Tonight I, along with my father and an old friend from school, had the pleasure of attending a great event at the Alliance Française de Sydney – an evening with Christian Prudhomme, General Director of the Tour de France. The talk was hosted by both the Alliance Française and SBS Television which is the home of cycling on Australian television and they have been broadcasting the Tour de France (TDF) to Australia for the last 17 years. Mike Tomalaris was also in attendance and introduced Prudhomme to us. Both him and Tomalaris are journalists by profession, so there was a common bond that they both shared – particularly since both had spent so much of their work life focused on the TDF. As it turns out, they are also both the same age. I believe Prudhomme was in Australia to talk with the broadcasters vying for the TV rights to broadcast the TDF after the contract with SBS expires in 2017. I only hope that ASO (the organisers of the TDF) realise that there are no other broadcasters aside from SBS in Australia who will show the same passion and do the race justice in their broadcast.

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It was a fascinating talk, and it was amazing to see that man in person. As the General Director of the Tour de France, he is one of the most important people in global sports management and what he says on TV has implications to not only cycling, but France as well. So seeing his persona in real life versus the media conscience presentation that he must provide when formally interviewed was a real surprise. He was genial, honest, and inspiring. Inspiring in that when asked about what are his goals for managing the TDF his response was simple “to make kids dream about being the champion of Le Tour!” This was a grown man talking about his humble goal of inspiring the next generation to achieve something.

He covered a range of other topics with the unavoidable topic of doping in cycling. Prudhomme is a staunch opponent to doping in sport and described the challenges for ASO having to operate within the regulatory framework established by the UCI. He noted that most other sports have chosen not to be as fervent in tackling drugs in sport, to which he was disappointed. Prudhomme was also pragmatic in the ability to completely weed out the drug cheats, noting that in every facet of life there are cheats – so practically cheating will never be completely eradicated. But he reaffirmed his continued commitment to tackling doping, and the need for cooperation from all the sports and international federations to consistently apply the rules.

We got the chance to ask a few questions covering many aspects of his job and the organisation of the TDF. I even got to ask a question regarding the selection of the teams for the wildcard places and pressure in the promotion of the sport globally. When some of the questions regarding the broadcast of the race were asked we got a very interesting perspective from him. He spoke about how the TDF and the last 100 years of French history were inextricably intertwined.

But what was more remarkable for me was his perspective on the social responsibility that the race organisers had in the promotion of France and its regional communities. Prudhomme told one story about how a few years back one of the stages finished in a a little known small town in the centre of the country. In recent years, this small town had suffered a decline in its local economy having relied heavily on the wood industries. With close to 25% unemployment, it was only when the TDF traveled through that it put the town on the map. Since then, the publicity boost that it received has given it a much needed lift and a small turnaround in fortune.

He spoke about how if anyone was serious enough they could put a stop to the race by blocking the route. But such is the passion of the TDF in France that no-one has done this to date (and even if they attempted to there would be just as many locals attempting to stop the potential saboteurs). He told an anecdote of a planned sabotage of the race route by some poor farmers in the Pyrenees. They were having a rough trot with bears marauding their flocks, and the EU had just passed a law protecting the bears. This was to the economic misfortune of the farmers, some of whom were losing up to 100 sheep to the bears. So to make a statement they planned to disrupt the race to gain international exposure to their plight. Solution – send in Bernard Hinault to sort them out. He amicably explained why the tour must go on (being a former 5 time champion and farmer himself), and with the consumption of many a glass of pure Ricard sabotage was averted. Hinault, always the enforcer!

There were many other points discussed and I do not want to misquote Prudhomme in his honest discussions with us. But it was a real breathe of fresh air listening to a progressive and visionary sports administrator who was humble enough to recognise his own role in managing the tour. He recognised that he was merely the holder of the fort during this period in time and bearer great responsibility to the sport, his country, and his role to inspire the next generation. He has inspired me, and I am pumped to ride again tomorrow morning with some wind in my sails.

Merci Christian, and to Mike and SBS as well, for a wonderful evening and may some of your vision rub off on other sports administrators.

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Vive le Tour!