Text: Foucauld Duchange | Photos Damien Rigondeaud
The annual presentation of a team is an unusual communication balancing act, which aims at promoting the team while only talking to the press and your partners. Here is what happened on the Côte d’Azur on a beautiful Monday in February.
Does the cinema in La Ciotat mean anything to you? No? The Eden cinema is the oldest cinema in the world. Indeed, it was here, in 1895, that the Lumière brothers showed the first film in history of cinema. Not bad, eh? Beyond the link this place has with history and heritage, the relationship between cinema and professional cycling is closer than you think. Like a film, the goal of a cycling team is to make people dream. Film credits often highlight the support of a region, this is also the case for the Delko-Marseille-Provence team which, even with its name, thanks the local authorities and the region for their support.
While waiting for the lights to dim, we try to hear what they’re saying in the front row. Raymond Poulidor is lent a pair of glasses so he can read L’Equipe while people congratulate him for the success of his grandson, who became Cyclo-Cross World Champion yesterday! A man comes to greet him: « Monsieur Poulidor, I’m one of your many unknown supporters, but a supporter forever. » Poupou shakes his hand and resumes reading the results in the newspaper. Daniel Mangeas takes the microphone to bring attention to a badly parked Clio then returns to tell his neighbour about the Tour of 85 where he commentated on the start of the advertising caravan, the women’s tour, the men’s tour and then drove by car to the finish to do it all over again! « And on my only day off, I was stuck commentating on the time trial, » he adds before rereading his notes.
On stage, the Blade is the spotlight, so are the team’s outfits. Sprinter Brenton Jones is still in Australia, but his distinctive National Criterium Champion jersey represents him. Daniel Mangeas finally puts on his host’s hat and starts by introducing the sponsors. Thanks to him, we realize that behind the brands, the sponsors are mostly individuals, passionate people who are only interested in building the team. In a way, sponsors are those who make dreams a reality. It’s all this good will that brings them to life.
The day after the Marseillaise GP and two days before the Etoile de Bessèges, Daniel Mangeas takes the opportunity to pay tribute to the ‘two Rolands,’ i.e. Roland Villalonga, the organiser of the GP and Roland Fangille, organiser of the Etoile. « Real dinosaurs, my friends. But living dinosaurs. They look like Colombo and his brother-in-law. » The audience laughts, then the host becomes more serious: « These men have dedicated their lives to cycling. The Bessèges race will be 50 years old next year. Roland Fangille is therefore the oldest race organiser. » The audience breaks into applause, then turns to the riders descending from the balcony.
Over the course of the presentation, we become familiar with the faces of those who are often masked by their helmets and glasses. We discover various haircuts and the eyes that are usually hidden behind dark sunglasses. Evaldas Siskevicius is full of banter, Ramunas Navardauskas asks Alexis Guérin to translate the main details, while Eduard Grosu plays the fool until it’s time for the group photo. The tall ones behind, the small ones in front and all ages mixed together. What a great team!
While the guests come out to enjoy the buffet, the riders gather around a different type of treat: the bike. Although they have already spent over a hundred hours on it, this doesn’t stop them from giving their feedback to Raphaël Jeune, sponsorship manager at Look. The conversation revolves around acceleration, Corima rim height, large diameter hub flanges. Everyone has their own obsessions, their own preferences. Professionals may have unlimited access to what fans can only dream of but, at the end of the day, they share the same passion. And it’s a good thing as their feedback is used by engineers, and ultimately benefits end users, creating a virtuous circle.
Outside, while bottles of rosé are opened and trays of petits fours are passed around, Jérémy Leveau is keen to leave. The man who finished the French championship behind Démare and Bouhanni is eager to impress. Lucas de Rossi helps himself to a croque-monsieur, « I was so hungry, » he said with his mouth full, as if to apologize. As for us, just time for a quick bite of a mini-tropézienne cake, then we jump on the team bus before it returns to the team’s HQ.
The HQ is a treasure trove for cycling enthusiasts. Rows of Blade bikes patiently wait in their locked containers, dozens of Sram Red cranksets await their Exakt pedals, washing machines are turning, full of blue team outfits, and there’s no rest for the coffee machine. While the mechanics are busy assembling the bikes before they leave the next day for the Bessèges race, we visit the new team bus, recently adapted to fit in all the new equipment. Inside, everything is perfectly organised and made to measure. The road bikes have their own space, the time trial bikes have theirs too and the most amusing is the space dedicated to the wheels. From the outside, there is access to a hose pipe and a generator. The ‘beast’ is ready to criss-cross France, and more!
As the sun goes down, the rest of the management team returns to La Ciotat for a meeting. The offices upstairs have views of the landscape. It makes you feel like taking to the road but, sadly, no one here the has time to ride. The life of a professional team is definitely not for slackers. We will have many other opportunities to let you experience the life behind the scenes of a professional cycling team.