Charly Mottet, a legend of French cycling, has been working for Orange France’s sponsoring team for the past three years as a driver of one of the cars following the Tour de France. Each year during the race, he drives Orange’s guests along the route of the Tour, sharing with them his expertise and knowledge with a kindness and generosity equaled only by his sporting prowess. On Sunday morning, just before setting off en route to the Champs-Elysées, I took the opportunity to ask this cycling expert a few questions about this 99th edition of the Tour de France.
Hello Charly, what have been the highlights of the 2012 Tour de France?
If I may be a little biased, I will look back on the good performances of the French riders! Then there is the yellow jersey, of course, and the Team Sky’s total domination, particularly by Wiggins and Froome. They completely controlled the peloton. Wiggins showed that he was the boss of the Tour de France in the time trials, and kept his closest rivals under control in the mountains. In fact, the rider who was probably his biggest threat, Froome, was on his own team.
There has been criticism of the collusion between riders, after we saw Froome wait for Wiggins during the stage from Bagnères-de-Louchon to Peyragudes. Is that normal?
Cycling is a team sport, a sport where you sacrifice yourself to help your team leader. In this instance, Wiggins was wearing the yellow jersey, and he was therefore the one who had to withstand the pressure of the media and the race as a whole. He was helped by Froome, but Froome was ordered to wait for Wiggins, as Team Sky wanted to win this Tour. Not only did they win, but they also took second place on the podium too. It may therefore seem frustrating that Froome lost the Tour de France under such conditions. However, he also missed his chance because he lost close to 1 minute 30 seconds in a crash, and even if he had been allowed to continue his efforts, particularly on the climb to La Toussuire and then in the Pyrenees, he still would not have been able to bridge the gap to Wiggins, especially as he lost 1 minute 15 to his team-mate in the final time trial. I don’t think that Froome could have won this Tour, even if he hadn’t had to wait for the yellow jersey.
In order for a Frenchman to win the Tour de France, does there need to be a better sense of team spirit?
No, it simply requires the qualities of a young rider. It’s been 27 years since a Frenchman last won the Tour, the last being Bernard Hinault in 1985, which is starting to feel like a long time ago. We have a number of good riders who can win individual stages, but unfortunately nobody who can challenge guys like Froome, Nibali or Wiggins. Perhaps we will have more success in future years, particularly with Thibault Pinot, who rode very well to win the stage in Porrentruy; I think that Pierre Rolland will always be held back by his time-trialing ability; and of course, Thomas Voeckler had a great Tour. It’s true, however, that at present we’re not on track for a Tour victory.
What do you think the reason is for this?
In comparison to the years when Hinault and Fignon were riding, the international competition is now far greater, with 198 riders and lots of different nationalities. Cycling has become an international sport, and each year there are more and more foreign riders lining up at the start, making it increasingly tough. Nowadays, I think France is only 12th or 13th in the national rankings (N.B. France moved up from 15th to 13th place in the national rankings following the 2012 Tour de France. Source: UCI WorldTour – Ed.), while so-called “small” countries, such as Great Britain and Australia, are ahead of us. We deserve to be where we are.
Was it better in the past, or is the Tour de France still as good as ever?
Of course it’s still as good as ever, thank goodness! The beauty of the sport, the decision over whether to attack, has always come down to a rider’s intuition, even if the race tactics are determined by his sporting director. But nothing stops a rider from taking a decision. If Froome had chosen not to listen, he could have continued. I think that it was simply a gentleman’s agreement between Wiggins and Froome. I think that the Tour has always been fascinating, all the more so now that it is more public. After all, Team Sky’s strategy was to make the difference in the time trials, and then to act defensively; so we have effectively had a more uneventful Tour than last year, but that isn’t to say that it wasn’t exciting on a purely sporting level. It may have appeared a little boring to the wider public, and also for the media, for whom as soon as the yellow jersey stops changing hands – for 15 days on this occasion – there is perhaps less to talk about. But that’s the sport, it’s part of cycling, and it will always be the riders’ decisions that govern whether or not it is a lively race. In this instance, it has been; it was difficult, but it was not spectacular.
What were the difficult moments this year?
For Wiggins, it was the two stages with mountain-top finishes. While he might have lost a little ground to Froome, he was able to establish a gap between himself and his closest rivals, particularly Nibali and Van Den Broeck from the Lotto-Bellisol team, who had an excellent Tour de France. You know, everyone deserves to be where they finish in the Tour de France, and there’s no room for people saying that they were unlucky – that’s part of the race.
Wiggins was the favorite right from the start, and ultimately he justified his status. Has that ever been seen before?
Yes, Bernard Hinault was the favorite, Armstrong was the favorite, and Merckx was too. It’s true that it’s the first time that Wiggins has won the Tour, and for that matter, it’s the first time that a British rider has won the Tour de France, and they also took second place in the process. We knew that Team Sky was going to be very strong, that they were going to control the race as they had done during Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné, but we had our doubts over Wiggins’ ability to carry the yellow jersey all the way to the end, but he did it. It was unfortunate last year when he broke his collarbone, but he finished 4th in the Tour two years prior to that, so it’s not as if he was completely unknown. He was labeled as the favorite, and he knew how to use his ability to make the difference, while also knowing how to withstand the media attention, the pressure of the entire peloton, and ultimately everyone who was against Team Sky. They stayed the course. It’s a great victory for Wiggins, and he can feel very proud, as can Team Sky. They were the ones who said four years ago that they were going to build the best team in the world, with the aim of winning the Tour de France within five years. For them, their objective has been fulfilled, and they have helped our sport to progress.
Can we therefore say that Sky is dominating the cycling world?
Absolutely, but next year the cards will be reshuffled as there will certainly be more good climbers, with Contador, Andy Schleck, etc. But for 2012, it’s Sky who are dominating the season and the Tour de France.
To finish, can you tell us your particular highlight of the Tour de France?
The greatest highlight of my career was when I wore the yellow jersey in 1987. As for the 2012 race, it’s been the friendliness of the Orange team, because even for followers of the race, a Tour de France is not always easy; there is a lot of travelling and transfers, which goes on for over 3 weeks. It’s the largest travelling bike race in the world. From a sporting point of view, during the final time trial, we had the opportunity of following Rabobank’s Luis Léon Sanchez, who finished third in this stage, and I must admit that it was a delight to share this effort just with Orange’s guests. It was quite amazing to see him riding at 50 km/h, and even more so given that it was into a headwind. As someone who didn’t do too badly during time trials, I always enjoyed this particular discipline, and it was a great sporting moment.
Thanks to Charly Mottet for giving such a fascinating interview.
Edouard Austin, Salama Marine, Alex Kay and I have witnessed some extraordinary days on the Tour de France alongside Charly, Eric Caritoux, Patrice Esnault and the whole Orange France sponsoring and Orange Events team, of course. We are ending our coverage of this 99th Tour with this expert viewpoint, and we hope that we have enabled you to experience the Tour in a different way. We’ll see you back here next year to celebrate the 100th edition of this fantastic celebration of cycling!