Those who spot it usually have a bad day on the bike. Despite the supplies and the encouragement, the broom wagon remains feared by the runners. Between Briançon (Hautes-Alpes) and Alpe d’Huez (Isère), Thursday July 14, franceinfo: sport took place on board the vehicle, the time of three out-of-category passes, and the day after a stage which had already weighed in the legs up to the Col du Granon.
“Top, the real start is given!” On board the broom wagon, Radio Tour informs the driver, Stéphane Bezault, and the referee of the French Cycling Federation, Jean-Pierre Boutin, of the start of the race. The day before, they were the first to see Mathieu van der Poel give up and get into his car. They expect to follow a few late riders on the 12th stage: “Sometimes we follow a gruppetto with 20 guys, sometimes we follow a single rider off the hook, says Stéphane Bezault. But stages like these in the Alps are usually the ones where you see the most people at the back.“
The position of the broom wagon respects very specific rules. “We stand behind the ambulance as long as there are no riders dropped, then we go back behind the sports directors’ cars and in front of the ambulance once there are delays. It also allows the ‘referee to control the smooth running of the race at the back’explains Stéphane Bezault, the driver of the vehicle for five years. If in the past, the riders systematically boarded the broom wagon when they retired, the vast majority now prefer to finish the stage in the back of their team’s cars. “Since the start of this Tour, we have only picked up Kevin Vermaerke and Gianni Moscon, but they did not stay with us and we dropped them off at their car a little further away”explains the driver.
With three passes classified out of category on Thursday, the stage is enough to scare runners who are not very keen on the mountains. If all pass the Galibier pass correctly, the first distanced runner, Cyril Barthe, is seen after the descent of this one. “He will have to come home, otherwise he will spend the day behind alone”warns Stéphane Bezault. Mission accomplished a few kilometers further for the rider from the B&B Hotels-KTM team.
Reunited, the peloton begins the ascent of the Col de la Croix de Fer on fairly high averages. “The sprinters will have a hard time”notes Jean-Pierre Boutin. The referee is not mistaken, since very quickly, a gruppetto is formed and the name of Fabio Jakobsen, winner of the second stage, is quoted by Radio Tour among the distanced riders. “In the mountains, we are used to seeing it at the back”note the two men. “They have to quickly form a group, so they will help each other to climb at their own pace.explains Stéphane Bezault. The danger is to find yourself alone.”
This danger quickly awaits the Frenchman Victor Lafay, distanced and all alone, in front of the broom wagon, like the day before. “I’ve been sick since the sixth stage. I’m having trouble breathing, so it doesn’t oxygenate the muscles, I have aches and it’s hard. I have no strength, I hurt everywhere“, he will explain at the finish. But the Cofidis rider hangs on to catch up with the Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl, who take turns to carry their leader, Fabio Jakobsen.
The Belgian formation’s vehicle is the last team car present at the rear, as there are so many men there. The Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl staff also gives supplies to Victor Lafay. “I thank them. They gave me gels, fruit pastes, cans. We have to help each other and finally, at this level of difficulty, we are no longer anything but cyclists, we no longer take into account teams”will tell the Cofidis runner.
Despite these supplies, Victor Lafay lost the wheel of his companions in misfortune four kilometers from the top of the Col de la Croix-de-Fer. At the wheel of the broom wagon, Stéphane Bezault goes up to him to encourage him and bring him charged energy gels before the start: “Come on Victor, it’s to help you get back to the Quick Steps!”. Even if the runner remains attached to the driver’s hand for a few seconds to take these welcome supplies, and breathe a little, the referee does not flinch. “It’s tolerated, it doesn’t change the race at the point they are at”explains Jean-Pierre Boutin.
At 25 kilometers from the finish for the trailing runners, the gap with the head of the race is 23 minutes. The question of timing then arises. “There mustn’t be one who lets go, otherwise it will break the rhythm”observes the referee. A few kilometers further up, the first runners cross the finish line and the official starts his time. The time allowed to reach the summit of Alpe d’Huez is calculated: Victor Lafay and his companions then have 44 minutes and 19 seconds to reach the finish in time, under penalty of disqualification and return home.
Warned, several riders from the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl picked up the pace and Victor Lafay was now only with Fabio Jakobsen and Mikkel Honoré. “They must not lose more than five minutes per kilometer, that would be 45 minutes late and they would arrive out of time”. Two kilometers from the finish, the delay of the three riders is estimated at 34 minutes. “It’ll be hot”breathes Stéphane Bezault. Finally, the three courageous take advantage of the last two kilometers, less steep, to cross the line 40 minutes and three seconds behind Thomas Pidcock, the winner of the day.
“At one point, I was not at peace, especially when I saw Fabio’s colleagues go in front, I told myself that it must be a bit limited for us, but I trusted them and anyway I couldn’t drive faster”says, relieved and smiling, Victor Lafay. While the public celebrated the passage of the runners to the last, the passage of the broom wagon marked the end of the show.