We continue the trilogy of interviews at the heart of the Tour with Henri Terreaux
Henri Terreaux is the national project manager in charge of the Tour de France. He is the big boss, the one who makes up the team and leads the Orange technical area. More than a team leader, he is a charismatic leader who unleashes strength and wisdom from the first few minutes, a man who leads his troops to the summit, the orchestra director of the Orange technical area at the Tour de France. The 2011 edition is his 14th Tour ! This is to say that Henri Terreaux is an expert, the real thing, the Gil Grissom of Orange ! An exclusive interview for the readers of the live Orange blog!
So Henri, the winner of the 2011 Tour de France is on the podium, the event is coming to an end, can you share your first impressions with us ?
Out of 14 Tour de France, the 2011 Tour was one of the most challenging that I have known, one of the most difficult. It is worth mentioning that we leave one week before the start of the Tour de France, so we are on the road for 1 month. By the 2nd week, we have very short nights. Most of us arrived in Paris this morning at 3:30 a.m. coming from the Grenoble time trial. The transfer last night was again very difficult, this last stage on the Champs Elysées was not so easy to manage.
The night before we had already had a complex stage at Alpe d’Huez, and the night before that we had experienced the enormous Galibier stage, the highest stage ever completed on the Tour de France! I note that nowhere in the world would one have imagined a stage arrival on such a plateau, with such an audience, on such a high summit. It is quite an exploit and I think that the France Telecom – Orange team has become part of the legend. In 20 or 30 years, this grandiose Galibier stage and this arrival on an inaccessible summit will be remembered. Our team also was at a technical summit!
The night before Galibier we were at Pinerolo in Italy. This also was a very complicated and challenging stage, since we were not even sure we would know which route to take to France.
We finish this 2011 Tour de France in pain and fatigue. But once again we finish faultless !
In order to bear this fatigue and these working conditions, a certain mentality is necessary. How do you recruit the members of your team ?
I recruit them by cooptation. Every year, I go through 200 projects for the France Telecom – Orange Group and there I spot men who seem suitable. Then I test them on several events before being sure that they have the personal and technical qualities required to be helpful in the Tour de France.
Can you tell us what technical qualities are necessary for a technician in the Tour de France ?
Several years ago, I mainly recruited cable-layers. 3 years ago, we switched toward an explosion of Internet speed. We were forced to let the cable-laying part recede into the background and to recruit IP professionals or even network engineers instead. Currently, we serve the arrival line and the media room at a speed of 155 Mbps; we are in the process of working on Gigabits.
Another essential quality is being multi-faceted. A technician cannot be compartmentalized in one skill area. The technicians that I co-opt have this intellectual curiosity. They are versatile and reactive.
It is also necessary to have good customer relations. We have 350 lines with about 150 journalists at the arrival line. The media room has 450 print media journalists. Thus you have to appear smiling, present, listening and having a sense for customer satisfaction and service quality.
What was the key period in this 2011 Tour de France ?
The faultless performance with the Galibier team, something that puts us in a better position for the renegotiation of the partnership that will take place next year. There was no technical dysfunction, no live cutoff during the 3 weeks of the event.
This edition also offered us great sporting suspense and atypical stages worthy of a legendary Tour.
How do you explain the fact that despite all the technical, geographical, or climatic limitations that you encounter, everything always works in the end ?
For Italy, I sent the teams 48 hours in advance to check the area on site. There was a problem with the repeaters. The incident was resolved the night before, a few hours before the stage. It is true that often we suddenly experience dangerous situations, although we never fail to make it as I always have an emergency solution for each stage. That may be broadcasting via the hertzian network, a double optic fiber or even a satellite connection. Knowing that the satellite always experiences a short delay of 300 milliseconds between the upload to the satellite and the download, which causes a waiting period that an Internet user may find annoying. We are also very aware that with satellite you can encounter beam breaks under awful weather conditions. I therefore give preference to fiber or copper wire type solutions.
For you, why is Tour de France a unique event ?
The Tour de France is a circus! For the Soccer World Cup, we pre-wire the stadiums before the event, very neatly, on cable paths. One month before, a reference match is done to test the equipment. Then we can relax, we have lots of room for maneuver, the deadline and the planning are largely ready.
For the Tour de France, you arrive in the morning at around 4:00 a.m. in a village where there is nothing. Thousands of grains of sand may throw the machine off and lead to cutoffs or even prevent a broadcast.
So for me the Tour de France is like a circus where we are the acrobats who crisscross the roads at night from town to town, who raise up the big top in the morning and take it down in the evening before leaving again. We are like trapeze artists, always on the tightrope. We often see a void below our feet. But in the end, it is a quality spectacle that we offer the public who applauds, happy to have experienced a magical moment.
Will you be re-enlisting next year ?
If I am appointed project manager again, with great pleasure! The Tour will start off from Liège in Belgium. We know our counterparts at Belgacom well, and the 2012 tour should prove to be a bit easier than this year.
My dream would be to accompany the France Telecom – Orange Group in 2 years for the 100th Tour de France. I would like to offer up all of my experience to support ASO and the Group in this dream-like adventure.
Do you wish to send a message to the readers of the live Orange blog ?
I would like to say that if the Tour de France is a technical success, it is thanks to a team that cultivates strong values: abnegation, solidarity, friendship, respect, and I think that one can advance in such a human adventure only with people who share these values. I am at the head of a formidable team!
Thank you, Henri, for this original testimony and for having allowed me to spend this last day alongside you. Good luck for the next events and see you soon !