It’s their own warm-up before the stage. A morning ritual, almost all together, in their parking lot. The choreography of the caravanners, with Hugues Monjo, 42, at the baton: “In the air, down, turnstile. “ It heats up the atmosphere. It’s been ten years, and the animator appointed by the optician Krys, brand partner of the Tour since 2014, never tires of it.
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“I started this from my first year on the Great Loop, a kind of musical warm-up for the team of the sponsor that I represented then, and then very quickly other caravanners joined us, and from the year next, it has become a meeting that brings us together, says Hugues Monjo. The old ones pass on to the new ones, we raise the pressure, just to be in good shape for the parade. “ Because it is all the same a performance, for the 480 caravanners this year, to inquire about the 3,400 km of the Tour, perched on a tank or at the wheel of the 136 vehicles (of 30 partners, brands and institutions) that make up the advertising circus, and always with enthusiasm and good humor.
“This popular fervor, you have to live it to understand it”
“Of course you have to be healthy, but I transplanted to play without any problem every year”, laughs Jean-Marie Vaulot, driver for the food brand Le Gaulois, 63 years old and nine Tours on the clock. The former SNCF driver waited for retirement to get on this train, to discover from the inside this caravan which fascinated him as a kid. There are many, the caravanners, to summon their memories of kids, the summers at Grandma’s to watch the peloton go by, the simple joy of catching the presents thrown by the hostesses like the pompom on the merry-go-rounds. “We can find it difficult to understand, this public always present en masse and enthusiastic as we pass through this large colorful bazaar, but this popular fervor, you really have to live it, see the smiles on their faces, savors Jean-Marie Vaulot. The people are great on the roads. “
Of her 2 CV in the colors of the charcutière brand Cochonou, Salomé Desaigues, 27, also speaks “Experience” unique: “I relive the same emotions that I had as a kid in the Pyrenees. It was Christmas in July. And I see in the eyes of the children the same stars that were to shine in mine. “
These faces, caravanners appreciate to find them in their entirety, without a mask and with less sanitary pressure. For the 2020 edition, moved to September, the caravan had been reduced from 160 vehicles in 2019 to a few hundred, some brands preferring to skip their turn. “We were afraid of not seeing anyone, and yet, on some sites, the public was there, remembers Damien Conseil, driver for 16 years for Cochonou, the oldest brand with 23 years of presence. And this year, we feel he is even more liberated. On the alpine stages, even in the rain and the cold, people were there, with this need to relive this kind of great popular festival. “
“A beautiful solidarity between all”
This energy nourishes caravanners who hardly have time to breathe once their daily journey is over. As soon as you arrive, you have to clear the procession, refuel the vehicles, clean them to set off again blazing the next day, restock for future distributions. Cochonou alone sows 10 tonnes of sausage in its path. Fifteen million “goodies” are distributed in total.
Financial gabegie? The brands remain discreet about their investments, but the business must be profitable, since most are renewing their partnership. Ecological scandal? In 2019, the organization had to respond to around thirty deputies and six NGOs denouncing plastic pollution linked to “Millions of goodies distributed and thrown into nature”.
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Like the public, the caravanners, in any case, are loyal. “I dread the year when I will return to the other side, on the side of the road, says Damien Conseil. But maybe I would pass the torch to my daughter. “ Among the Vaulots, the inheritance is already assured. Jean-Marie is this year in tandem with his son, Léo, also a driver. “Two things mark me, underlines the young man of 24 years: the general organization of the event, regulated like a Swiss clock, and the team spirit in the caravan, with great solidarity between all ”. “It’s more than a summer camp for adults, we call each other the” little family “”, smiles Damien Conseil.
And what about racing? The peloton rolls, the caravan passes. No time to take advantage of the runners. “If you like cycling, the caravan is not the right place, summarizes Jean-Marie Vaulot. We do not see anything of the Tour. For us, it is the decorated villages, the smells of barbecue, families and children that throng. It’s France. “