There was a time when the party continued well after the Tour de France. On the heels of the immense popularity the Tour generated after WWII, a full calendar of French criteriums filled the month of August, continuing the festive spirit generated by the Tour until the end of the summer. The tradition continued well into the 1980s before declining.
But this year, AG2R–La Mondiale mechanic Franck Boudot, has been actively reviving the criterium tradition in his native town of Dole.
Boudot, of course, he did not pick an easy year to hold his first event. After all, most of the 12 remaining criteriums scheduled this year were canceled due to the ever-changing sanitary measures put in place by the French government as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
But as Tour de France stage winner Nans Peters, crossed the finish line to a thunder of applause on Wednesday night, the first annual Criterium Cycliste du Grand Dole, had to be considered a resounding success.
“It was a crazy day,” Boudot said after the post-race gala dinner was winding down. “I have been thinking about organizing a criterium for several years now and a year ago decided to go for it. I started raising money, getting riders, putting together a team of volunteers etc. I just always knew that we could do something great here in Dole. Every time the Tour de France comes here it is a huge success, and a criterium really focuses on the popular side of the sport.”
All told, 3,500 fans lined the kilometer-long circuit to watch the riders pass no less than 60 times. Irish rider Sam Bennett, the recent winner of the green points jersey in the Tour, was the star attraction. And most French teams were generously represented as well, including AG2R rider Benoit Cosnefroy, who wore the polka-dot jersey for two weeks in the Tour this year.”
“Back in the day there were dozens of criteriums after the Tour,” two-time Tour de France winner Bernard Thevenet said. Thevenet was just one of the featured personalities on hand in Dole. “When I was riding, the first criterium was held the day after the Tour and every day after that. And on Sundays there would be two or three. The criteriums were part of our tradition. They come from a time when not many people had televisions. So the criteriums allowed people to see the stars of the Tour de France that they had read about or heard about on the radio. They heard about the exploits of Charly Gaul or Louison Bobet or Raphael Geminiani on the radio. Riders were almost mythological. And after the Tour you could see them pass 100 times during the day and maybe even get an autograph. It was time for the fans to have a real exchange with the riders. And today was very much like that. There were 60 laps. If you missed a rider on the first lap, you still have 59 chances to see them!”
In typical fashion, the mood was relaxed before the start. Several riders came with their families, and while the race itself was only an hour and a half long, each rider did an introductory lap, escorted by a moto with their name on it.
“You are the actors,” Boudot told the riders in a pre-race meeting. And while none of the riders racing today grew up in the heyday of the criteriums, they all seemed to know what to do. Attacks started from the gun. Cosnefroy, not surprisingly, won the climbers prize as he picked up the KOM prime on laps 10 and 30, while Bennett of course won the points sprints on laps 20 and 40. And then in the final laps, Peters slipped off the front, much as he did when he won the stage eight to Loudenvielle.
And the festivities continued well after Peters crossed the line. Fans poured into the street for the awards ceremony—a lengthy affair to say the least. Not only were prizes awarded to the race winners, but also the best regional rider as well as the best amateur rider. But then no one appeared to be in a hurry to go home.
“It gave us the feeling of what bicycle racing was before the time of COVID,” Daniel Mangeas, the popular former Tour de France announcer said. “A real success!”
And Boudot was quick to agree. “I’m happy,” he said. “We had 3,500 people, which was the limit imposed by the Prefecture de Police. If not I think we would have had twice as many people. And that is on a Wednesday in September.”
“It was a lot of work but I’m happy. We brought together 130 volunteers and 105 partners. And we managed to get 35 professionals along with the amateurs.”
“It was really courageous,” Thevenet said of Boudot’s efforts. “There were only two criteriums this year, and he was one of them. Not bad for a first-time event.”
Boudot admits that the sanitary measures complicated things. But with the inaugural event now in the books, he is confident that the foundations are in place to build a larger event in the future. And Boudot is quick to point out that the COVID-related complications were not the biggest challenge. “The hardest thing was going to bed at two in the morning and getting up at 6 a.m. every day on the Tour de France. . I haven’t had any time to recover. But that is the price you pay for having a good party. And that was my goal.”