Rendezvous JRB: The Quebec Connection.
|Jean Rene Bernaudeau is a guy who appreciates old school.|
Just got back Monday from the annual Flandria cafe raid north to the Quebec City and Montreal ProTour races. Lots of raw material to write about. Here's a little hors d'oeuvre.
One of my 'super-fan' traditions when watching Montreal is to wear one of the old retro team jerseys I've collected over the years. It's a great icebreaker with in-the-know-super-afficoionados who appreciate the rare, the retro and the old-school. It's also (in my own not so humble opinion) an understated, and appropriate way for an informed fan to make a 'style statement'. As opposed to...say...antlers.
|Why? I just want to know. Can somebody, please, just tell me why.|
I don't really understand the level of exhibitionism some go to at races nowadays. And it seems to be escalating...particularly with many American fans at the Tour of California the last few years. Football helmets with giant antlers, stupid random costumes, the whole pack of them running beside the race hooting and hollering (YEAHH!! WOOHOO!!!) and almost taking out pros who are suffering and on the edge. They turn a pro bike race into a Mardi Gras parade gone bad. It a pro bike race people, a pro sport, not a freak show.
At the Canadian races in contrast there was, thank God, virtually none of that to be seen. The largely Canadian crowd on the sides of the climbs in Quebec and Montreal was well behaved, and expressing their enthusiasm by wearing club kit, some by riding their bikes, and rooting for their favorites. Several were there with dogs, and had them leashed and under control. It called being civilized. Yes, even at a sporting event.
Thing you've gotta love about Canada, number #33: The world's best behaved bicycle racing fans. No shoving, always polite, I even saw several shift to make room at the side of the road, letting shorter people in front to get a better view. And they stay pretty compliant about standing off the road and where directed to by the course security.
Last year I wore a GAN Mercier jersey of PouPou vintage, which was good for a few impromptu conversations throughout the day. A Montreal fan of a 'certain age' offered me ever escalating amounts of cash for it, on the spot. Sorry, no deal, Maurice. Pas possible.
|Van Impe and Ocana's break to St. Lary Soulan,|
Tour de France, 1976
It was the maillot worn by Lucien Van Impe on a hot day in the Pyrenees in 1976, when Guimard reportedly ordered him to attack to try and regain the Maillot Jaune he's just lost to Peugeot's ol' campaigner, Raymond Delisle.
Two days before, Delisle, liberated from his normal role of worker for Bernard Thevenet, authored a breakaway to Pyrenees 2000 that put him, somewhat unexpectely, in yellow. On the stage to Pla d'Adet, Guimard wanted Van Impe to take off early and ditch the rejuvenated Delisle, and race favorite Joop Zoetemelk. It was earlier than Van Impe wanted to go, on a multi-mountain stage with a summit finish. But he went, and in that break, Van Impe had '73 winner Luis Ocana for company.
Ocana saw a chance for one final glorious day in the sun. And remembering that Zoetemelk had never helped him in his titanic battles with Merckx over the years, also a chance to put the sword in to the hilt, and twist it hard. And twist he did, helping the Belgian climbing star to victory in the stage that sealed his Tour victory. For me the abiding memory of the day is of that aging Spanish matador, on his final day in a major arena, performed a faena worthy of two ears, a tail. It was Death in the Afternoon. I believe Papa Hemingway would have understood Ocana. And approved of his final performance.
|1977. A new French champion arrives.|
And it was a jersey that, this Sunday, stopped me with an 'alors, now that's a maillot' from a smiling Jean Rene Bernaudeau while strolling the Press Area during the Montreal race. We exchanged a few brief pleasantries in Francais, and a photo op. Bernadeau who told me it was 'over thirty years old!' was kindly patient about the time it took to do so.
Although my attempts to converse longer were quickly given the brush off (probably because I used the "B" word as in 'Blaireau' when talking about whose jersey it was). Despite that, I still have to give props to J.R. Bernadeau. Of all the top European teams, he was the only major domo to personally make the plane ride to the two North American Pro Tour races. Maybe it was because Europcar have Canadian David Vellieux on the team, and are scouting more talent? Maybe it was becuase sponsor Louis Garneau is based in Quebec? Or maybe he has nostalgia for the course on which he finished 7th in the 1976 Olympic games road race. In any rate, it was great to see the former great this side of the pond.
For Bernaudeau, my relic jersey also has a little nostalgia, for he signed a pro contract for that same Guimard Gitane team in 1978. And he quickly made his mark: 2nd in the French national road race championships in his rookie year, and a 5th place and best young rider Maillot Blanc in the Tour de France in 1979.
|Bernaudeau's break with Hinault to Sondrio won Le Blaireau the '80 Giro. |
He would 'Break' from Hinault in '81, the teammates becoming bitter rivals.
It couldn't last though. He inevitably left the next year to pursue team leader ambitions of his own, jumping over to lead the rival Peugeot team. In doing so, he invoked the wrath of the Badger, going mano-a-mano with old boss Hinault in the 1981 and 1982 Tours. After more blood and tears, Hinault dominated both Tours. Bernaudeau finished those Tours 6th and 13th.
Three times in the top 6 at the Tour. Hell, I'd take that anyday. What a career. Un vrai coureur, un vrai homme du Tour.
Bernaudeau didn't skip a beat. After retiring in 1988, he went on to the Vendee U, under 23 amateur squad, which later grew into that region's top pro team since 1996 with sponsors Bonjour, Bouyges Telecom, BBOX, and now Europcar.
That team with Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland has just led a French cycling resurrection of sorts at the Tour de France. Okay, JRB may not have fulfilled all his ambitions as a rider - and mentioning old rival Le Blaireau to him may still be like touching the third rail - but hey, Jean Rene Bernaudeau is a guy who puts his love for the sport first. And he deserves a lot of credit for what he's given to the sport, both as a rider, and as a team director. I get the feeling he's put in more than he's taken out.l
Chapeau Jean Rene Bernaudeau, and on behalf of many fans of the sport, merci.
I've got a strong feeling your exploits are not over.