some quiet time in an office that is reserved for me and the main directors before taking care of other requests along with Cyrille Tricart, the External Relations Manager. The time to decide which guests will ride in the race vehicle (2 per day) with my driver Gilles Maignan (two-time French National time-trial Champion) and Thierry Gouvenou, the Tour de France Sporting Director.
Mitchelton-Scott prepare to take the start at stage three (AFP/Getty Images)
During the stage, I take on my role as the Tour de France Director as well as accompany well-known public personalities that we host each year, such as the President of France. Once I have crossed the finish line, I take part in the post-race protocol ceremony at the foot of the podium and answer the last questions of the day from the media in the mixed zone (for television and radio) and sometimes in the media centre (for the print media).
I meet with local authorities often in the company of Bernard Thévenet, who is an ambassador of the race that he won in 1975 and 1977. Sometimes I eat dinner twice, because I never turn down an invitation!
What changes are you most proud about after 10 years as the Director of the Tour de France?
CP: We don’t talk about things in terms of pride, but I am particularly pleased that with the teams run by Thierry Gouvenou. We have been able to make the races more uncertain by including new challenges, finding climbs like the Col de Portet this year or the two ascensions of Alpe d’Huez in the same stage during the 100th anniversary edition of the Tour de France.
Even on the flat stages early in the Tour, while waiting for the mountains, we’ve included windy coastal sections or cobblestone sectors.
I am very proud of the A.S.O. teams that adapt to every situation and that allow us to be daring in our choice of stage routes. Over the past few years we have scheduled Mont Blanc, Marseille and this year the Basque Country just 24 hours prior to the final stage finishing on the Champs Elysées, which represents a massive challenge for a ‘caravan’ of 4,500 people and 2,500 vehicles.
The Tour de France is the biggest bicycle race in the world; it is also history, geography, culture, and discovery. Most importantly, it is 3,500 kilometres of happy people having a great time!
How do you go about attracting new spectators on the road without losing sight of the heritage and traditional character of the race?
CP: The Tour is and should remain a very important communication vehicle for the heritage, culture, history and geography of the territories it visits. At the same time we have to use all the resources that offer modernity via social media and data compilation that allows for better understanding the race to attract a younger fan base.
But above all, it must remain a celebration: a celebration in the towns, villages and in the countryside. And when we see the pride with which the residents of the stage cities host the Tour de France, we have no concerns about the presence of spectators at the side of the roads.
Look at what happened in 2014 in Yorkshire. It is not every day that the public has the chance to see a bicycle race pass by. And not only did they come out and make the stages an unbroken ribbon of celebration they also now turn up systematically when the world’s cycling stars return to ride in the Tour of Yorkshire that we now organise.